Sunday, July 29, 2012

Everything Easy

In an earlier post, Cliches and Courage, I wrote "I wish I was easier." I often ruminate on this topic of not relaxing into life as it is before me.  I don't do relaxation very well.  I worry over unknown details, what ifs and impossibilities.  In my head, I reserve a large amount of mental stock for mulling and stewing.  This constant, low-level anxiety colors my world with muddy paint and adds a stroke of dissatisfaction to the canvas of life, leaching joy from what could have been a cache of fine moments.

Even as I write this, I over-think to myself, "aren't I just sharing my worry about worrying over worrying... blah blah blah blah." Well now you've had a tiny peek inside my head and thats enough for the general public, because it can be quite toxic. I attempt to keep a harness on this gremlin.  I don't appreciate this characteristic about myself but it is part of me and who I am, which is actually a person I have come to like.

If I were easier, I wouldn't think about things like this.  But, I like that this makes me very particular about my art and at the same time, it can turn on me and cause me to doubt my ability. It's the two sides of Lake Washington when driving on the floating bridge, one side calm and shiny, the other side rough and choppy.  I know that I can produce beautiful artwork and yet, I am such a perfectionist about it that it can be a real challenge to just say "its finished. Step away from the canvas."

In my beginning painting class, I was recreating magnified marbles when I got too far ahead of myself and painted in some of the foreground before the background was settled.  I couldn't let it go and ended up painting over it to redraw the light and reflections within the marbles.  I was much more at peace with the decision to redo it than I would ever have been to carry on to the end, ignoring the flaws that would have bedeviled me until I destroyed the painting just to put my mind at ease.

This last Winter Quarter in intermediate painting, as a class assignment, I began a triptych of our family church in Iowa.  A landscape was a subject I hadn't attempted to this point.  So, I blocked in the areas where the trees, church and family members would be painted in but the placement of the church was awkward. The composition refused to flow with comfort.  I washed it away and painted it back in three separate times.  That darn church refused to cooperate and time was compressing quickly towards the deadline and critique.

Frustrated, I brought the three canvases home and painted over them... goodbye winter trees, goodbye quaint little church, goodbye beloved relatives.  Instead of the old fashioned sepia toned painting I envisioned, I brushed blue acrylic over the images and the canvases took on the new life of a tattooed woman, a messy bouquet and a room that looks a bit like a Piet Mondrian Painting. These new and interesting characters emerged from the troubled canvases and saved my grade.

The worrying perfectionist who insisted on changing subjects at the last possible moment is the driving force that makes my art better. It is also the force that contributes to my insomnia and my non-sensical anxiety. This Negative Nellie inside my head is also responsible for projects started but never finished.  After all, if it isn't finished, it can hardly fail.

That debilitating "fear of failure," is a real creativity killer and it swings around the coattails of my perfectionism, sometimes succeeding in it's purpose of knocking over my confidence and making me doubt. Which then forces a start to stop.  I have a garage full of bins that are loaded with unfinished projects. Even as I sit here writing this, I have two portraits that have given me pause, eight sewing projects that got hijacked for one reason or another and ten half-written novels that were promising, yet abandoned... and as a result of the distant fear, remain unfinished.

I don't usually spend much time worrying about the projects that haven't made it to the end.  They don't matter all that much in the day to day workings of my mind. What matters are the completed pieces.  These projects are my favorites.  I can gaze upon them and see a wonderfully fullfilled work regardless of all the flaws I should have fixed but didn't because I finally told myself to step away.

These are the images I lay awake at night dreaming about before I fall asleep.

If everything was easier, if I was easier, I wouldn't care so much. I would be able to do my job and go home, not taking my emotional load with me.  I could turn in work that was good enough and forget the part that, to my eye is incongruent, but to everyone else is fine. I would never have to paint over an image because there was something out of place, some little thing that would not leave me in peace. I could create and walk away without another quarter of my mental energy given over to the details.

Well, that's not me.  A few years ago, after I apologized for an awkward moment at work, my boss said "don't worry about it.  We are who we are."  I loved that comment. It doesn't mean that a statement like that gives me permission to ditch my efforts at being a better person, but it does speak to me in that I am okay. I will always worry and stress over my work, life, crimes against children, calderas, world peace, destructive meteors, aliens, etc. etc. etc....

But this year, my perfectionism landed my art in the Pierce College Student Art Show.  The poor little lost church and trees under The Blue Room Triptych can share some of that glory because that piece also won the purchase award and is now in the permanent art collection of Pierce College. Not too shabby for having such a rough start.

