When does your year begin?

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Last summer, in Paris I secretly photographed this gentleman and his faithful companion, waiting patiently in line at a boulangerie. Wonder what a day is like for them and does one season melt into the next? Does their year begin after the Summer Soldes?

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When does your year begin? September is often a marker for many of us. The first day of school: new clothes, new supplies, new friends and new experiences. January is a logical starting point as well. My August birthday has always been my “beginning.” And while celebrating my birthday always brings up many emotions, mostly positive (I’m starting another trip around the sun!) and a few negative (my dad, Merrill May died four days before my 11th birthday (quite some time ago – obviously – but still the memory is bittersweet), I use this yearly marker to assess where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Art wise I’m becoming more confident in my processes and mediums – encaustics are more or less turning out as I envision them – working with hot wax, while still challenging, is more predictable.

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Cold wax, not so much. Learning to mix oil paints and create abstract interpretations of my inner visions is still a struggle. Work is often put aside until I can figure out where it needs to go, as in the piece below, “In the Distance.” Can’t begin to tell you how many variations this work went through (or how many layers of wax and paint exist under the topmost one). It’s like an archeological dig – scrape the surface and surprises await!

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When not in the studio, the rest of my life continues on a pretty even keel. I travel, eat great meals and share good times with family and friends. At a recent event I took many photographs of these lovely koi – gracefully swimming under and around lily pads. I love how they shared their beauty and were unaware of what was above them or where their lives were going. Totally blissful.

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This wall exists here in Portland and I love textures and peeling paint. It’s old and still hanging in there. Nuff said.

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Trying to wash away the dust…

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Pablo Picassofullsizeoutput_3138Today everything is HARD. Focusing on tasks that need to be completed–HARD. Anticipating tasks that need to be started–HARD. Tearing myself away from daily news about our nation’s upended political climate–EXTREMELY HARD. fullsizeoutput_3129Right now all that’s keeping me somewhat sane is making art. It isn’t required to be good, it doesn’t need to be finished – it just needs to be made. fullsizeoutput_313bEmbracing a new medium – cold wax and oil paint – has been a lifesaver. When I’m immersed in the process  “the dust of everyday life” settles and all that matters is the board, the paint, the palette knife, the color, the lines, the smell…the silence of the studio. I can breathe–anger and fear are momentarily replaced with happiness and wonder. fullsizeoutput_313d It’s only temporary, but it’s enough – a brief pause to recharge my soul before I’m once again covered and ready to deal with life’s dust. img_1583Engaging in my life-long practice of embroidery, by creating original samplers is soothing and joyful as well.

Sharing what I love to do

img_0595Portland Open Studios (PDXOS) features 106 artists who open their studios, showing their art and work spaces to visitors. This past weekend over 100 guests learned a bit about encaustic collage, hand embroidery and my art practice. Additionally, everyone was given the opportunity to create their own small piece – working with beeswax, demar resin, oil pastels and encaustic colors. They had a blast and so did I! img_0582img_0583Monday evening I visited 8 of the studios in my artist community  (Community #2). Betsy Levine #11, (her meticulous oil paintings of flowers are delightful) organized this private tour – since we’re all booked during the two weekends of the event. The studios and artworks I saw were amazing and getting to know these artists was a treat. David Friedman’s, #17 paper cutting must be seen in person – photos just can’t capture it’s depth and beauty. Kamala Dolphin-Kingsley’s #20, watercolors and acrylics are wonderful – scientific and whimsical at the same time. Dan Pillers #16, heart-felt mixed media/reclaimed wood sculptures tell stories and share his visions. Mona Cordell’s #19, bi-level studio was full of her powerful figure paintings, sumi brush drawings and more. Would so love to see her body painting on the NW Dance Project performers this weekend! Mandy Stigant’s #18, sturdy wood-fired stoneware would be a great to use. Scott Conary’s #13, masterful oil paintings tell stories of places, people and more. Hilary Pfeiffer’s #12, works embrace several mediums: wood, metal and book publishing. Her painted wood birds and animals are truly delightful. Three hours later I came home visually sated, feeling very honored to be included with this talented group of working artists. pdxoscardfront       I’m gearing up for this weekend’s tour (October 15/16, 10am – 5pm), creating some small encaustic pieces (3.5 x 3.5) on the left-over pine blocks that my sweet husband so graciously cut and sanded for me. Sharing what I love to do, having people appreciate my work and also enjoy trying their hand at making is the best! Here are some the Little Art Works (L.A.W.) that will be available this weekend – $25 each and ready to hang. img_0593img_0591Today’s lovely sun is giving way to a weekend of rain, rain, rain. So please do drop by, have some tea and chocolate, play with wax and see my work – I look forward to sharing it with you. Portland Open Studios guides are available at New Seasons, Collage, Dick Blick, Artist and Craftsman Supply as well as other local businesses and there’s a free app, too!img_0589img_0590img_0594img_0588

