Friday, October 5, 2012


Your Face is Gonna Freeze Like That
Our daughter Alexis did some amazing work when she was in the AP art program throughout high school, and considered going off to art school afterwards, but later thought better of it. When asked why, she said "I think I'm really good at acquiring skills, but this doesn't seem to be a real passion for me. It doesn't call out to me when I'm away from the classroom, or impel me to drop whatever I'm doing and go create something." I've been thinking about that a lot lately -- about the difference between "acquiring skills" and creative passion. I've been thinking about all the different phases I've been through -- from cooking and sewing, through gardening and visual merchandising, and on to art and writing -- and wondering why some things were more, well, impelling to me than others...why sometimes it felt like I was just "acquiring skills", while at others it was more of a compulsion. I finally realized that it wasn't that I preferred or was more gifted at one thing over the other, for I had experienced phases of both within my writing practice alone, so I tried to analyze what caused it to shift from one to the other, and then morph back again.

My Sketchbook and One of My Writing Journals
I never enjoyed writing in school. In fact, it was my Achille's Heel. I did enjoy writing letters though, especially when we lived overseas. Keeping a notepad around to jot down events and ideas throughout the week, then letting those ideas percolate and form little stories in my head as I went for a walk or did dishes, helped the words to just pour out onto the page as soon as I picked up my pen. When the letter-writing stopped, the stories stopped.

It wasn't until we bought this place in the Hill Country and began spending our weekends here, that they started up again. I think the trigger was sitting on the porch each morning, thinking about our experiences here, jotting down a few notes about them in a spiral notebook, and deciding that maybe I should pick up my old letter-writing habit again -- share some of these "adventures" with older friends and family who weren't hearing about them through emails and facebook.  Suddenly these everyday events began morphing into stories as I sat watching the sun come up, and I just couldn't get them down fast enough!

Writing became a major obsession after that, so I quit my job in Houston and moved up here ahead of John, in order to have more time for it. But then I started to feel the need to justify my actions -- to prove I was a real writer which, of course, meant bringing in some bucks for it, right? I took writing classes, joined writing groups, read writing books and magazines, tried to erase my colloquial verbage in order to make my articles more acceptable for publication in journals and magazines, and changed everything my various instructors thought I needed to change. The only problem was, the more I tried to do, the less passion I had for writing, and the weaker my "voice" became. When I let the classes and groups go, and just concentrated on spending quiet time each morning with a notebook in my lap, my passion, and my voice, returned.

Right now, I'm taking all these art classes, and acquiring all these "skills", but I haven't really found my voice or my passion. I'm just not getting those lightbulb moments that compel me to drop whatever I'm doing and run to the studio to let it all out. I've got one teacher telling me I need a sketchbook for nature-based "field notes", and another telling me I need one just for color related notes. There's one wanting me to keep a notebook on lettering styles, and another telling me I need one to practice sketching in. And of course, there are all those notebooks from my morning writing practice, my garden notebooks, my seasonal cooking notebooks, and well, it's turning into notebook/sketchbook chaos around here!

So here's what I'm thinkin'. I'm thinking I just need one good sketch book at a time -- one with sturdy enough pages to take a little paint when I need to make color notes, and with large enough pages for both writing and sketching, but one which is lightweight enough to carry with me when I'm on the go.  It will be my writing journal, my travel journal, my field guide, my sketchbook and my idea book. Most importantly, I will spend quiet time with it every morning, letting whatever is in my head spill out onto its pages, whether it be in words, sketches, ideas, or colors. I have every confidence that, if I can stop focusing so much on other artists' voices, and start listening more to my own, my artistic passion and voice will eventually make themselves heard.

Of course, that doesn't mean I can't take the occasional class, whenever I want to acquire a particular skill set, right?

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Well, what started out to be a somewhat depressing, last-ditch mission to the medical center in Houston with my hubby, somehow morphed into the loveliest little one-night vacation -- one that managed to surprise us both! To start with, we usually book (via a room at one of those small hotels for business traveler,s whenever we go to Houston. This time, however, when John was trolling for something down near the medical center, he saw a listing for a B&B called Robin's Nest that sounded interesting and, on the spur of the moment, booked that instead. Since we arrived in Houston well before check-in time, we decided to kill a little time at Texas Art Supply over on Montrose. I wasn't expecting to find much in the way of crafty stuff, but figured I could at least nab a jar of the Golden gel medium that's supposed to be best for doing image transfers. Boy, was I ever mistaken. This shop had every single thing I've ever wanted in the way of art journaling/mixed media supplies, but could never find at Michaels or Hobby Lobby -- and had them selling for a good bit less than what I could order them for on line, which is why I ended up with all of this!

