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Projects June 2007

June 26, 2007

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I am continuing with graphic design work when commissions come in. I am designing a logo for a former customer. Pictured above is our first collaboration for a group of products as well as intellectual property for the province we live in.

Drawing lessons with E continue on Friday afternoons. Her first charcoal drawing would have done any adult artist proud. I occasionally correct wrong proportions by pointing them out but I rarely draw directly on her paper. Basically I sit next to her and work on my own drawing, keeping aware of how things are going and giving a helping hand if she gets stuck. She has a completely individual and confident feel for how she handles the materials, so really it is about creating an environment for her to unfold in.

A folder on my calligraphic work will be coming out made by our friend Jörg, a German  fine artist and designer. It will also be on his website.

Tomorrow I am going to The Hague to do an an art project in a nursing home. I’ve been there before and it is an inspiring place. They work hard to work constructively with a strongly multi-cultural resident and staff population.  

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photos from Het Beter-Gezelschap, Amsterdam

 It is a week long event to celebrate the complex’s 30th birthday. Most of us work for one or two days. About 3o specially trained art healthcare practitioners have been hired to go through the facility in costume and offer everyone we meet a small sensory experience or present. Staff, technicians, visitors, janitors, residents, surgeons, secretaries etc. are all included.  They may receive a shoulder massage, a story, a piece of live music, a mini- theatre performance, a made on the spot artwork (my activity) , a small flavour-packed treat, or a gift scented with pure herbal and flower essences.  The event is based on one to one encounters and the positive effect on the atmosphere of the entire facility is dramatic.

 It is my favorite work in the world; I started ArtWell so I could do it more than 3 or 4 times a year!

Commitment

June 26, 2007

It has been perfectly appropriate for me in the last years to continue to accept all kinds of other work while developing art healthcare work on the side.

But now, I am getting a sense of what is needed to help the new direction get off the ground. If I would have taken on two recent requests to paint old instrument songboards, my energy would have been mostly occupied for 5 -6 months.  Those months would have been lost ones as far as building a foundation for the new work.

There comes a stage where keeping on with what one has done before (for the income, for the work, etc) feels like leaving a back door open just in case the new way doesn’t work out.  I feel like I just passed that stage. 

I think of someone who is on the brink of giving up her day job to start her own business.  She doesn’t know if it will work, but she senses that to stay on would be detrimental to her growth. Then her boss offers her a raise and a promotion.

Does she stay on for a little longer (to gather a good financial buffer for her leap), or does she choose to leave and take her chances?  

There is a time for leaping and a time for taking small, managable steps. The degree of risk and the timing  will be different for everyone. 

Test

June 25, 2007

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As if to test my willingness to fully commit to a new path, I got a call from an old customer with a possible commission for a harpsichord decoration. It is specialist work that I learned here in Holland from a harpsichord builder. Accepting a job like this takes over my studio and my time for about 3 months.  Once I get into it, it is lovely work, but my initial gut reaction when being asked if I would do it was a sinking feeling.

Also I must add that they were going around asking for estimates.  I’d rather be approached because someone has chosen me for my work, not because I am the lowest bidder.

Still, financially seen it is not wise to turn down a lucrative job like this.

I said no.

Scary.

My reasons are:

I want to put my energy into things I am willing to expand on, I don’t want more harpsichord decoration jobs, they are extremely labor intensive and physically demanding.

I want to work with families and patients in healthcare settings, that is what excites me.

Clear.

Still scary.

Caught between

June 24, 2007

Another insight from the garden fair experience is that I sometimes get stranded between an old and new self.

In America when I was working as an artist full time, doing art markets was a natural outgrowth of who I was. And it was a logical way to get my work out there and sold.  That was  30 years ago.

But even though I am still an artist, I am not actively working on my career as an artist. From other people’s point of view, hiring a stand somewhere and selling your work may make perfect marketing sense. But it no longer fits with who I am now.