I made it clear that I worry about a lot of nothing and in other areas of my life I don't always like it. But when it comes to art, it works for me. 

The Blue Room Triptych © 2011 by Darcy Cline

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dear Debra

My favorite Poet of all time is my sister.  Since I wasn't much of a reader until after high school, I listened to her read her poetry through most of elementary school and junior high.  She is the most prolific writer I know.   Debra is one of those people who will stop in the middle of a discussion, grab a napkin and scribble a poem out within a few minutes and then jump back into the conversation as she tucks the napkin into her purse. It can be a bit unnerving until she reads the story on the napkin. And then it is a little bit of magic.

Old Moon

How captured we this night
In lustrous light unfold
He said to cast the newer stars
It is because the moon is old

How laid upon the grasses dew
The light kept we from cold
Encompassed in this starry night
It is because the moon is old

How can you claim these magic things
In these stories that you told
He said look hard upon that rock
It is because the moon is old
That rivers rise next to the sea
That oceans cover shores

That in your eyes is everything
That I’ve loved no one more
How captured you my heart this night
That makes me one so bold
And pressed my lips to yours and said
It is because the moon is old

Old Moon is one of many favorites she has written.

Growing up, we were labeled early on. Debra was the writer, I was the artist.  We spent most of our childhood firmly in our corners.  When we crossed into each others' territory, we were not cheered on for the effort.  We definitely didn't invite each other to experiment into our own niches.  What if I was really the writer and she was the artist?  What would have happened then?

I remember writing a poem in seventh grade.  It began, "I like Sid, but he likes Sally..." Debra should not feel threatened by my foray into poetry, although, I do remember everyone making a fuss about it and "wasn't it so cute."

Debra rarely heard those words. No one really understood her poetry and even though I had been listening to it going on four years by the time I had written my Sid and Sally poem, I understood half of what she read to me. I can appreciate her way with words now that I have become a reader.

Over the years she dabbled in art and created a few beautiful drawings to prove to herself she could, but still was more writer than artist as the poems seemed to march right out of her fingertips, filling notebook after notebook, as the notebooks stacked up and spilled out of boxes under the bed.

In 1997, I took my first Marjorie Rommel writing course at Pierce College.  I found I had a lot to say.  I wrote a few poems... okay limericks, (I am not bad at writing limericks.) What I discovered was I liked writing wordy short stories and have since written over a hundred pieces.  I also finished a novella. I was rather proud of myself for that. But under all this personal growth, was the fear that I wasn't a writer. My sister had that wrapped up.

What we didn't learn when we children was that talent is very much like love.  It scoops you up and makes you feel happy, warm and confident. It's there when you need it.  It is more intimate when given attention. But most importantly, it is limitless. Like love, there is enough for everyone.

My sister and I have fought through the hard times of our youth to become the best of friends.  We designed matching tattoos to commemorate our survival.  I share my art and writing with her and she does the same with me. Debra has become a wonderful and interesting painter with a very different style than my own.  She has painted several paintings this year and has created enough work to have a solo show.  What I would really love is to have a show together.  Now that would be crazy fun!

Debra is still writing profusely and reads to me whenever we talk, mostly through Skype.  It's a very comforting feeling I bring with me from my childhood, the beauty of her voice and the way she wraps her words around me. When I listen to her, I know her.

A few months ago I painted a portrait of hands.  It was a study of style and process. I shared my progress with my sister and she asked "would you mind if I painted the picture as well?"  I thought is was an interesting experiment and so we have painted our own versions of the same picture.

I hold these two paintings close to my heart.  They are tightly wrapped up in old rivalry and competition, of talent, love and acceptance. We thought we were so different, but we are more alike than anyone knew.

Now they know.

Hands © 2012 Debra Gordon

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Clichés and Courage

"Real courage is risking one's clichés.”
― Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Be careful what you wish for... such a cliché. I shake my head at the ease with which I ignore a lesson my writing mentor, Marjorie Rommel, instilled in me; "Don't be cliché. Be an original."

Oh, but there are so many fun clichés out there champing at the bit and so little time, so let me bend your ear for a moment and indulge before we get down to brass tacks.

As luck would have it, I am back in the saddle again attending school and wishing the dog ate my homework.  I feel like I have hopped out of the frying pan and jumped into the fire.  Being a student is much harder than I imagined it would be. More fool I.

