Monday, December 28, 2009

Jilly at home with her new Christmas toy.

Jilly: A good dog comes home when she’s called. Finally.

Jilly ran away from home today and I didn’t even know she was gone. How did that happen? Well, earlier today we had new internet and phone service installed in our home. The installer left the gate open on the side of the house and I didn’t notice until after I let Jilly out in the backyard.

Big mistake. I know. Especially because Jilly has a history of running away and not coming when she’s called.

Three years ago, when we adopted Jilly from Guide Dogs, she was being ‘career’ changed because, she wouldn’t come when she was called. They called it puppy training issues. I called it a good dog with bad messages.

It’s taken me a lot of time, treats and training to get Jilly past most of these bad messages. Some, I know will never go away. But Jilly and I have worked hard to get past the big one, coming on command. And we’ve made huge progress this year.

She played on the beach, off leash, and stayed close to me. She follows me up and down the street off leash, too. Now, she’ll even run from one end of the street to the other between my husband and I and not run away.

So today, when I found the gate open, I whistled for her. When she didn’t come running to me, I used the ‘call’…Jilly, where am I? No response. Ok, I responded with quite a few @#$$##@@ but we won’t print that here.

Then I ran in the house, put on my coat and Michael got the car. As he turned off our street to the left, I went to the right looking for her. Michael hadn’t even gone ½ block when he tooted the horn, there she was!

I stopped, turned and yelled, “Jilly, where am I?” She started running right to me and I started running for home. She followed me, passed me and ran right up our driveway into the garage and sat on the rug in front of the door looking up at me. What did I do? I gave her a treat and a kiss, of course. Then I told her what a good dog she was to find her way home. And come when she was called…finally.

That makes my year happy new or old.

Then I locked the gate!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

En-lightening holiday:
Bringing creativity, heart and spirit back to the season.

A few posts ago, I wrote about how life changes had changed my holiday over the past year or so. And that’s not a bad thing. I realized that this gave me a chance to change some things, keep others and add something new.

I asked myself these questions: What cookies do I really love to bake? What do I want to light up with lights? How many decorations do I really want to get out and set up?

The answers were simple, really. I baked what I love to eat: Grandmother Gallacher’s Cherry Cake, shortbread and chocolate candies filled with walnuts. I lit up the tree and stairway with lights. I put out my Christmas Tree China that I love, filled a few bowls with pretty purple and gold balls, added snowy trees to the mantle, a wreath to the hall table and set out a few scented candles.

It all seemed to come together simply and easily.

As an artist and writer, I really love to create. This year, I let myself do that with my Christmas baking. When we had chocolate left over from the chocolate candies, I spread it out on waxed paper, added two kinds of chopped, salted nuts and put it in the freezer. Voila’…chocolate nut bark, yum!

Another thing I love to do is solve problems. And this year, I did that too. Long ago, my mother had gotten a recipe from my Grandmother Gallacher for her Filled Butter Cookies. But when my mother tried to make them, they didn’t turn out. I’ve had the recipe in my file for decades, but now, I wanted to make them myself. Looking at the recipe, it was clear to me that the proportions of butter to flour were all wrong. So, I fixed it. For the first time since my Grandmother died, I tasted these delicate butter cookies filled with cream cheese and raspberry jam. They are delicious!!

I really believe creativity and inspiration are meant to be shared, so I asked you: What do you love to do for the holidays around your home?

Lynn H said:
“I like peace and quiet, and days alone at home with my beloved Brian. I like making soup in the crock pot which does not need watching. I like the strings of Christmas lights which we leave up on the windows all year, and plug in from November-March while the sun is so absent. I like "less is more" for holidays. Last year we had our (1940's silver tinsel) tree but no decorations upon it. It still bounced light around the house and made it festive. I think holidays are about celebrating relationship. About telling those I love that I love them, one more time.”

I agree! This is a time to show our love for those we love, and that includes ourselves. Loving myself has always been hard for me, but doing these small things to light up my own holiday has been en-lightening to me. Because it’s not about doing things differently, it’s about being who I am, doing what I love and sharing that spirit with those I love. And that includes all of you!

May the season lighten and enlighten you, too and I hope that you’ll feel welcome to share it here, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Walk in the Park -
An occasional series

Ice Lessons

This week taking a walk in the park is freezing, literally. Early morning temperatures are in the teens and the ‘highs’ for the day are in the 20’s.

As I walk by the lake every morning, I see a new layer of ice. The ducks are crowded into smaller and smaller ponds where the ice isn’t frozen until finally, the top of the lake is completely covered in ice. While the ducks huddle as best they can, the heron stands in solitary splendor on the ice.

When I usually spot the blue heron, I find her camouflaged by tall grasses beside the lake or perched on a grey branch near the shoreline waiting to catch the fish swimming by. This week is different. The heron stands on the ice in the middle of the lake waiting and watching. I wonder, why would she even bother? She can’t catch the fish through the ice.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here on the ice for me.

When I look out onto the icy lake, I see a barrier, like a solid floor, closed door or glass wall. I see what’s on top, the ice. I don’t see what’s underneath hidden from my view.

But maybe the heron does. And that’s why she’s standing in the middle of the lake on the ice. She sees what’s underneath the ice. She sees fish, food, possibilities and life.

Suddenly, I see it too.

I see that although the top layer of the lake is frozen. Nothing is moving. Nothing is growing. The trees are bare and appear lifeless. That’s just the surface. Below the fish are swimming. The algae are growing. The trees are very much alive even without their leaves.

At this time of year, when the sun comes out only briefly and darkness covers more of our days, it’s easy to get stuck in an icy frame of mind. Feeling cold, gray and seeing the world around me as frozen and unmoving.

But the heron showed me that below the icy, grey surface, the world is teaming with life. The world is moving and thriving. Just because I don’t see it or hear it, doesn’t mean that the things aren’t happening all around me. Things that, like the heron knows, take time to come to the surface.

What do I do in the meantime? Take my cue from the heron, walk out into the world, then wait and be ready to catch those fish when the ice melts.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wreath-Copper repousse'

Bringing light and lightness to a dark time of year.

It’s the beginning of the holiday season. This year, for me, it’s going to be different. My daughter now has her own home, so she won’t be living here for the holidays.

For the past few years, she’s helped me do the decorating and some baking. She enjoyed working with me getting out all the ribbons, Christmas books, Santa collection and candles. I used to do it all myself, becoming grumpy and frazzled. With her cheerful help as co-decorator, it all came together with an ease and grace and lightness that felt much more like a holiday.

This year, she’s been busy decorating her new apartment. Buying candles, table runners, ribbons, colored balls and twinkle lights. She called me on the phone to tell me all about the deals she found at the stores. Today, she proudly showed me her holiday decorated home. It looks lovely.

I’m glad she’s happy and into the holiday spirit. I want to feel the same spirit. In holidays past, she used to bug me to get the tree, decorate the stairs, put up the lights, get out the Christmas tree china. Ok, I used to feel a little pressured by it all, but now, I’m just not as motivated to get the holiday decorations up. Right now, I’m busy with other things, classes to teach, articles to write, pieces begging to be worked on in the studio. I’m glad for the work, especially work I want to do.