In the studio . . .

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There are studio days that are incredibly productive. Correspondence is answered, artwork is shipped, pieces are finished and at the end of the day the studio is tidy. Then there are days like this past Monday . . . where I take two steps forward and four steps back – little is accomplished, the studio’s in chaos and I bounce around from idea-to-idea, leaving half finished projects in my wake.

I’m often asked “How long did it take you to make this piece?” Frankly, it’s the one question I really hate and giving an accurate answer always stymies me. Funny, huh, since it’s the actual process of “making” that fuels my creative soul. Does the person want to know all the little picky time-consuming details? (How many times I gessoed and sanded a birch panel, how I scraped away images, beeswax and oil pastels ’cause the work just isn’t “getting there”? How I can only feed one sheet at a time of Sumi rice paper into the printer because it’s temperamental and chews up the paper?) I think not. I wonder if the questioner is asking for “time = difficulty of process” or “time = years I’ve been creating art” or last, but usually not least, “time = money per hour” information.

On days like yesterday when asked the “how long” question, I feel like tearing my hair out and yelling “I have absolutely no idea!”

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This is my third Portland studio in as many years, and by far the largest and most unusual. I occupy the 2nd floor sunporch of a former 4-plex apartment building,  built in the 1920’s, which also is home to therapists and counselors. No one else was interested in the space and for me it’s perfect.

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Even on my least productive days, time spent in this studio is the best! Favorite tools live there, the north light is perfect, my collections clutter the windowsills and books and materials overflow the shelves. I’m close to good coffee and the activity outside my windows gives me visual breaks when moving forward just isn’t happening.

While I strive for good work days, inspiration and a sense of completion; it all comes down to one simple fact: I love my studio – it’s where I’m most at home. I’m fairly certain that most artists feel this way and cherish the time spent making. What’s your studio space like? I’d love to hear about your “creative home.”

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12 x 14 x 10 feet

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Having a studio space is a must for me. Throughout ‘adulthood’ I’ve had 12, some more commodious than others. A partial list includes: (1) spare bedroom in our first apartment in Eugene, as a newly married lady with a law school husband; (2) large open concept studio at the Eugene Warehouse Studios, started with 8 artist friends; (3) room in a little duplex owned by Euphoria chocolate company (heavenly); (4) 2nd floor shared studio (with my artist pal, Barbara) above Newberry’s 5 & Dime; (5) custom-built “Tuff Shed,” complete with wi-fi, cable tv and skylights; (6) 4th floor studio with amazing views of Olympic Mountains; (7) shared studio in an artist-owned building housing 19 artists. Each space was what I needed during that period of my life.

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My present studio is 4 miles from home (my farthest commute to date) and the smallest (12 feet x 14 feet with 10 foot ceiling). South facing in SE Portland, my sunny 3rd floor studio fits my present needs. We downsized with our Seattle-to-Portland move, getting rid of stuff that no longer supported our “empty nest” life style. So too, it is with my studio. Working in a smaller studio forces me to focus on what I really want to create. It’s challenging to move away from my pack-rattedness (I’m a hoarder of scraps of paper, bits of ephemera or snips of ribbon), but so freeing to throw (or give away) materials that no longer hold my interest.