This week, I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.  The homework assignments are steamrolling over me at a hefty pace.  I barely have enough room to draw a breath. I imagine my teachers plotting and planning their next academic assault over an open fire, stirring a pot of "double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and caldron bubble." (Shakespeare, MacBeth; The original original)
I know I can rise to the challenge and do the job right, but I do have my doubts.  Did I mention how hard it was shaping up to be all I can be? Maybe I could boost my spirits by telling myself "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger..."  Geez, I almost threw up on that one.

In all seriousness, I am thrilled and scared to my toes to be going back to school. It is so much more challenging than I thought it would be.  My fellow students seem so secure and skilled in this newfangled software we are learning.  I know I needed this desperately to deepen my understanding of the digital world, but it's moving so fast, it really knocks me for a loop.  My doubts land hard and heavy on my mind: what if everything I learned becomes obsolete before the year is out?  It has happened before.

The year I graduated from college in 1987, computers became the new black and hijacked my career. All the practical tools of the job I was an expert in, disappeared and were replaced by computer programs. No one was cutting rubylith for color separations, typesetting could be done by the receptionist, desktop publishing brought its own garish ease to the masses.  With a click of a little gray button, the computer could magically produce in minutes, documents that took me hours to create.

I rallied, though.  I soldiered on.  I bit the bullet and headed back to the drawing board!

I taught myself the programs I needed to become employable... just one year after achieving my BA in Graphic Design. I find myself awed by the power of technology. It amazes and excites me and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to rediscover the art of Graphic Design in this shifting world of brain-bending discoveries. It boggles the mind, it does, when its not being difficult.

And now, I have come full circle, embracing the new, intricate, crazy technology within my reach. I am strong and grabbing the bull by the horns on this challenge of becoming a better designer and a more thoughtful artist. But, holy cow, its draining.

I fall in to bed at night exhausted because really, it's already the edge of tomorrow. I'm thankful to have a family that understands the total emotional and physical toll taken by creating art with passion and being a scosche of an overachiever... who rests the weight of the world on each assignment.

I told a fellow classmate that I had stayed up too late doing homework and I was exhausted.  She laughed and said "Four days into the quarter?  You're supposed to save that for the end."

I sometimes wish it was easier, wish I was easier, but that really isn't my style. I am a bit competitive.

When I hand my teacher the assignments... these are the times when it can be overwhelming to be so exposed.  To have the contents of my mind on display. To be given a value that tells me what my intellectual property is worth... taking no accounting of its value to me.

My success, when measured by me, is revealed to me when I complete a project that has claimed a large portion of real estate in my brain for hours, days or weeks. I don't always want to share the results of that residency, but I am compelled to seek out someone and wait for judgement. Some people are going to love my designs.  Some people will not. Everyone has an opinion and this year, mine isn't the only one that holds weight in matters of the art.

Living a creative life takes courage and I don't think that's cliché.

The Four Seasons © 2012 Darcy Cline             Bubbles © 2012 Darcy Cline   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Building Blocks

Today, I want to be a print maker.

Eighteen years ago I created a series of stencil prints to be used as invitations to my sister-in-law's baby shower. Ah, it was a clever little print, and a limited edition as well.  I wonder if anyone still has their invitation pressed lovingly into a scrapbook or picture frame. I would like to say the last known print was sold at auction for thousands of dollars. Surely it is worth more than the paint I used to render it... now that I have publicly claimed my Artistness?

This long lost piece of art was a primitive black printed pregnant figure sporting a baby bump that was stenciled with a purple area cut out in the shape of a baby. The silhouette of the mom was celebrating, arms raised.  I dusted it with glitter and sent it off with much love and satisfaction. The baby shower had a good showing as well as the baby, Mackenzie, my Goddaughter.

In the months following the shower, I created another stencil design for a sponsored team in the MS Walk. I recall that I stenciled shirts into the wee hours of the morning.  This was my last stencil print project.

We all had small children then and the feeling of how much I loved that process fell away from my consciousness in the busy world of raising a family. That was okay. I didn't ponder the loss because I was busy making fantastic art with my kids, turning them into crazy little creative art making machines.  Fun times.

But, back to building blocks... several quarters ago my painting teacher and renowned artist, David Roholt (, introduced me to the art of the solar print. (Imagine a hundred Angels singing as the sun streams through the clouds.)

The process. I love the process. It requires devotion and concentration and patience and love. The drawing is transferred. The image is etched and then the emulsion is washed away revealing a relief impression.  It is quite a moment to see the emerging image as the plate sets.