Maybe that’s a clue here. The holidays have always been something I did for others. I usually abandoned my creative work in order to get all the decorating, baking and shopping done. I did make some choices I liked but most of it was a combination of what the kids wanted and expected. And that was ok, Christmas was for them after all.

Maybe now, it can be for me, too. The question is what do I want? The answer, I’m not sure.

What cookies do I really love to bake? What do I want to light up with lights? How many decorations do I really want to get out and set up?

What do you love to do for the holidays around your home? Share your favorite and maybe we can inspire each other to bring light as well as lightness to this dark time of year.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Losing control.

For the past month, I’ve taught 3 different project classes in 3 different places, gone to meetings upon meetings, done interviews, and managed to squeeze a few hours in the studio. Ok, I’ve been busy. The point is: how much of these creative projects and time are within my control?

As a self-employed artist, teacher and writer, you might think all of it. I used to think that, too. Not anymore.

I’ve always been a self-motivated creative person. If I wanted to make something, I made it. If I didn’t know how, I figured it out. That might mean reading a book, taking a class or just doing it. Whatever I needed to do, I did it. Myself. I had creative control of my project.

That was an illusion. I wasn’t in control of my creativity then and I’m not now.

I may want creative control, but I don’t have it. It doesn’t matter whether I’m working alone in the studio, on a group project, or in a class with students. Students show up or not. Some people are easy to work with, others not. Ideas that seem good, go bad. Supplies get discontinued.

What I really want is a good ending. That's why I think I need creative control. What I need to do is to lose control and follow the creative road. Trusting the bends, bumps and detours are all important parts of the journey. And that the end result I’m trying to control isn’t the end at all, it’s just a stop along the way. Sometimes the stops are good. I make a beautiful piece with clay, metal or words. Sometimes, it’s bad. I recycle the pieces and learn something new.

Maybe, creative control isn’t something I really need and don’t really even want. It’s just my fear wanting to drive my life, so maybe it’s time to shift into a different gear. Lose the control and enjoy the ride.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fun with metal.
A great class on Saturday.

I love working with metal. I love sharing my love of metal and creativity with others. When I get to do both in one afternoon, it’s delightful.

It was a dark and rainy afternoon outside, but inside creativity bloomed. These wonderful women worked magic with copper and aluminum screening sculpting them into bowls, baskets, leaves and vases. Then, on went the colorful beads, wire, gold leaf and paint!

Here are photos of their beautiful art work.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An interview with Helen Hollick
And a book review: Pendragon’s Banner

(Listen to a podcast interview with Helen Hollick at Voices of Living Creatively)

It turns out Helen Hollick and I share a love of Mary Stewart’s Arthurian fantasy novels, Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills. Both of us remember enjoying these wonderful stories about Merlin and the young Arthur. But for Helen Hollick, it was something in the back of Stewart’s book that brought another sort of magic into her life. “The thing that intrigued me was her author’s notes which said if Arthur had been real, he would have lived around post Roman times. Now that really got me interested. Because I had never liked the stories that had placed him around Medieval times. When I read that, I thought, oh, I’ll check into that.”

That started Helen on a path leading her to write a trilogy of books about Arthur before and after he becomes king.

The first book, The Kingmaking, I reviewed here last year and loved for its detailed down to earth portrayal of Arthur as the supposed bastard son of Uthr who takes the throne and becomes king. The second book, Pendragon’s Banner covers the years between 459-465 A.D. and tells the tale of Arthurs struggle with the power, politics and family strife.

What I like about these books are the many, many wonderful details about the daily life of Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, their three children, servants and soldiers. The fighting among the family for control of the throne is just as believable as the battle scenes.

I wondered, how did author, Helen Hollick write so richly of a past that may or may not have happened. Some of it comes from Hollick’s extensive research and diploma in Early Medieval History. Helen explains, “I looked into what facts we do know of that period, really researched post roman and early saxon, so in weaving in the real facts, that can make what we don’t know for sure to be more real. I looked into daily life. I looked into what kind of horses they would have had, harnesses, armor, and the buildings.”

Helen’s research includes personal experiences as well. “I’ve actually been to all those places in the books, Glastonbury, visited Summerset, been to Scotland,” says Helen. “It makes a great excuse for a holiday.”

Some of the plot details, like the scene where Arthur’s young son falls into the river, come from her feelings and experiences as a mother. “We were actually on vacation camping by that very river,” Helen explains. “My own little girl was about 5. It had been raining, and we went down to look at the river. It was in flood, flowing very fast exactly as in that scene. I held my Cathy’s hand so very tight, because I had a vision of a child falling into the water. I pulled her back from the bank, told her to be careful and picked her up and held her. Then I went back to the camp and just wrote the scene down. It was very hard to write. I was in tears the whole time.”

That wasn’t the only scene that was hard for Helen to write. “I have to say I don’t know how I manage to write the battle scenes,” says Helen. “It really helps to be in a bad mood. It’s a really good way to get rid of angst, to write a battle scene.”

The battle scenes details aren’t the only thing that grabbed me as a reader but the depth of Arthur’s feelings about the work a soldier must do. Helen agrees, “Yes, when you read a story of battle it’s always made out to be a glorious thing, propaganda, of course, to get people to go out and fight. But you don’t think about the other side, people get killed, horses get hurt. This is the reality.”

The battle scene that begins Pendragon’s Banner came after a long period of writer’s block. “I got to the point where I thought, if I don’t do something about this writer’s block, I’m not going to get this book finished,” explains Helen. “And I was determined to write the words, ‘the end’, even if I never got published. So I went along to a writer’s course and the teacher said, I want you to write down your feelings. I just wrote down the first word that came into my head. Before I knew it, I wrote the word, sword, then the word battle. And all of a sudden the whole battle scene just came into my head and I just sat and wrote. It was really funny because then the teacher said, ok, you can stop now and I said no way, I haven’t written for 6 months and if you think I’m going to stop now, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Even though Helen’s extensive historical research gives the scenes detail, it’s not what got her started writing. “I hated history when I was at school, absolutely hated it,” says Helen. “When I was 13 I was writing pony stories, because I really wanted a pony of my own and we couldn’t afford one. So I made one up.”

From then on, writing has been a life long passion. Even when her original publisher stopped printing her books, she got the copyright back and self-published them in the U.K. Then found a new home for her trilogy here in the United States with Sourcebooks. In addition to her Arthur trilogy, Helen Hollick has written a fantasy adventure series about pirates for fun and most recently, a movie script about the battle of Hastings called 1066. “We hope to shoot in the UK but it will be on release in American as well,” Helen says. “We’re talking big blockbuster here. Fingers crossed, I’ve even got my dress.”

Whether or not her books or movies about Arthur, pirates or a battle are a success, Helen would never stop writing. “I’m always scribbling something down, even if I’m not working on a book. That short time when I heard that they weren’t going to publish my books, I was devastated,” says Helen. “I sobbed for 2 weeks. Then I pulled myself up and thought come on, it doesn’t mean you can’t publish your books.”

