Week 52: Endings and Beginnings

I have reached the end of this journey, and my 52nd collage is complete. For this final work in the series, I decided to pull together some of my favorite imagery from throughout the year, and create an essential distillation of My Suburban Life. This is my place and the things that I treasure. There is the map of the neighborhood, and images of the surrounding landscape where we live. I included the dogwoods, the rose bushes, and the pear tree in the front yard where the mockingbirds sing. The wild geese fly overhead, while seedlings sprout in the garden. There are themes of growth and flight, both appropriate metaphors for the work of the past year. My husband and son walk close by while I lean over my drawing board, secure in my place in the world, my love of creating, and my commitment to my work. This is a very different feeling from when I began the project, with that strange ambivalence and unease of living in the ‘burbs. Now things are different. I have not only made peace with my suburbia, I have made it my own. My identity as an artist is not defined by where I live, but how I live a creative life.

The Lego Spaceship was featured in the very first collage, and makes a final appearance here as well. This was from a small drawing that I made back in January 2012, when I first began the project, and had saved to use in a future work. Ever since my son Max flew his Lego Spaceship into my studio last January, it became a symbol of Art meeting Life. The spaceship hovers above the earth in the realm of the imagination, while simultaneously being a tangible domestic object, embedded in the material world. This magical child-like ability to bridge the gap between imagination and reality became my inspiration. My previous body of work had conspicuously avoided the realities of everyday life, preferring the escapism of imaginary lands. One year ago I asked new questions: Can I come down from my Ivory Tower and welcome the Lego Spaceship into my creative domain? Can I take the stuff of everyday life and transform it into art? Can I move freely between those two realms, with an openness and receptivity to both my own imagination and the intricate details of My Suburban Life? These questions led me to a place of greater awareness and compassion towards myself and my world, while continuing to challenge me to strive towards my best, most authentic work.

Endings and Beginnings, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 inches

Endings and Beginnings, acrylic collage, 12 x 12 inches

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

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Detail, Endings and Beginnings

Week 43: Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Autumn in Virginia is a glorious time to walk in the woods. Walnut Creek Park is our favorite place to go hiking. Just south of town, and less than a half hour’s drive from our house, it is a nearby place that feels a world away. There is a beautiful lake for canoeing or fishing, and miles of wooded trails for hiking or mountain biking. My husband and I started going there together soon after we met. We would always bring our two Labradors, Toby and Maya, who loved running the trails as much as we did. Now 14 years later, we come with our Labradoodle, Holly, and our young son, Max. Life has changed a lot in this time, but Walnut Creek remains the same special place.

We also enjoy bringing visiting family and friends to Walnut Creek. My father-in-law, Papa Deak, and his partner, Papa Paul, were here visiting from California, and it was a perfect “Autumn in Virginia” kind of day to share with them.  The colors were just past their peak, but plenty of reds, oranges and golds still clung to the treetops, and a soft layer of dry leaves covered the paths. The air was cool, the sun was warm, and each step forward brought a gentle crunch through fallen leaves. There is a stillness to the woods that quiets the chatter of my mind, making room for a more essential understanding that emerges in its place: as we move through the colorful canopies of changing light, we are no longer separate from nature, or from each other, but merely different incarnations of one life, one love. Holly romps through the leaves, my boy laughs, I hear the click of Papa’s camera, a bird sings, three generations walk together, all different but the same.

Red Foliage Textures

For the Autumn collages, I began experimenting with different ways to create textures and patterns to represent the colorful foliage. I first tried this a few weeks ago in the Sunday Drive collage. Using charcoal and colored India inks, I filled up sheets of paper with leaf patterns that were then used to cut out shapes of tree canopies and individual leaves. I tried out different color combinations, as well as small and large scale patterns to develop a sense of distance and space. Once I had a good variety of pattern sheets to choose from, I was able to assemble the tree imagery in combination with the other small drawings and painted motifs. In this week’s work, I included a small illustration of my family ahead on the trail, my boy in a familiar gesture with his Dad, Holly following close behind.

We had a wonderful visit with Papa Deak and Papa Paul. They have always expressed an interest in my artwork, and continually offer their support and encouragement as I move along my creative path. They have also taken the time to read every single post of my blog and respond to each in the comments section. I am so appreciative of this! It was a lot of fun to show them the collages in person for the first time, after sharing them on the computer screen all year. I feel very blessed to have such loving and supportive people in my family. Thank you Papa Deak and Papa Paul!

Walk in the Woods, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Detail, Walk in the Woods

Week 30: California Trip Part I

We’re back from California and I have been working on a series of new collages about our trip. I’ll be catching up on posts this week and sharing some of our adventures along with my work. California is a special place for my family. My husband grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and while I am an East Coaster by origin, I have grown to love the West Coast. Ever since my husband proposed to me on a beach near Santa Cruz, we have had many memorable experiences together on our trips back to California. On this vacation we returned to some of our favorite places, discovered new ones, and enjoyed wonderful visits with dear family members and friends.

On the first weekend of our trip, our boy Max turned 9. I wanted to make a montage of all the fun things we did on his birthday, as well as his favorite activities of the trip. But beyond creating a record of places or events, I wanted to capture the essence of this moment in time with our son. What does it feel like to turn nine and have the run of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, go fishing off a pier, wade in the surf, ride a rollercoaster, or see your first Major League baseball game? What does it feel like to be a parent or grandparent whose love for this child swells bigger than a baseball stadium, bigger than the San Francisco Bay, bigger than the Pacific Ocean? This is what I want to remember.