If I look at some of my present priorities, they are all close to home. Besides my art healthcare work, I care about creating community, linking up with other artists, and selling my work locally. So it makes sense to search for a venue closer to my living situation.  That has been slowly evolving as an informal outdoor exhibition space in  our garden. We are open coinciding with an open atelier route once a month here in the neighborhood. 

So that, in combination with a website is what feels right to me now as far as selling my work is concerned.

The art fairs in the states were a rewarding period in my life, but I can’t go back in time. Something new is calling, it is not yet in place.  Others in this same situation will know how nerve wracking it is when the old no longer fits and the new hasn’t yet materialized.

All that you can do is keep taking the next step and create the path as you walk it.

Energy edge

June 24, 2007

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‘Love alphabet’

One would think that being professional in several areas shouldn’t be a problem. But sometimes it is. 
For example,  in developing ArtWell I am currently researching how to become eligible for a certain health care subsidy. This would enable familes to hire me to do creative visits with their loved one in a nursing home. 

Meanwhile, I continue to make art.  And I have portfolios full of good work left over from past exhibitions. (The image above is from a series of older alphabet watercolours).

An opportunity came up to have a stand at a garden fair and sell some of that work.  Though from past experience here, I was less than enthusiastic about this method of selling, I decided to give it one more try. Granted, it rained, few people came, but also the few that were there were not attracted to my work.   I quit after the first day and cut my losses.

This has confirmed what I already knew, that your heart and passion have to be in something to make it work, and this is just as true of promotion as anything else.  

While at the fair I got to talking to a bookbinder friend about my art healthcare work, and for the first time in days all my lights lit up.

For me this is a simple indication of where the cutting edge of my energy is, and to go with that will bring the best results.

In dementia care, I don’t accept the convential assumptions about the limitations of someone with the condition. As an artist I look first at the person not the disease, and secondly I focus on potentials and build on those.

Another helpful skill that transfers easily from art to care (and isn’t art a form of caring in itself?) is accepting something at face value and appreciating its intrinsic worth.
For example:

Situation 1
A member of staff gives a person with dementia a pencil and paper in the hope that he will write or draw. When the person starts to wind his tie around it, she gently stops him and takes the pencil away, perhaps trying another tool.

Situation 2
An artist or other person trained in creative thinking watches what the man does with the pencil and the tie. She notes the interest in the object and that there was some pleasure in the action of wrapping.
If it were me, I would provide dowels of different thicknesses and some string, wool and other cord. I would sit and accompany the person in wrapping cord around sticks and I think they would gain satisfaction and interest in the resulting object.

Art/care basics:
full attention for the subject/person; open attitude free of judgement; playful experimental stance; willingness to risk and learn from the situation; inventiveness; and appreciation for what is, for the moment, and for the magic of the encounter.

Art and dementia care I

June 10, 2007

The reason why it isn’t such a big leap from drawing to dementia care is that art is an encounter. It doesn’t matter if the encounter happens on the page or between people.

A meeting between people is relationship and relationship is the basis of care. Without it, certainly in dementia care, there is only custodial maintenance of a physical body- feeding, cleaning,clothing, exercising, etc. (Jitka M. Zgola, Care that Works). Peoples’ emotional, spiritual and social needs have to met as well. The arts can provide ways to do this.

Because dementia is such a complex and unpredictable condition, people working in the healthcare system resort to protocols to give them security in dealing with the affected person.  But in my experience, the minute I say, ‘I know’, or, ‘He always does that, it doesn’t mean anything’, I have shut off a vital source of new information.
So starting from ,’I don’t know’, just like with drawing, is the most creative and ultimately caring stance.

I think artists learn early on to be comfortable with uncertainty and even with chaos. Every book, painting or sculpture goes through a period where it is unresolved and you have to sit with that discomfort until the next step reveals itself. If you are truly exploring new territory with your work, you will have to continually take risks.
The same is true in dementia care; a person is a living, changing entity, so every moment is new territory. And discoveries are constantly being made.