And she advises everyone to follow their dreams, too. Helen’s advice, “Do it. Don’t think about it, go out and do it. At least try, I feel that at least I tried and I’ve managed it. Ok, if my books don’t sell it doesn’t matter, at least I’ve done it. Rather than looking back in a few years time and thinking oh, I wish I’d done that. At least have a go, give it your best shot.”

In my opinion, Helen Hollick’s given it more than her best shot. Whether it’s The Kingmaking or Pendragon’s Banner, it’s an enjoyable, fascinating read into the past that feels like you’re there, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'Reflection' Copper repousse

Sculpting a life and a living.
Writing. Showing. Teaching. Making.

Looking at this month, I’ve been blessed to be able to do everything I love to do.

As an artist, I sculpt out of metal and clay. I’ve made jewelry and garden art and started new masks out of mesh and copper.

For two weekends, I was part of the Portland Open Studios Tour and opened my studio to men, women and children interested in finding out what I do and how I do it. It’s always a little hectic getting ready for the event. I clean out my studio, set out demonstration materials, put out some of my pieces for display. It’s a lot of work. But what makes it all worthwhile are the looks of wonder, the words of appreciation and the people who come back every year to see what’s new.

Right after my open studio event, I delivered a large copper repousse’ piece to a juried exhibit downtown. My piece, “Reflection” will hang in the First Presbyterian Church as part of the Works of Faith exhibit until January 2010. It was wonderful to meet my fellow artists and the people from the art committee on Sunday.

Later in the week, I started an artist in residence at a local elementary school. The project is based on my ‘Ethnic Portrait’ series and involves the students in art and writing, two of my favorite activities. I met with the teachers, went over the supplies and the timelines. Then I went back to my studio, made an example of the project and prepared some supplies. At the school, I set up, presented the project and taught the classes with the help of the wonderful teachers and students. It was a great experience!

Today, I’m setting up interviews for articles I write on my blog and others. Writing advertising copy. Making a list of the supplies needed for the second week at the school. Getting work together for a photo shoot tomorrow. Putting some paint on one of my mesh masks. Taking my dog for a walk in between rain storms and making dinner.

Sometimes I worry whether it will all get done, but it does. Somehow, in spite of the bumps, I am able to sculpt a life and a living doing what I love to do. I’m grateful.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Portland Open Studios:
Opening my studio and my creative process to my neighborhood.

I do sculpture work in aluminum screening, copper sheeting and clay. I love faces and animals and the concept of shapeshifting. I see faces and figures in the landscape around me, the leaves on the trees, the clouds in the sky, the rocks and even the marks on the ceiling. My source of inspiration and materials seem right to me, that’s why I do it.

But to others, I realize it may seem a bit odd. Since I work on my own, in my studio, this isn’t a problem, really. I can do what I do and no one knows the difference. Until now.

As part of the Portland Open Studios Tour, I invite people to come into my studio and watch me work. They get to see me push a bear shape out of aluminum screening, press dragon scales into copper sheeting and read some of my stories. I explain how I do what I do. I show them the materials and the process. I answer their questions.

I have some of my finished pieces on display, so they can see the finished product as well as the process. I hope it helps them to understand what I do and why. I hope it helps them learn more about art, the creative process as well as inspiring them to honor their own creativity.

Every year, I feel a little like the curtain is drawn back on my creative process and there I stand, alone and revealed to the world. It’s a little scary. But every year, I find out just how wonderful and generous and eager people are to share in the creative process.

If you’re ever in Portland the first two weeks of October, get a tour guide and come and visit my studio! This year, I was interviewed by a fellow artist and you can read the interview on the Portland Open Studios Tour blog

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Pushing and pulling.

Punching and painting.

For me, making art is a physical act. I cut copper sheeting or aluminum screening and push it into a beak or nose, round it into a moon or rock. Whether I'm making a mask, landscape or pendant, it takes strength and delicacy to get the images and textures into the copper or aluminum.

I've been working very hard the last few weeks to get new work done for this year's Portland Open Studios Tour. I wanted to have a variety of pieces in copper, aluminum mesh and clay to show the people who come through the tour. I want them to see that although the stereotype of an artist is working in one medium all the time, that's not necessarily the reality.

I love masks. And I make masks in clay, copper, aluminum, as well as teaching mask making to children and adults in clay, plaster and collage. I love animals and landscapes and jewelry. And I make animal sculptures that have human qualities, landscapes that have faces in the rocks and sky. When I was a teenager, I loved making jewelry. This year, I decided to do more of what I love, so I've been busy in the studio making earrings, pendants and pins out of the copper I love so much. It's a great way to use the good pieces left over from my larger work and to play again in a familiar and happy playground.

The tour starts next weekend. I still have work to finish like an aluminum eagle sculpture, a lamp, as well as mounting, glueing and setting up all the work for display. I'm feeling a little stressed with the deadline looming right now. But I know that next weekend, I'll be ready. And I look forward to meeting the people from all around my city who come to peek over my shoulder, watch me work and ask questions about how and why I do what I do.

Before I was on the tour, I took the tour. I loved seeing all the different work, studios and meeting all the artists. It not only gave me a better idea about art but it gave me the courage to do my own art.

My hands may be stiff. My shoulders and back are achy. My mind is reeling with to-do's that still need doing, but I'm happy to be working in the studio. I'm grateful I get to do what I love and next weekend on the Portland Open Studios Tour, I get to share that with all of you who visit me.

If you live in or around Portland, Oregon, take the tour October 10, 11 and 17, 18 from 10am to 5pm. Just pick up a Tour Guide at Art Media, New Seasons, Powell's Books or online at Celebrating our 10th year, the Portland Open Studios Tour brings 100 artists and art lovers together to share the process of creativity.

I hope to see you! If you want to know more about the art and artists in Portland Open Studios Tour, check out our blog at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

How to keep that Maui feeling in Portland, Oregon.

I came back to Portland from Maui on September 16th and ten days later, that Maui feeling is starting to fade. I don’t want that to happen because there was a feeling to life there that I know I need here and now. Everyday.

It’s not just about a vacation. But a state of mind that was, in spite of recent life circumstances, healthy. It was like I’d been rescued from turbulent waters, wrapped up in a blanket and given a nice, warm drink. As well as time to take in my rescue and decide that life, in its very essence was a very good thing, something to hold in the palm of my hand, gently, savoring every little taste like a bite of delicious chocolate.

But, as we all know, life gets in the way. It gets busy. I had masks to send off to a show in another state, something I’ve never done before. I had work to finish for my open studio coming up in 2 weeks. I had interviews to do and articles to write. I had classes to set up, meetings, emails, problems to solve and animals needing walks. You get the idea.