When a Boy Turns Nine, 12 x 12, acrylic collage

Detail, Max turns 9

Detail, Santa Cruz Fishing Pier

Detail, The Big Dipper, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Detail, Cake and Icecream

Detail, SF Giants Stadium

Husband

Wedding Day, 2001

I am so grateful for my husband, Ken, and our eleven happy years of marriage. We will be celebrating our Anniversary this weekend, so I want to share some thoughts about why I love this man so much.

When we first met, my friends referred to him as The Dream Boat. Setting sail with Ken felt like the most unexpected dazzling adventure, and the most natural thing in the world at the same time. Our first date quickly proceeded to the second date. (“When can I see you again?” “How about later today?”) We had two dates in one day, and have been together ever since. That was in 1998. All these years later, he is dreamier than ever, but our relationship has acquired a depth and solidity that is more palpable than the most vivid of dreams.

At first, I was taken by his biceps, blue eyes and general tall-dark-and-handsomeness. I soon learned there was a lot more to discover beneath the surface. On our first date, we went to see my painting exhibit at the University where I was teaching. We paused in front of one of my favorite pieces, a landscape with a tilted perspective, as if looking over fields and forests from the treetops. He said it reminded him of the book he was reading, Italo Calvino’s Baron in the Trees. I was astonished, since that was the book that I had just read and had inspired the painting. Whoa. We met later that evening. He was polite and romantic, opened doors for me and pulled out my chair. He asked about my art and my family. I found out he was into food, wine, jazz, modern art, and good books (as well as football, running, and the outdoors.) We talked late into the night. He had a black Labrador Retriever named Maya whom he adored. I was smitten.

Ken is known for his selfless acts of chivalry. Just a few weeks after we met, I had stayed up all night grading portfolios for my drawing class, and was way too tired to drive myself the two hours to Washington D.C. to see the once-in-a-lifetime Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery, for which I had only one precious and impossible-to-replace ticket. He drove me there while I slept in the car, dropped me off at the show, joined me later to tour the rest of the museum, and then surprised me with a special dinner reservation afterwards. Ken has a way of anticipating exactly how to delight me most, big or small. Throughout our marriage, this knack has taken many different forms: letting me sleep-in after being up late with a crying baby, taking care of the household chores so I can have some extra time in the studio, or planning a fabulous weekend get-a-way with theater tickets and fantastic meals.

Ken has a wry, irreverent sense of humor, and a penchant for unbelievably thoughtful, romantic, and sneaky surprises. (A favorite prank is to pretend something that you really want is not happening, then spring the super deluxe version on you later. It works on me every time.) He is an incredibly fun person to be with. We can spend hours in a museum, lingering over a tasting menu at a great restaurant, or exploring a new city. He also has his domestic side. We can spend hours planting a garden, cooking up a special dinner, or simply hanging out at home with the family. After our son goes to bed, sometimes we stay up very late just talking and laughing. Whatever worries may be burdening my mind are always lifted when I share them with Ken, because when we are together, the world is beautiful, and everything is going to be ok.

We take turns. When he started his restaurant business five years ago, I believed in him. I put my artistic dreams on the back burner and stuck with a stable career that provided a good income and health insurance– an important safety net as he and his partners worked hard to build the business. I watched him grow from a restaurant owner to an inspiring team leader, always seeing the best in people and bringing that out to shine. Five years later, the business is thriving. The crazy long hours are behind him and he has more time at home. My creative ambitions resurfaced in the last couple of years, and he supports me pursuing them. While I’m still keeping my day job for now, I’m passionately developing my body of work in fine art, surface design and illustration. To help me have more time for my art, he has taken over all the grocery shopping and the majority of the cooking. He shops at Whole Foods and makes healthy and delicious meals for our family. He tidies up the house. He brings me flowers.

Ken is a great Dad. I have loved watching him grow as a father and connect with our son, Max. I see so much of him in our boy– the sense of humor, the sharp wit, the athleticism, and the confident personality. They throw the football around in the front yard, and go on long bike rides. They talk about girls. They play video games, build spaceships out of Legos, and read books together. Ken talks to him about responsibility, self-reliance, and respect for others. He taught Max how to plant a garden and to how to bake a cake. I feel sure that one day Max will also be a great husband and Dad.

We hold each other accountable for our goals and dreams. He encourages me with my art and I encourage him with his guitar playing. We share ideas about growing the family business, and he invites my creative input. We can talk about anything and overcome any disagreement, although we don’t disagree very often. Ken is an extraordinarily self-aware person, continually striving to become the best person he can be. He is someone who can always be relied upon to Do the Right Thing. He inspires me. We have watched each other evolve and change, holding each other’s hand while stepping aside to make room for each other’s growth.

Ken is always there for me, in every way that I need him to be. I show him my artwork. I tell him about my day. I confess my fears. I share my joy. He lets me be when I am absorbed in the studio. He understands me. When I am with him, it feels both safe and exciting at the same time. When I am with him, I am home.

Sneak preview of The Anniversary Collage in process!