When in Doubt, Show Gratitude

After undergoing my second hip surgery in the last eighteen months, I was a little more prepared for recovery this time around. Knowing I’d be out of work (teaching high school art) and rehabbing for a month, I stocked up on good book, movie, and series recommendations (thank goodness for Netflix and Amazon Prime). I am not someone who does well with sitting still… just the IDEA of not being in motion makes me anxious. After 2 weeks, 4 books, countless magazines and infinite hours of TV, I began to go stir crazy.

Spiraling into boredom, loneliness, and generally feeling bad for myself, I needed to snap out of it! As I sat and stewed in pity and a little bit of loneliness, I found some space for gratitude. I started to think about all of the thank you cards I wanted to write. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my family and friends post-surgery. Let’s start with my Mom and Mother-in-Law staying with me and tending to my needs that first week (it is very humbling when you can’t even put your own socks on) and helping out with my two young children. My husband deserves a Man-of-the-Year-Award for patiently enduring another recovery period while taking on mom duties. To the countless friends and family members who drove my kids around, made dinner, sent me cards, brought me beautiful flowers, and came to visit… I am so grateful for and humbled by your generosity.

 A handmade card from my colleague with all of my students' notes inside.

A handmade card from my colleague with all of my students' notes inside.

While making a list of the people I wanted to write cards to, I realized what was missing from my life while being bound to my house… making and creating! Since my studio is in the basement and I only had access to scissors and my kids' glue, I started to cut up all of the magazines I finished reading.

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I used these cutouts to collage little artworks for everyone who helped me out in some way.

What I learned is that gratitude is the best remedy for feeling stagnant and lonely.

The Rifle Series: Tinkering

I, along with the majority of the country, feel devastated and helpless about the recent slew of mass shootings. Sadness and fear swirl through my mind every day and my recent visual response is, ironically, to make a lot of guns. I want to turn something heavy and made of metal into something delicate and made of paper. But even when trying to disguise and transcend the object, its cause for discomfort and uncertainty shines through. 

First Curated Show: Waking in Winter

This show is a collaboration of artists who I respect and admire. We were all inspired by the same excerpt from Christophe Andre's Looking at Mindfulness:

"It’s now, right now. In a little while it will be something else-- the magpie will have flown away, the sun will be higher in the sky, the shadow of the hedge will have retreated. It won’t be better, or not as good, it will just be different. So now is the time to stop walking, feel the cold air fill our nostrils, listen to all the muffled sounds and admire the extraordinary light of the sun and snow. We must stay here as long as we can, not waiting for anything in particular-- quite the opposite! Just stay here, doing our best to perceive the countless riches of this moment: the clumps of snow that fall from the trees with a tiny, soft thud; the blue-white shadow of the hedge; the small movements of a magpie seeking a little warmth in the sun. Everything is perfect. Nothing more is needed for this moment to feel complete."

It's so incredible to see how 8 entirely different artists interpret one concept. I am so thankful to everyone who participated and thrilled with the success of the show, excellent feedback, and 5 works sold!! Thank you to all of the participating artists. I am humbled by your talent and grateful for your participation and support:

Rachel Therres
Eileen Foti
Rachael Krehel
Andriana Levytsky
Kerri Pero
Peter Pizza
Laura Rizzo

 

Collaborative Columns: Past and Present

 

The New Jersey Artists in Education Grant, funded by The New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Young Audiences, provided the art students of Parsippany Hills High School the opportunity to be a part of a permanent installation in the media center. Working with master printer, Eileen Foti, students explored their culture and heritage to create iconic prints celebrating the diversity of PHHS.

Students reflected on their personal heritage and discussed their backgrounds with one another. Some are immigrants; some are first generation Americans; and some families have been here for multiple generations. Some identify with a different country of origin, and some consider themselves as mainly American. Based on these conversations, students developed prints relating to specific themes: home, food, the arts, religion, family, and sports/games.

You can view the short grant documentary here

This installation is a visual celebration of the individual identities that come together as the amazing student population at Parsippany Hills High School.

The Denville Series: Cigars, Lily Pads, and Tootsie Rolls

When I walk into the Smoke Shop with my children, the smell of tobacco brings me back to another time. I am eight years old walking into the same space with my father. He is picking up the Sunday paper and I am picking up a Tootsie Roll and a pack of New Kids On The Block cards. These tactile memories parallel the ones I now build with my own children in this lovely little town. Denville feeds my soul with pizza and local produce, fuels my day with assorted caffeine options, and cools my bones with a dip in Indian Lake. 