For awhile, that Maui feeling stayed anyway. But slowly it started to fade away, buried under the to-do lists. I didn’t want to lose it, so I kept reaching down under the pile of life stuff and brought it back again. I put a sunrise view from our lanai on my laptop to remind to greet the day. I found hibiscus blossoms in my own garden and floated a few in a crystal bowl on my desk to remind me that beauty is life giving. I wore my Maui sarong in the evenings to remind me that life can be free of constraints. I used the coconut soap, shampoo and lotion that reawakened my senses. It all helped…a little.

Then, my friend, Susan suggested compiling some words to describe the experience there that I could use here. I followed her wise advice and started scribbling words on a piece of paper. I struggled. None of the words seemed to capture it for me. I asked my husband for suggestions. He added a few words. I scratched off a few. The list was longer than I wanted. Life was simple there and I wanted the list to be simple, too.

The words on the list are acceptance, bountiful, enjoyment, restful, peaceful, sweet smells, birds, ocean, sands, beautiful, colorful, live. But they all seemed too much.

Here are the words I feel say it better now: Calm, beauty, ease, pleasure.
What do you think?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Living, loving, creating and Maui

Last week, I was on Maui. The beautiful, lush, tropical island with soft, sandy beaches and warm surf is a fantasy land. And fantasy is just what I needed to recharge my depleted physical, emotional and creative batteries.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve heard about my life over the last 19 months. It’s been a bumpy, sad, scary and difficult road with no end in sight. Yet. My husband’s been laid off, worked part time, laid off again. Three people we’ve known, worked with and raised children with have died. My daughter moved away from home. The life we had, that we thought was stable is gone. And we’re both searching for ways to use our talents, live our lives creatively and make a living.

Seeing people we know die too young was shocking. But it also helped us see life as a gift that doesn’t come with guarantees. What it does come with is choices, and the biggest one is to live in fear or live in love.

I spent many months in the fear zone. I wasn’t sleeping or eating very well. I lost weight. I cried a lot. I tried to get out of it by looking for reasons and causes of the difficulties, trying to figure it all out. So I could fix it all and everything would be back to normal again. It didn’t work. I had to realize that there are many things in this life, my life that I can’t control: cancer, economic recessions, industry changes and children growing up.

One day, tears streaming down my cheeks, again, I asked a friend what I could do. She said, “Let go and let God”. Now, she knows I’m not a religious person and I don’t like the word, God. But in that moment, I realized that she was right. And that God didn’t have to be the male, power figure that I grew up with but a name for the essential energy force that is in and around all of us.

Something shifted that day. I had been telling my self to let go. But I was like a child on the monkey bars, who weary of hanging on was still too afraid to let go and trust that I would land on my feet.

Maui. The trip to Hawaii was an act of trust, of letting go and loving my life instead of fearing for it. It seemed crazy at first to my ‘control’ mind to book a 5 day trip to Maui when so much is still up in the air. And yet, it felt completely right. Right after we booked the trip, I felt this incredible sense of relief. I didn’t know what the feeling was at first, then it hit me. That’s what ‘letting go’ feels like.

And I like the feeling. Oh, I still had my scary moments getting ready for the trip and getting on the plane. Even though my mind was having a hissy fit, there was a place inside me that was calm, clear and rock solid.

On Maui, I rose at dawn everyday. Watching the sunrise, hearing the birds call back and forth to each other, seeing the colors change on the distant island and the sea, I felt calmly present. My mind was silent. My body tired at first, began to rest even as I walked the beaches and floated on the waves. I picked up sweet scented flowers on the path and filled bowls with them. My creative vision became clear once again and I saw the ‘masks’ in the palm trees and the figurative forms in the tree trunks. I longed to paint the warm reds, oranges and pinks of the sunsets and the luscious greens of the distant sugar cane fields. The deep blue green waves and the light peach clouds made me want to take out my pastels and draw in a way I haven’t allowed myself to do in many years.

I wrote in my journal inspired by articles I read that told of other women’s life changes. I realized that my life isn’t bad, wrong or odd, just changed. And many of the changes, as my friends have pointed out, are good changes for me, my husband and grown-up children. But the lives that ended, have shown me the importance of living. Really living.

What does that mean for you or me? Everyone has their own ideas. Mine is to live a creative life that sustains me in physical, emotional and spiritual ways as well as inspiring and helping the world and the people around me. How can I do that? I don’t have the complete answer. Yet. Maybe I never will. But surrounded by the beauty on Maui, I opened up to life and love. I know that my choice is to live in love instead of fear, and finding ways I can share that through my life, art and writing is creating a life worth living.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Book Review:
Beg, Borrow, Steal
A Writer’s Life

by Michael Greenburg

Each chapter feels like a scrapbook page of Michael Greenburg’s life. As the son of a cantankerous scrap metal owner, Greenburg left home and dropped out of high school to live the writer’s life. Making a living is the challenge he faces taking jobs, driving cabs, selling cosmetics, writing scripts about golf, teaching Spanish and ghostwriting memoirs.

Filled with a trunk load of curious and interesting characters, including old Hebrew school chums, immigrant neighbors, fellow street vendors, shady movie producers, drag queens, rats and coffee house baristas, Greenburg gives you a chance to peek into their world through his eyes.

The chapter on living in Argentina with his high school sweetheart is a touching thrill ride as she barely survives being shot in a Buenos Aires prison riot and they escape into the country celebrating life and conceiving their son. The memory of his neighbor, the tailor and a fortune lost is heartbreaking. His description of his unsuccessful career as a waiter shows his dedication to his writing as well as his longing for a steady paycheck. My favorite was the story of Eli, the difficult dachshund whose story is one that ends happily.

There’s no doubt that Greenburg is an excellent writer and his life has been filled with adventures of living a creative life. He’s a columnist for Times Literary Supplement, author of a successful memoir, “Hurry Down Sunshine”, articles in O, The Oprah Magazine, and The New York Times Review of Books. His stories are compelling, readable and enjoyable.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Making masks on a Sunday afternoon.
What could be better? Nothing.

This Sunday, I was happy to do another “Unmask Yourself” workshop. As I told the class, the latin word for mask is persona. And so, you can see that you wear a mask every day, it’s called your personality.

The idea for the class, to unmask yourself, really means to go with your gut. Pick colors, words or phrases, beads, feathers whatever feels right, today. To stretch yourself playfully beyond what you might think is you.

My class dove right in with gusto. They glued layers of papers, words, phrases and pictures layered it all with sparkly glazes, paints, beads and feathers.

I think the pictures speak for themselves. All in all, we had a great time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

('The Red Fairy' Mask)

Masks: Why do I love them?

I love making masks. I’ve made masks out of paper, plaster, felt, clay, copper, brass, aluminum and screening. I’ve made masks of cats, dogs and frogs, wolves and polar bears, birds and bugs. The sun and the moon. A dragon, phoenix, and thunderbird. It doesn’t matter to me what kind of mask I make, it’s always a fascinating process.

Why do I love masks? I’m not sure. All I know is that making a mask is like searching for an answer to a question I don’t even know I have. It’s relaxing. It’s playful and joyful, mysterious and magical. Its peaceful solitude and energizing connection all at the same time.