The ink is mixed, worked and warmed, the paper is soaked in water. This oil-based color is then worked into the impression with a tulle type material, then carefully wiped away leaving the outline of the final image in reverse.  The inked plate is placed on the press, a damp piece of paper is arranged carefully over the top and then a crank rolls the weighted drum over the art leaving the image and a plate impression on the paper.

It took five hours to pull fifteen prints for my first solar print edition.  I have managed to streamline the process to two hours.  I am proud of that, even though I feel it is the timeframe of a beginning print maker. For many people, this process would be mind-numbing torture.  In this world of instant gratification we don't really wait for anything that takes longer than five minutes.

In my Print Making Independent Study, I have since added linocut and mezzotint prints to my portfolio, and am preparing to create a multi-block print in which the time for this process will be multiplied by four.

I do admit to wanting to be an expert printmaker now.  Not after years of practice and experience. I want to know what it is that makes a stellar print and what makes a mediocre print.  What makes a fine artist and when will that artist know how fine they are? I don't want to wait for it.

This year, Mackenzie, turned eighteen and graduated from high school with my daughter, Hannah, who was featured in the photograph in my Art Awakening post. These young ladies are stellar people.  They didn't instantly transform into the confident young women they are today.  They had many trials and lessons to live through before we would even think of sending them out on their own to attend college across the state.

I know that their success was achieved through years of practice and experience.  They needed the time to grow and change and mature... like every good print maker, I know that only experience can make the difference between being okay and being spectacular.

I will work towards spectacular, but I can't keep from hoping... does that eighteen year-old stencil print count and have I been a print maker all this time, like an emulsified image waiting to finally emerge?

Celebrate - Stencil Print ©1994 Darcy Cline
9 Months - Linocut Print © 2012 Darcy Cline

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Art Awakening

Today is the day I became an artist.  Today is the day I was born.

Every morning my alarm crashes into my peaceful slumber and I am startled awake. I open my eyes and immediately, I am thinking about art.

Before I go to sleep at night and finally commit to keeping my eyes closed, I study the photos on my iphone... photos I have taken of art I created.  Snapshots of paintings, photographs, linocuts and solar prints, pen and ink drawings and graphic artwork that I am paid to design.  I fall asleep with new ideas of possibilities swirling through my mind as art builds creativity.  It is an awesome vertigo.

I have been an artist for most of my life (I believe I was born to it), but just last year, after turning 51, I introduced myself as an "Artist" for the first time. An acquaintance asked "What do you do?" I replied "I am an Artist." It was freeing in a way that had me feeling a bit giddy and made my eyes water. I turned away and cleared my throat. Saying it was so simple.

In relationship to my art life I have introduced myself as a Graphic Designer, Freelancer, Crafter and Creative Person. I have never fully owned that part of myself that was different from others in my awesome ability to see and interpret the world creatively. My father was an Artist but was raised by a fisted hand and learned the harsh truth that being an Artist was unacceptable. Artists did not earn enough money to feed a family, or even themselves. So my father went on to be a Fireman, leaving his art to an idle pastime.

Given this background, my Art Self was not encouraged. I somehow managed to quiet the voices of my upbringing and became a Graphic Designer. I have never looked back. I feel that I was meant to be a Graphic Designer. I am very good at this, but I have always longed for a more artistic origin. I found myself wishing I had spent time in college learning the fine arts: The painting, the sculpting, the photography.

Well all is not lost! To my great relief, there is no age limit on learning. I am back in college and I am getting schooled in the latest the Communications Art field has to offer this pre-computer graduate. While updating my BA in Graphic Design with an AA in Digital Design, I am exploring my Fine Art Self along the way in Beginning and Intermediate Painting, in Advanced Drawing, in Independent Study Printmaking and in Digital Photography. This move towards Fine Art validates what I perceived to be my long-lost dream of becoming an Artist.

What I failed to realize in my early days in college, was that I was born and therefore, I became an Artist.  I was there all along living the dream of creating something beautiful, creative, striking or profound. Or simply making silly marks on paper, conveying an idea, writing a lovely word... being an Artist.

My Art Self has always had a special way of seeing.  I see beauty in everything on this earth. I especially see beauty in faces and characters and I thrive on recreating that in my art. Yes, My Art. The words of an Artist.

You see, when my alarm shouts its reveille, it is waking me to my dream... the dream I am born to every day of my Artist Life.

Darcy Cline - Artist.

Zebra Girl - © 2012 by Darcy Cline