This mixed media series explores the beauty and timelessness of the town I call home. Memories and moments are literally sprinkled into the ice cream, coffee, and pizza. Bits of tobacco and money can be found within the handmade paper and there may be a few NKOTB cards to look for (Joey was my favorite).

I hope you are able to engage with this work and maybe smell the tobacco, taste the tootsie rolls, and feel the ice cream dripping down your hand. Let the sunshine kiss your skin as it bounces off the lake and watch the lily pads gently float by.

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First Solo Show!

And my proud kiddos.

The Destination

This morning I packed up my room, loaded up my car, and headed over to the studio to prepare for our final presentations. The last afternoon of aTi is dedicated to every artist presenting work to the whole group. Photographers, printmakers, sculptors, painters, naturalists (because drawers sounds funny), and poets will come together to share our experiences.

This experience has been transformative. Having the opportunity to spend and entire week eating, sleeping, and making art confirms my suspicion that I am meant to share art with the world. I feel so blessed to have found the aTi community and look forward to presenting my work this afternoon and to you right now! Drumroll please...

This print is a continuation of my Home Series. I enjoy exploring my photography through other media. The clubhouse is a very simple chipboard printing technique. The horizon of trees and life guard chairs are collage and the buoys are copper leaf. I look forward to gifting this to the Indian Lake Clubhouse and continuing this series through documentation of other local destinations. 

Above is the culmination of my digital photo journey this week. The assignment was water and I enjoyed investigating the relationship between it and manmade elements. The photographs next to each other are meant to read as one. You can see this more clearly in the first blog photo or via my website (click on Jersey Series). 

While writing this blog this morning, I've had classmates ask me for help with editing, exporting, and printing. I am always happy to lend a hand and realized something while I was doing it. I am ready to teach Digital Photo this year!!

Thank you so much to the aTi community for making this possible. Thank you to everyone who has followed my journey this week and showed support of my blog. Being able to reflect on my experiences every day through photos and text made me reach deep inside every day and appreciate my family, my friends, and this artistic gift I have been given (I'm getting a bit weepy over here!).

Last night my husband told me that my 4 1/2 year old son told him, "Maybe it's OK that I miss Mommy so much because she'll get to make really beautiful photos." I am really proud of what I accomplished this week and can't wait to bring my work home to show him what it means to be an artist.

Powerful Women

I was invited by Cathy LeCleire, the aTi drawing teacher who I respect and admire, to go for a run through the woods this morning. I made the conscious decision to NOT bring my camera or phone. Although I knew the light would be great at 6:30 in the morning and there would definitely be some great opportunities for photographs, sometimes it's more important to just be present. My husband and I enjoy seeing live music and it drives me crazy when I see so many people taking video of the entire show through their phones. By focusing on your screen, you are missing out on truly absorbing the experience all around you! Besides, I'm sure you can find a much better video of a band playing your favorite song live on youtube.

Cathy is an avid runner and knows her way around the trails here as she teaches at aTi South every year. I am pleased to report that we made our way through the trails all the way around the lake! The journey brought me to the destination today. Running is usually a solo affair for me, a chance to listen to some good music, sweat, and be alone. Running while having a conversation may take some getting used to, but it certainly makes three miles fly!

I missed breakfast on campus this morning and was heartbroken to discover that the campus Dunkin Donuts is closed on Friday. I felt a bit out of sorts in the lab sans caffeine. Nevertheless, I chugged away at editing and printing. Right before lunch, I started to assemble my printmaking work. While in the studio, I shared with my classmates that I told my husband last night I am born to be a student. Being able to spend every day learning and working in an art building is my zen. If only someone could pay me and provide benefits for such a profession.

On my walk back from lunch, I realized that I hadn't taken any photos yet. I was feeling a little lost about the direction this post would take today. I took a breath and accepted the fact that the first photo of the day would find me, and it sure did. While I was rounding the corner towards the Arts and Sciences building, I stumbled upon this small dead bird. Another opportunity to better understand my undergrad drawing professor (see Wednesday's post). I really wish I remembered her name to contact her. When I hear from former students about how something I did has impacted them, it lights up my soul.