Maybe I don’t have to know why. I can just love making masks. Period.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rubber bands & Paper clips:
A message from the Universe.

Walking my dog into the park last week, I looked down and there on the path was a bright shiny, silver paper clip. Not a big deal, right? To me, it was a message.

Oh, I know, it sounds a little crazy, but let me fill in the blanks for you.

About ten years ago, I was taking drawing classes in which I produced stacks of newsprint drawings. The only way to store class assignments was to roll them up and wrap a rubber band around them. I went through a lot of rubber bands. And, worrier that I was, I began to worry about a running out of rubber bands.

I was worrying about this one morning as I was walking my dog in the park. I looked down and there on the path right in front of me was a bright red rubber band. I didn’t think much about it and kept on worrying and walking. There, on the path, was another bright rubber band. I began to wonder but again kept walking. When I saw the third rubber band, I stopped. I bent and picked up the rubber band, then turning; I went back and picked up the other two I’d seen on the path. Then I laughed and gave a nod to the Universe for the lesson learned. Stop worrying about not having enough, what you need will come your way.

I always remembered that day because it was a turning point for me in many ways. I was daring to learn to draw, something I had wanted to do for a very long time. I was a mother of young children, volunteering at their schools, going to my classes in the evenings, doing my homework while they were at school and dog sitting to pay for my classes. I’d always been a worrier, but as I moved through my classes and into my own art, I began to change some of my old patterns.

Now, I make, show and sell my art as well as writing and teaching. If you’ve read any of my recent blogs, you know that this last year has brought many unexpected changes in my life. Endings have come in many forms, deaths and jobs to name a few. I know the economy has brought these changes to many of you as well. It’s been scary. And some of my old thinking patterns have crept back into my life.

A few weeks ago, I was filing papers and needed paperclips. For years, I’ve had hundreds of the little silver clips, so there always seemed to be more than enough. But this day, I couldn’t find any, anywhere. The drawer that was always full of paperclips was empty. Ah, yes. I began to worry about paper clips.

So, the other morning walking my dog into the park, I looked down and there on the path in front of me was a bright, shiny, silver paper clip. I smiled. I nodded and gave thanks to the Universe for the reminder. I will always find what I need, when I need it.

Abundance is right there, on my path, whether it’s rubber bands or paperclips, all I have to do is stop worrying and keep walking.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Making art:
Where does it come from?

Sometimes I don’t have a clue. Strike that…many times I now realize, I don’t have a clue. I pull out the clay or copper or aluminum mesh. I push. I pull. I paint. I write. Then it goes out into the world in some form or another, a gallery show, a commission, or a play. Sometimes it sells and sometimes it might be displayed in my home or stored in a closet.

One piece I created about 9 years ago features a copper mask/face on the front layered with oil paint mounted in a black wooden box. The box opens to reveal a copper repoussé of a woman in a cloak, her arms raised with a sun on her right and a moon on her left, waves indicating water are below her and the tree of life forms a border around her. On the left side of the box is a copper piece inscribed with the words, “From fire to water to life.”

I was compelled to create this piece, but always had a deep discomfort with it. The mask/face on the front scared me, but I loved the goddess repoussé on the inside. The kite shaped black wooden box, made by my husband, was beautiful. But after I showed it, I was happy to put it in the closet. There it stayed for many years.

Last year, as I was setting up for Portland Open Studios, my husband pulled it out of the closet. I didn’t really want to put it out but he insisted. So I reluctantly hung it up on a wall for display intending to take it down when the tour was over. But something funny happened along the way, I realized what this piece was all about and made my peace with it.

This piece is about my Dad.

My Dad had glaucoma and was forced to retire, when the large automobile corporation discovered his disability. His anger and grief led him in a downward health spiral. After he died, I created this piece. The ‘kite’ shape is actually a coffin, it even opens up like a coffin with hinges on the side and inside, the poem I wrote and the repoussé are all about freeing him from his pain and letting go.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I didn’t get it. And if my husband hadn’t insisted that I take it out of the closet and hang it up where I had to look at it for two weeks, I’d never have figured it out. As artists, writers, musicians or anyone who creates, the why is always a big question. Sometimes, we know. Sometimes, we don’t.

For the past year, I’ve been doing interviews and podcasts with artists and writers. What I’ve learned is that the drive to create is fueled in many different ways and that some artists do know where that fuel comes from, and some don’t. But sometimes, if we’re lucky, like I was, you get to figure it out. Patrick carves wooden sculptures based on his desire for stillness. Kelly paints her memories of landscapes. Nicky sculpts and welds her way back from cancer to health.

You can hear these podcasts at or read the articles on my other blog at

These podcasts will give you the opportunity to hear these artists personally explain their work. Their stories are unique and inspiring and these interviews give you chance to understand where their art comes from.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Heaven on a hot day:
Homemade Blueberry Cobbl

I love blueberry season. Not just because blueberries are luscious, of course, but because I love to bake. Yes, it's my little secret. Not very feminist of me, I know, but domestic as it is, baking is one of my joys in life. Perhaps, it's time to come out of the closet, so to speak.

Ever since my Grandmother Gallacher taught me to make her scones, I've been hooked on baking. I became the family cookie maker and when my children were little, I developed dozens of muffin recipes for their snacks. True to my creative side, I'm always coming up with new recipes or modifying old ones, and although I do have a library of cookbooks, I rarely follow these recipes. I use them as concepts or guidelines or a jumping off point to something I'd like to bake. Although, I love my Grandmother's traditional scone recipe, I've made my own creations based on it such as Poppyseed Lemon Scones, Chocolate Raspberry and Maple Oatmeal to name a few. I'm not sure she'd be happy with me about that, but oh well.

Today's piece of heaven is a blueberry cobbler that I baked using a filling of fresh, local blueberries, sugar, tapioca and lemon juice topped with a variation of my Grandmother's scone recipe. Serve it warm or on a day like today, cold with a generous dollop of yogurt. Yum!

It's a little slice of heaven on a day when it's already 99 degrees outside and it's only 1pm. This is not my kind of summer day, which is why I live in Portland, Oregon, to be able to have moderate summer weather with highs in the mid 80's to low 90's. But, Mother Nature has her own ideas.

So I'm glad that the other day, I had the idea to bake this cobbler and today I get to enjoy it! It's delicious coolness of such a hot day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art & Labor & The Labor of Art Show:
How what we do, influences our art.

I entered one of my sculptural boxes, “Zara, a woman from Niger” in a local show called, ‘Art & Labor and The Labor of Art’. This piece, one of a series of three, started with the face of a Nigerian woman. As I worked on her face in clay, I started wonder: what is her life like? What does she do to sustain herself and her family? How does she dress? Who shares her life?
This piece became a series of three, depicting the faces, textiles, landscapes and lives of women from Niger, India and Japan. I researched their countries, lifestyles, work and history. I read books about their countries, searched National Geographic articles and found travel books for photos of the country’s landscapes.

With this information, their stories emerged.