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Of course I lust after a larger studio (doesn’t every artist?). Somewhere I wouldn’t have to put everything away and could work on multiple projects at the same time. In the end tho’ it’s about having my own work space, regardless of size, where I can come and create. To paraphrase Virginia Woolf. . . a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to make art . . .” As I’ve recently “retired” from my graphic design/invitation business, I just need to figure out the money part!

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Sweet memories

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Monday – a little rainy, a little sunny – I’m at the studio, savoring this past weekend (and a double-tall, nonfat latte). The opening at Maude Kerns was a great success – very well attended and the staff and volunteers did a bang-up job. Everyone’s art showed well. So satisfying to see my six months of work displayed on those white walls (am SO glad that I spent the money to have all seven pieces framed). Dear friends, acquaintances and gallery patrons were very enthusiastic and I was honored by all the positive feedback I received.

Flashbacks of our seven years of college and law school life flooded back during our brief visit to Eugene. How much and how little had changed since we left in 1982! We all spent time in there (my husband Bob, brother JS and sister-in-law Robin) but have such different remembrances – often about the same people or events. Distinct instances blur, melded together to become tangled memories, threads of life that seem distant and close at the same time.

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I don’t know the date this photo was taken, the original hangs at my cousin’s house along with the typewritten card. My grandmother Hattie Viola May (my father’s mother, our daughter is named for her), taught Sunday School in Guin, Alabama. I don’t know the children’s names or why they were photographed. I do know that there’s innocense and sincerity in both the picture and Hattie’s pledge that speak to me and I’ve been making copies, hand coloring certain elements and using them in little encaustic collages. I wonder about “overall boy” (as I fondly think of him) with his buttoned-up shirt and forthright stare. Who is he and what happened to him? My grandmother was a hat maker, excellent seamstress, mother of three rowdy boys, gardener and devout member of her church and the stories I know create the fabric that binds my cousins and I together and makes us “May” women. The past is always present in the most touching ways.

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The florist at the 5th Street Public Market had glorious displays and the lupine were quite spectacular.Image

Robin lusted after this rustic green house, too bad it’s too large for her garden.Image

We were thrilled to re-connect with our friend Cindee. She and I were traveling companions on Amtrak’s Empire Builder – it’s how we arrived in Eugene from Tuscaloosa. Additionally we were hiking/camping buddies (along with my husband and brother). Her photo of our camping adventure gave us the opportunity to celebrate our “younger selves” and laugh about good times past.

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Creating a garden . . . worth every minute

Loving gardens does not make me a gardener. Donning gloves to pull weeds, digging holes, removing dead foliage – tasks associated with planting and maintaining a landscape are NOT how I choose to spend my free time – I’d definitely rather be working in my studio.

Never having studied about gardens or plants, my horticultural style tends toward the “dig and plop” school – I dig a hole and plop the plant in – it if thrives, fabulous, if it doesn’t – I pull it out and plop in another type of plant.

When we down-sized from our 1918 Arts & Crafts home to a brand new townhouse, the yard was a blank mess. Two totally inappropriate columnar hornbeams (generally regarded as windbreaks or driveway trees), a sodded lawn and several small shrubs were the only growing things.

The compacted grass sod (laid on top of the notorious “Ballard” hard pan – a clay layer made worse by construction) refused to allow any water to permeate its surface, resulting in numerous, small muddy lakes. Every time our dog Rose ventured into the yard 20 minutes were then devoted to cleaning her sodden fur and dirty paws.

Spending a year looking at this soggy space spurred us into action. Ripping up sod (that was attached to plastic webbing), digging 30 feet of a 3-feet deep trench and inserting a bamboo barrier (our back-fence neighbor has a bumper crop) and amending clay soil (chock full of rocks and construction waste) occupied a good portion of our second summer in the house.

The increasingly tall hornbeams were traded for several lovely Japanese maples and more trees were purchased (we have 14 in all – some in pots, most in the ground). 1000+ pounds of pea gravel, hauled in one bag at a time, replaced the grass and assisted in soaking up some of Seattle’s ever-present rain.

Gardens are always works in progress and ours continues to evolve and change. While I still do hate weeding, I now know that creating a calm, beautiful growing space is just another way of making art and well worth my time.