What really cracked me up was that Hubby was tossing stuff into the cart every bit as fast as I was (some cool stocking stuffers for the kids), plus had a secret stash that I wasn't allowed to see. I never even made it over to the book section, where I could easily have spent an entire day. This experience alone would have been enough to make my month, but wait, there's more!

As soon as we pulled up to the curb in front of our B&B, and saw this, my Spidey-sensors started tingling like crazy. The place was absolutely color-mad! Not only that, but if you were ever a fan of designer MacKenzie Childs, well, that checkerboard pattern on the porch columns should have your own Spidey-senses tingling as well. A lot of us mimicked her designs with our home-sewn decor and do-it-yourself pottery painting, but this place was overflowing with the real deal my friends, from the end tables and ottomans, to the precious tin enamelware on the dining room table.

The best part was when owner Robin brought her cup of coffee over and sat down to chat with us at breakfast. It seems she had bought this late 19th century farmhouse (can you believe it?), back in the late  seventies, from the grandson of its original owners. At the time she had an exciting career as executive assistant for an ambassador. It wasn't until ten or fifteen years later, when Houston was in a major oil slump, that she started thinking about all the wonderful B&B's she had stayed in throughout Europe, as well as her passion for decorating, and suddenly had the inspiration for her next career.

As if that weren't enough, we got to enjoy a delicious dinner with son Austin and sweet Areej, at a lovely little French cafe called Sale'-Sucre'. I'm mad about their vintage-photo-topped-tables!

Of course, I know you are all wondering about this hypertension "specialist" we went to see, and what all he had to say, but the truth is, it's just to early to tell. The one thing I do appreciate so far is that he is the first who is bothering to look for causes, instead of merely treating the symptoms. So there are tests to be run, results to be analyzed, medications and history to be studied, and then in mid-November, when we visit with him again, perhaps we will know more.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Well, we had quite the weekend in San Antonio, Debbie and I. How could it fail to be fun, when one's instructor shows up with turquoise-tipped hair? Of course, Debbie sat with her phone right in front of her the whole time, in case her daughter should call to say she was in labor, but that just added to the excitement.

Donna has a fabulous shop and studio of her own in North Carolina, but she also teaches all over the world. She taught three classes for us, each three to five hours long, and for each one we received a packet full of fun "ingredients", such as this one for our Vintage Chic cardboard mini album.

Now, I am not a scrapbooker (that's what my blogs are for), so this was the project I was least enthusiastic about. However, I must admit, it was kinda fun. We were told to make copies of some of our own photos and bring them with us, to go in this album. I thought black and white photos would look best in it, and since the only ones I have were from our time in Southeast Asia, that is what I brought.

Since Donna is a big fan of tucking bits of old book paper into her projects here and there (you can see it peeking out around the edges of the pages), she tears out pages from old paperbacks she has finished with, and tucks several into each packet she assembles. How bizarre is it then, that the one packet I chose, just happened to hold pages from a book that took place in Southeast Asia, and my album now has words like Borneo and kampung peeking out everywhere!

The next morning we came in to find a huge mound of handmade, cloth-bound journals stacked on a table, and it was quite the free-for-all when she told us all to scramble for whichever one we liked best. I sat back and waited, not wishing to get mauled, but was quite tickled with my green polka dots, since I keep all my journals and sketchbooks stacked in an old painted chair that is just that color. Unlike our first class, this journal was not a project meant to be completed in a few hours. It was just a place for us to experiment with all the different techniques that Donna was throwing at us. Many pages were still blank when we left, some were going to be backgrounds that we would journal on when the mood hit, and still others would probably get gessoed over and repainted. In the picture below, we were dropping globs of India ink on our pages, then blowing on them with a straw, to make them branch out over the page. There are two reasons that I am semi-hysterical in this photo. One is that this technique can cause you to hyperventilate. Seriously. Second is that Donna had just told us "there you go ladies, now you know how to do a blow job." I came dangerously close to snorting ink back up through the straw.

My ink blot page, which I added a face to when I decided it was shaped like a bat.
The last class was all about Pan Pastels, which are a creamier version of pastels, without as much dust, and which come in little compact-like containers. I had bought several different colors for one of my on-line classes, but we had only touched on the subject briefly, then I'd hardly used them since. We painted this entire 11x14 canvas using nothing but the pan pastels (well, except for that tiny bit of stamp pad embellishment at the end) and now I really, really love them.

Wish I had more time to let the whole experience soak in and get processed, but tomorrow morning John and I will be heading down to Houston for his first visit with the hypertension specialist. His cardiologist warned us not to expect any "magic bullets", and we don't, but it sure would be nice if they could at least come up with a drug combination which wouldn't have the poor guy feeling so draggy-assed all the time. Fingers crossed ever-buddy!