Artists are used to seeing familiar things in a new light. So when someone who has lost a lot of their vocabulary starts to use other words, I appreciate their courage and inventiveness in finding new ways to communicate. I can often sense the poetic or symbolic meaning behind the words. Families say their loved one is speaking nonsense, but I always go from the assumption that every gesture and word has a meaning and it is my responsibility to interpret it.

continued in part II

Fantasy heals

June 5, 2007

Tonight I was listening to a favorite cultural program on the radio. The guest was Frank Groothof who makes thrilling theater performances for kids. In reply to the interviewer’s question, ‘Don’t kids who are used to computer games have too short attention spans for theater’?, he said there is nothing better than storytelling. All of us long to go to that protected place where our fantasy lives. Children love being there. Adults, too, feel the same when they go to the theatre, they can leave the workaday world behind and come home to their fantasy. Then he said something wonderful, he said, ‘You could say the theatre is a healing experience’. He said, ‘Our fantasy, the world of dreams, is closest to who we really are’.

And the interviewer pounced. I have experienced this many times during these programs. There is a stubborn cynicism that permeates many educated circles here in Holland. An artist lets fall the word ‘healing’ or ‘spiritual’ and they’re all over him in a second and don’t stop until they’ve somehow discredited him. I have seen it happen to great architects, poets, painters. The interviewer starts demanding rational explanations and the guest’s argument gets torn apart. 

Because you can’t argue for soul, for spirit, for the profound feeling of gratitude and power that comes from  connecting with the deepest truth in your work.

Those supposedly smart radio folks just don’t get it, do they?

Drawing 2

June 3, 2007

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The single most important thing I’d like my 10 year old drawing student to learn is to truly ‘see’ – not what you think you know is there, but what is in front of you.

Unless you have drawn before, you cannot imagine how much trust this takes; your head tells you one thing and your eyes tell you another. And we are trained to listen to our head.

E knows how to draw well-proportioned horses from memory, mostly pictured from the side. But ultimately this is just a formula that can only be applied to certain situations. When confronted with a real live horse, let’s say lying down, foreshortened and distorted, that knowledge is no longer useful.

She has to start from scratch and learn to see the strange shapes and their negative counterparts (ie. the space around and between the shapes), and no matter how weird they look, she needs to replicate them on her paper.

Once she learns this principle she will be able to draw anything.

People who draw well have a lot of experience in ignoring the rational part of the brain which tells them they already know what a hand looks like. They look at the surface of the palm as if it were the landscape of a new planet and they record the strange wonders they discover there.

Once again this can be applied to daily life. We fall into habits and stop looking and learning. Our worlds become routine and boring. If we took this same attitude into our lives and looked at things freshly and allowed them to communicate with us we’d always be making discoveries.

The art of drawing starts out from a state of ‘not knowing’.

That is why I think it isn’t such a big jump from drawing well to dementia care.

More on that later!

Drawing 1

June 2, 2007

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Drawing is such an inherently creative act. I think it can change consciousness and change lives.

You can’t approach a drawing with a closed mind and succeed.

However many times you have drawn an object, you have never drawn it this way, with this light at this moment of your life.

You have to open and let whatever is in front of you speak to you on its own terms.

The more preconceptions you bring to that moment of encounter between you and the subject, the less present you will be for the gifts of that encounter.  

Every time I draw familiar objects I am struck by the endless beauty and mystery of the material world. And the deeper I go into a subject, the more I am touched by its interiority which speaks to my own. Thomas Moore says this is the way enchantment arises in everyday life.  

I am in the kitchen cleaning up the breakfast things. My husband has left a coffee filter to drain on a drinking glass. The light pours in turning the coffee dark and peaty in the bottom of the glass, the coffee filter furls, pulling away from the side of the funnel.  It is hard to stop cleaning and go to get my sketchbook, but I do. And every time I do this it gets easier. For the next little while I am engrossed in form, light and shadow, and the total newness of these familiar objects.   Drawing then, can be a way to constantly renew one’s perceptions but also one’s world.