‘Zara, a woman from Niger’ begins her day by the fire warming herself in the cold desert morning. Her husband is away on a caravan in search of salt, a prized commodity in this desert country. ‘Sartha, a woman from India’ wakes at dawn to go out into the crocus fields to carefully pick the stamens which become the highly prized spice, saffron. ‘Meiko, a woman from Japan’ farms her small plot on the island of Hokkaido. She is an Annui, the indigenous people of Japan once exiled on the island by the Japanese government.

On the outside of each box is a copper repousse’ illustrating some aspect of their daily life. Inside the door is a short written piece about their daily life. Mounted inside the box, the clay faces are adorned with ethnic jewelry, textiles and tattoos. The background behind the faces depicts their native landscapes.

I’m thrilled that all three ‘Ethnic Portrait’ series boxes were accepted into the show. Art & Labor, the Labor of Art exhibit focuses on the issues of labor, making ends meet and the effects of economy on family and society. As well as the relationship between the arts and labor movements and the reality that human toil is the foundation of creativity.

I’m honored to be one of many wonderful national, regional and local artists in this show curated by Lora R. Fisher, such as Gwenn Seemel, Mitch Baird, Christopher B. Mooney, Celeste Bergin, Allen Schmertzler, Patricia Gifford, Susan B. Schenk, Anthony Lazorko, Jr. and Sarah Hauser. If you’re in Portland, Oregon, you can see the show at the Olympic Mills Gallery, 107 S.E. Washington Street, through August 30, 2009.

To see all three ‘Ethnic Portrait’ sculptural boxes, visit my website, Susan Gallacher-Turner Sculpture

Friday, July 10, 2009

A visit with author, Janet Riehl

Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry & Music

Janet and I met over the internet while doing a blogtour for author, Eric Maisel. I visited her blog. She visited mine. And a blog friendship was born. We’ve supported each other often, commenting on new events in our lives both good and bad. Today, I’m so happy to have her visit my blog as part of her own blogtour for her new audio book, ‘Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry & Music’.

Janet’s coming to Art & Words from Janet Muirhead Hill’s blog. You can see the complete calendar for Janet’s blogtour

The audio book, ‘Sightlines, A Poet’s Diary’ is a weaving together of the lives of six generations featuring Janet and her father reading poems, telling stories, singing and playing music that brings us all back to the true meaning of family.

Welcome, Janet. I’m so glad you’re here to visit, so let’s chat.

Susan: When you began commuting from California to your family’s home in the Midwest after your sister’s tragic death, what was your creative life like in Lake County in Northern California?
Janet: I’d moved up to Lake County in 1998 to continue my life as a working artist by living less expensively after living in the Bay Area for about a dozen years. By the time I moved back to the Midwest, I’d spent around 22 years in California. That wasn’t part of my life plan, it just worked out that way.
In the Bay Area, in 1990, the art came in for me. I painted large scale banners on cloth and had my first solo show 9 months later. I belonged to a story telling troupe led by Luisah Teish—Storyteller, Yoruba Priestess, Writer, Director, Teacher and Performer. I wrote my own stories, preformed them, and used the banners I’d painted as the backdrops and props. I began a stream of creative writing in addition to the stories I performed.
When I moved up North to Lake County—a sparsely populated, breathtakingly beautiful, poor, rural locale—I made my mission to promote arts and culture within the county. I did that in every media possible: writing, visual art, and performance.
As a writer I sponsored poetry readings and a monthly writing circle. I was twice nominated Poet Laureate of Lake County…a surprisingly hotly contested position.
As a visual artist I mounted outdoor celebrations-performances-installations in both state parks in the county. I was given a grant from UC/Davis to be bio-regional artist in residence the year of my “Water Ceremonies” work. I showed throughout California and engaged in mail art internationally.
As a performer I appeared twice in The Vagina Monologues and several local theater productions. For three years running my sweetheart and I produced a comedy variety review show called “Comedy on Tilt.”
Plus, I supported much of this community arts work through substitute teaching all around the lake, running a family literacy program, and teaching art class for children.
In other words, in many ways, my life was not unlike the lives of most practicing artists: I did what I could, when I could, as well as I could.

Susan: How did you keep it going during these years between 2004 when your sister died, through your mother’s death in 2006, to the time you moved back in 2007?
Janet: I had to scale back. I’d be in Illinois for six weeks and then back in Lake County for three weeks. This schedule lasted for years. What I loved about writing “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” was that it was portable. I could write while caring for my mother and supporting my father. All the information I needed I carried on my thumb drive. The book was something I could shape and control and own—at a time when the wheelbarrow of my life had completely tipped over.

Susan: Did you do more visual art before your sister’s death in 2004?
Janet: For 17 years I kept my visual art practice going: 1) from 1990 when the art came in… 2) through 1996 when I graduated with high distinction from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland as a clay sculptor… 3) and on up to the time of my definitive move to the Midwest in 2007.
My studio, Rocking Triangle Studio, was active in producing work and projects in many media. I continued to contribute to the visual art world of Lake County after Julia’s death in 2004. I joined the board of EcoArts of Lake County during that time.
My method was to rotate between writing, visual art, and performance, in terms of where my energy was focused during any given period.
As I prepared for my move in 2007, trying to figure out what to pack, I decided that I would close my studio. I gave away much of the art I’d created and my art materials. I took some materials to my father’s house just to play with myself and with my great-nieces.

Susan: Writing is now your main art form?
Janet: I decided that I needed to make my life simpler by focusing on one discipline. I decided that would be writing.

Susan: Do you see the story poem becoming an ongoing form for you?
Janet: My main form of writing is memoir. The first book came out as the story poems. The memoir I’m currently writing “Finding My African Heart: A Village of Stories” is solely in prose.

Susan: In your new audio book, Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music [hotlink to CD Baby], you combined your love of words with music. How did that come about?
Janet: When we were kids we always sang in the car. The great love of my father’s life is the music of his boyhood and young manhood. He’s an excellent musician, performer, and composer. But, for him, it’s all about the music.
I’d used music in my talks as I traveled sharing “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary.” In Illinois, my father performed with me several times during these talks. I’m a musician myself.
Shaping the audio book into interweavings of poems, songs, family stories, and the banter of our recording session in Pop’s parlor naturally provided a fuller context.

Susan: You’ve talked about quilting as an important part of your family history, how have you carried on the tradition of quilting?
Janet: I’ll never be a quilter as my great aunties were or as my mother was. I’m not adept at fine stitches, for instance. My sister and I embroidered on a flower quilt in the car on our family vacations. My stitches, as a 6-year younger sister, were always so sprawling compared to hers.

In Ghana I pieced a quilt top from the hand-woven strip cloth made in the North. When I came back to the States in the late 1970s, Mother worked with me to complete this to bed-size, pad it, line it, and tuft it as we did her comforters.

I’d collected marvelous Maridadi silk screen prints from Kenya. (Maridadi is Swahili for anything beautiful, tasteful, or pleasing to the eye.) Mother worked with me in the same way to make a doublebed quilt top and take it all the way to a full-fledged comforter.