My classmate, Denise, is an extraordinary painter and is using our digital photo workshop as an opportunity to compile more inspiration and imagery for her work. She asked me to model for her because she likes to document strong and powerful women. Well, OK! 

I really appreciate the bit of humor in her staging. Her concepts border on Surreal. This is such a great example of how creative people feed off of one another. We inspire one another and make each other want to be the best version of our artist selves. I feel like I have made friends for life this week. Every artist needs other artists as friends. That way, when you want to take a photo of someone blowdrying her hair outside, she is 100% committed to the cause.

My digital photography crew for this past week. I am so grateful to all of them for making this experience so fulfilling and special. Wendel is a wonderful teacher and a saint for driving around a van full of nine women during a heat wave!

And here is my running partner, the powerful woman on the other side of the group photo.


The Journey

I started my morning today with a run through the Pine Barrens on campus. I discovered lots of beautiful paths through the woods in an attempt to run around the lake. Some areas were impassable so I turned around and found another path. Although I never found my way all the way around the lake, I got sweaty and dirty and had the opportunity to capture some amazing shots. It's not about the destination, but the journey, right?

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After my run, day 3 of my art journey started with getting into the lab to learn how to edit our photos through Adobe Lightroom. The first few hours consisted of absorbing a lot of information, taking frantic notes, and asking many questions. I am teaching digital photo this upcoming school year and have a lot of anxiety about working with students and computers. While I am confident in my teaching abilities and can handle any art room, technology can shake that positivity. Something about teaching students on a machine they are probably more capable on than I am has always made me a little insecure and nervous... Sitting in a lab with eight other adults politely asking questions at the same time felt a little stressful. What about when it's twenty teenagers? 

It is the calm, patience, and knowledge in Wendel White that has showed me that I can't allow the computer to throw me. I've never been afraid of a room full of teenagers before. Why would I start now!? Today I realized that I can treat the needs of my students in the lab the way I do in any room by asking for patience and promising everyone individual time to answer questions.

Something amazing about a place like aTi is that you have the opportunity to learn from the instructors in two ways. First, you learn valuable knowledge about techniques and skills that you can bring back to your classroom and incorporate in your own work. Second, you get to BE the student again and pay close attention to effective teaching strategies. Both are extremely inspiring and valuable.

While riding on my new high horse of confidence today, I became fairly proficient in Lightroom and edited some amazing photos! I am excited about the direction my water themed work is taking and look forward to continuing my journey this week. While it is about the journey, it's pretty excellent when the destination is exciting as well. 

After seven hours in the lab, I headed to the printmaking studio to continue another piece. While cutting out tiny intricate details of a tree line I thought for a second I might be crazy. In my "free" hour between class and dinner, I am voluntarily doing more work. Tedious tiny cutting started to feel a little narcissistic. But when will I have another opportunity for my entire day to be completely devoted to art?

     

 

 

 While walking home past the lake smiling after dinner, I stumbled upon an extraordinary site. Hundreds of ants having a worm dinner. As an artist, I am always finding beauty around me but rarely have the time to document it. Today, I could stop to take a photo. I am very grateful for this week to pause, reflect, and be inspired.  Tonight I attended an art opening. It was the appropriate ending to an extraordinary day. Seeing another gallery show makes me want to make more art and to find a place to put it so others can see it... Or maybe hear it too? In this photo I am listening to music created by converting wavelengths of Arctic audio files into numbers, then into text, then into vector lines that are engraved onto a record to be played. The artist is Marianna Williams. I know the concept sounds insane but it also SOUNDS AMAZING.    

While walking home past the lake smiling after dinner, I stumbled upon an extraordinary site. Hundreds of ants having a worm dinner. As an artist, I am always finding beauty around me but rarely have the time to document it. Today, I could stop to take a photo. I am very grateful for this week to pause, reflect, and be inspired.

Tonight I attended an art opening. It was the appropriate ending to an extraordinary day. Seeing another gallery show makes me want to make more art and to find a place to put it so others can see it... Or maybe hear it too? In this photo I am listening to music created by converting wavelengths of Arctic audio files into numbers, then into text, then into vector lines that are engraved onto a record to be played. The artist is Marianna Williams. I know the concept sounds insane but it also SOUNDS AMAZING.