After 911, I made a Peace Quilt out of paper towels which carried the words to my poem “What I Want to Say about War” against a back drop of black trash bags…embellished by other media.

The quilting instinct is the desire to bring together fragments into one object of beauty and meaning. I do that through collaging in a variety of media. “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music” is, essentially, collaged from pieces of sound that tell stories in words or music.

Susan: How has sharing your feelings, music, and poetry helped you through this tragedy and brought you closer to your community?
Janet: In some ways, this has happened by bringing the community closer to me. I was able to create a far-flung community of people who don’t know each other and have never met who have found the two projects in The Sightlines Collection—book and audio book—helpful to them. This gave our experience a sense of meaning and purpose.
There are even some readers who go back to read “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary” once a year since it’s come out. That’s an astonishing outreach for an individually produced project.

Thank you for stopping by on your busy blogtour, today. The next stop on Janet’s tour is with another Janet. You can hear her on Janet Elaine-Smith’s internet radio show, “Marketing for Fun and Profit on PIVR(Passionate Internet Voices Radio)
To win a free audio book view and comment on the featured video of the week on the top post at Janet will use a random numbers generator to choose a winning comment.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Telling Tales:
Art & Story time for the kid in all of us.

Tearing out pictures. Making up words. Putting them together to create a story. Then telling the tale to others. Giving people a chance to work with words and pictures in a fun, easy, free-form way was the idea behind the workshop, ‘Telling Tales’.

This storytelling, mixed media workshop, brought people together to work on both a group story, and their own individual story. This mini-workshop was given in conjunction with the Subject/Object show at The Kingstad Gallery. In the short time span, I didn’t expect anyone to have a finished product, but a jump start their creative juices and inspire them to create in a new way using words, pictures, paint and glue.

Here’s what one artist, Carolyn Rondthaler, started in the workshop and finished in her studio. This is a mixed media accordion book, using magazine images, words, paint, glue, glazes and more. I love the natural flow of images and words that Carolyn uses to tell her tale.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sculpting a living in spite of fear.
A podcast interview with sculptor, Patrick Gracewood.
(Garden sculpture by Patrick Gracewood)

Last week, I wrote about fear and creating. I asked you to share your stories about how you deal with fear. I’m going to collect the comments and stories in another blog, so keep those comments coming. I know I learn so much by talking with other creative people out there.

This week, I’d like to share what I learned talking with Portland, Oregon sculptor, Patrick Gracewood for a podcast on Voices of Living Creatively. One thing I learned is that fear goes with the territory in a creative life and it doesn’t mean you stop or give up. “Art has saved my life many times; I give my life to art,” says Patrick. “It takes a big commitment.”

This dedication comes from a simple philosophy: if it’s sculpture, he’ll do it.

Patrick is living a creative life and making a living combining his own studio work with commercial sculpture work. His studio work ranges from large concrete garden sculptures to small, hand-carved wooden figures. The commercial sculpture work has included working for such diverse businesses as a mannequin company, a wax works, landscape and architectural design firms, and film companies such as CBS and Universal. He’s worked on the films “Legend” and “Legal Eagles”, fountains, facades and column capitals for casinos, a portrait of guitarist, Jimmy Hendrix for a Seattle high school and an enormous dragon for Wynn Casino in China.

As with all kinds of freelance work, the jobs come and go. Patrick agrees that’s scary but he’s found a way to deal with the fear and keep creating. You can hear more by listening to the podcast at

Listen and let us all know how your art saves your life in spite of your fears. If you or anyone you know is living a creative life, let your voice be heard. Set up an interview and podcast for your website or blog by contacting me at

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fear and Art: How to be fearful and creative.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, fear swoops into my mind, my studio, my life and knocks me off my feet. I don’t like it. Not one bit.

What do I do? I get out my boxing gloves and try to beat it into submission. The only problem with that is, I wind up beating myself up and I’m tired of the bruises. Or I run, as fast as I can, trying to get away. I get busy, busy, busy with email, chores around the house, running errands. The problem with that is, the fear follows me anyway.

What I’ve come to find out is that fear and creativity seem to go hand in hand. I’m not the only one who feels the terror of the creative life and what’s even weirder is that it doesn’t seem to matter if you’ve just had a success or a failure with your art. The fear is there anyway. Add this ridiculous economic roller coaster ride we’ve all been on lately and no wonder many of us feel the need to put our heads between our knees.

Ok, so what can I do about it? I know I don’t want to feel this way anymore…maybe I can’t eliminate fear entirely, but surely, there’s a better way. So I went in search of answers although there are many out there, I wanted to ask the people in the trenches, artists and writers how they deal with the fear. This is what I found out.

My friend, Patrick, says when the terror gets him, he goes out into his garden and sits for a while. When his heart rate slows down, he goes back into the studio and works. My writer friend, Susan, uses acceptance to pull her through the fear and back onto the page. Laurel takes a walk in the park. Janice goes out and works in her garden. Michael feels the fear and moves on.

I moved on, too. This week, when my life felt like a ride on Space Mountain, I went into the studio anyway. I got out the clay and pushed it around for awhile. Then I cut out a piece of screening and pushed it around, too. I layered yellow, ochre, white and black on my owl and lion masks. Today, I cut and rolled aluminum into lilies and leaves. Even though there was music playing, it was quiet and peaceful. The 'fear' roller coaster ride stopped. Finally.

I didn’t have to fight or flee. I just had to show up, get out my clay, metal and paint. How simple is that? The way out of my fear is to create.

How do you deal with your fear? Leave a comment, so we can all help each other.

I saw this on youtube. Author, Elizabeth Gilbert, talks about anxiety and “A different way to think about creative genius.” It helped me. Give it a listen and let me know if it helps you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

How do you live a creative life and make a living?

For years, I’ve been lucky to have been supported by my husband’s income and free to explore my art, show my work, teach classes and write. The economy has changed that for us.

I’ve made some money over the years. But now, my creative life needs to make a living. How do I do that?

The answer: a new website and a new series of interviews with people who live creative lives around their passions and make a living. The website is

The first interview features, The Weitzers, a couple from Portland, Oregon, who make a living through their passions for a healthy life. They run a variety of home-based businesses but each one started out as a personal passion. They’re an inspiration.

I know I need to hear these stories. I don’t want fear to derail me from my passions, that’s why I decided to seek out others who have been living a creative life and making a living from it. I wanted to pass that inspiration and information onto you, too.

We all need to know that it is possible to live a creative life, a life doing what you love and paying your bills. Check it out. Let me know what you think. And if you or someone you know is making a living from their creative passions, and would like to be interviewed, let me know.

Listen to the interview on iTunes at
Or read the first interview in the ‘Living a Creative Life’ at

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A wonderful class:
Creating Muse Wands.

Creating is a magical process. It’s even more magical when I get to share the process. Last Saturday, on a sunny afternoon, I taught a class through Portland Community College called, ‘Muse Wands’.

After introductions all around, I set out the supplies and did a short demonstration of how to do copper repoussé. Then the students dove into designing and creating their own personal ‘Muse Wands’.

These remarkable women created unique pieces: a copper angel with healing stones, a sun/moon face with blue, green and white beads, a butterfly covered in leaves and a homage to earth, water, air and fire. I’m so glad that one of the students sent me these pictures of her finished ‘Muse Wand’.

What a magical, creative afternoon!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Puppy Love

A soft, fluffy, furry, warm nosed puppy snuffling up to your neck is one of my ideas of heaven on earth. There’s just nothing like the sweet smell of puppy breath and little wet kisses to make you feel loved. I guess they don’t call it puppy love for nothing.

I’ve helped with my friends with several litters of puppies over the years, but this time, I just get to be a puppy love visitor. Whether I get to pat, cuddle or just admire their cute little faces, it’s warm and wonderful and refreshing, just to be around these cute bundles of romping energy.

These five adorable puppies are in the loving hands of two dedicated foster care volunteers for the Oregon Humane Society. The Mommy was taken from a farm near Burns, Oregon along with over 120 other dogs. When she came to their home, she was matted, underweight and pregnant. But her eyes were soft, sweet and hopeful.

Soon, she gave birth to five healthy puppies obviously from several different fathers. There are two black and white and a tan that look like mom, one lab-like black one and one black, white and tan pup that looks like Burmese mountain dog. Whatever their parentage, they are healthy bundles of energy.

Next week, they get spayed and neutered and then, they’ll be ready for adoption. At eight weeks, they’re the perfect age to add to your family. Take a look at these pictures and see if there’s a place in your heart and home for a little puppy love.

Mom will be looking for a new home, too. But she needs a little puppy recovery time, gaining some weight and getting spayed before she’s ready for a new home. I have to say, she’s come a long way from a shy, worried girl to warm, curious and sweet dog. I know she’ll be a wonderful friend and companion, too.

If you’re interested in one of these cute pups or lovely mama dog, you can check out the Oregon Humane Society website at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life & The Art of Collaboration.

If you’d asked me last week if I did much collaborating, I’d say no. As a studio artist, I work alone in my studio and I wouldn’t call the clay, metal or paint collaborators. As a writer, I write alone on my laptop and even though I do interviews and articles, I would say it was more like collecting information than collaborating. As a teacher, although I’m working with students, I wouldn’t have called it collaborating. But I’d be wrong.

This week, I went to the Oregon Arts Summit, a gathering of businesses, artists, educators and arts organizations. The theme of the meeting was, ‘The Art of Collaboration’.

After the summit, I realize I collaborate all the time. I just didn’t know it. I can see that I had a very narrow view of collaborating. In my view, collaborating would involve two or more people sitting down and working on a single project.

According to jazz saxophone player and speaker, Mike Phillips, “Collaboration begins with a relationship between you and your gift.”

Although my studio work looks like a solitary activity, I realize now, that isn’t true. When I sit outside, watch the birds fly, see faces in the leaves on the trees and use the spirit of nature in my copper repousse’, clay or metal mesh, I’ve collaborated from within myself and with my environment.

Of course, teaching a group of students is, indeed, an act of collaboration. I may come in with a basic idea for the class, but the way the class flows and grows is all about getting over fear, learning to trust and working toward an art piece together.

My writing is, also, a collaboration. In an interview situation, especially, the person and I have to trust each other enough to share information. I may be asking the questions, but the depth of the answers depend on the person’s willingness to open up about their life, work and process.

According to writer, Barry Lopez, “We gave up community in order to get the individual. We need to rediscover what it means to be community oriented.”

For many years, I longed to belong to a community of artists. Joining Portland Open Studios has given me that opportunity. But collaborating can be tricky. A few weeks ago, another artist asked me to collaborate with her and although I could see the benefit for both of us, I was concerned. I worried that she just wanted to find out my process, so she could use it to her advantage. So I tiptoed around it and she stopped asking. I can see, now, I was wrong.

Because life is all about collaborating, from the air we breathe, food we eat, work we do and, yes, the art we make. Of course, there’s fear. Especially right now, with the state of the economy but maybe that focus needs to change.

Lopez says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about love. It can be done and the money will turn up.”

If I can do it, so can you. Yes, it takes trust, patience and heart to live a good life in an artful collaboration. But isn’t that what it’s all about?

I think Barry Lopez said it best when he ended the day with this, “Let’s make something beautiful. Whatever you do, try to make it helpful. Show us what we fear and give us the reason to believe we do not need to be afraid.”

Saturday, May 09, 2009

(Trimmed area) (Untrimmed area)

(Heron in Lake)

A Walk in the Park:
An occasional series.

After days and days of drenching rain, wind and hail, the sun came out. The park sparkles. Like a freshly polished jewel, the bright yellow green leaves shined in the sun, small white cherry blossoms sprinkled the ground and little ducklings floated behind their mom in the lake.

As Jilly, my yellow lab, and I walked around the lake, I spied a small blue heron fishing by the small island. We stopped and stared at this beautiful bird with its long, graceful neck, curvaceous body and stilt-like legs. Carefully, my husband made his way closer to take these pictures. Why were we being so careful? Because, we haven’t seen herons for awhile at the park. And that’s strange, because we’re used to seeing herons around our lake on a daily basis.

So why the change? Well, I’m not an expert, but I noticed that when the park workers began their forest trimming program to eradicate invasive plants, I stopped seeing the herons.

Take a look at the other pictures, here. Notice the beautiful naturally lush forest? That’s an area that hasn’t been trimmed, yet. Then, see the barren, flat area with the dead branches? That’s just one of the areas that have been cut down by large trimmers and mowers.

Now, they’ve started spraying. Yes. The other day, walking in the park, there was a small sign stating that herbicides were being sprayed on invasive plants, and a warning to stay from any foliage covered with blue dye.

The invasive plants they’re spraying are blackberries. Many a day, I’ve happily picked and enjoyed these plump, juicy berries while walking through the park. What’s nicer than a stroll through the woods, than one where you get free snacks, courtesy of Mother Nature? With nature now covered with herbicides, I won’t be snacking there anymore.

But what’s really bothering me is what they’re doing to the bird’s nesting places. First, trimming the bushes in the forest eliminates nesting for some small birds, snakes and rabbits. Now, they’re cutting down the bushes on the island where the geese and ducks nest. And right now, it’s the middle of nesting season.

Last week, I saw the first set of new goslings. Three sets of protective parents surrounded 12 little goslings as they foraged in the grass. I admire the goose community every year. They work as a tightly knit group parenting their goslings. Together, they protect, nest, birth, feed and teach their goslings. When goose flight school starts, it’s an amazing thing to watch how well organized they are at teaching their goslings to fly.

But how can these parents protect their goslings now? Where are they going to go when their nests are destroyed? How will they know to stay away from the blue-dyed plants covered with herbicides?

Next week, I’m calling the park department. I’m going to give them a piece of my mind. I want my park to be a safe place for everyone, moms and dads with kids, goslings, ducklings and herons, too.