Use Your Fingers [on DR Thursday]

They call them life lessons because they cycle back again and again. Each successive cycle peels off another layer and reveals a new simplicity. Currently, I am having another layer peeled.

My layer is a renewed appreciation and deeper understanding of a famous Picasso quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I think I may be shedding some dedicated self-importance and a thick-headed notion of what I ought to be. What I should have been.

I am surrounded by paintings of my own making. They are serious stuff! They are meant to move people and mountains. Some make me smile. Most make me knit my brow. They are generally absent of fun.

I’ve taken a vacation from my serious pursuit and thank goodness! In the meantime, I’m drawing cartoons. And, most importantly, I am painting rocks. We are painting rocks. No thought. No necessity. Just because we can. It is the most fun I’ve had in years.

It is the fun, the complete abandonment of taking-myself-too-seriously that may bring me back to art-as-play. Fun at my easel.

I have fingers so there may or may not be brushes involved.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FISH!

snowflake with possibilities/flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Put It On The Wall [on DR Thursday]

“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” ~ Buddha

I sometimes wonder what the Buddha might think about how words, attributed to him, are now available on Wayfair.com as posters or large decals for every living room wall. Does the ease and ubiquity of the message make it less meaningful? A decoration rather than a wisdom? Or, that we are capable of immersing ourselves in inspiration, a reminder-to-live-well in every room, are we meditating on the messages? Are we incorporating them into our actions and choices?

I’ve read that the only requirement when hanging prayer flags is to hold positive thoughts and intentions in the mind. Intend goodness and goodness will spread. That is, after all, the point of the flag. To spread on the wind goodness, peace, kindness,…

Kerri’s philosophy – her religion – is much the same as Dolly Parton: “You just try to be nice to everybody ’cause you know everybody’s got a dream.” Kerri’s version: “If it’s not about kindness it’s not about anything.” It’s simple.

Minds are powerful things. It’s why stories are so impactful; stories are the stuff that fills-the-minds. What you feel. What you think. What you imagine. It’s not passive. Although a trick of the English language, your thoughts, your feelings, your imaginings, are not really separate from “you.” They are you. The story you tell yourself about yourself in the world.

I suppose that’s why we rub the sentiment onto the living room wall. A desire to be better in the world. To tell a better story. Better about each other. Better for each other. What else?

read Kerri’s blogpost about PRAYER FLAGS

in serenity © 2018 david robinson

Make [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The origami crane has become a symbol of peace.”

Fold 1,000 cranes and your heart’s desire will come true. Legend will have it so. In Japan, the crane is a symbol of good luck and long life.

Making something into something else. Folding paper into cranes. It is, perhaps, the quality that defines us, makes us human. We turn the flow of water into the force driving the mill. We study patterns in stars and translate it into navigation. We smelt ore and hammer the elements again at the forge to make iron. We use the iron to make trains.

We make.

We look at flowers and see cranes. We look at clouds and see wild horses. We look at blank canvas and see possibility.

We make stories.

Our storymaking cuts both ways. We look at others and see friends; we look at others and see enemies. Either way, our looking is not passive. We make stories. We make connections. We make divisions.

We make wishes. Fold 1,000 cranes and your heart’s desire will come true.

Reach your hand to help. Slap a hand away. Either way, it depends on what story you see. What you want to make.

The story we create.

Folded paper. A symbol of peace.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRANES

Interpret The Impression [on DR Thursday]

“Art, to me, is the interpretation of the impression which nature makes upon the eye and brain.” ~ Childe Hassam

The eye of the mind. Interpretation of the impression. Imagination. Nature.

This morning Kerri told me that she’s having a stand-off with her piano.

This morning I picked up a box to clear my studio space. I asked myself, “What are you doing?” I set down the box where I found it.

Lately, I’ve been working with an overabundance of business models. Not surprisingly, each addresses the same contemporary challenge: people are having trouble discerning between what is actionable and what is not, what has relevance and what does not. A variation on the theme: focus is hard to come by. Models, I remind myself, are interpretations.

I’ve read that the first evidence of humans making art is found in the funeral rites of our distant ancestors. Decoration? Talisman? Fuel for the trip? An interpretation of life, making peace with the unknowable. Nature makes an impression. Humans respond.

The interpretation-of-the-impression-that-nature-makes points to something essential about art and life: it needs to be shared. It is nothing if not witnessed. We stand in the art gallery and drink it in. We stand at the graveside supplying our fellow traveler for the long journey ahead. We place the crayon drawing on the refrigerator.

Nature makes an impression.We are nature’s impression. Interpreting what that means.

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPRESSIONS

motherdaughter © 2019 david robinson

Overflow With Artistry [On Two Artists Tuesday]

Sitting amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio space, I realized that I’m rolling into the third year since I’ve completed a painting. I’ve been staring at the same canvas set on my easel for a very long time. Broken wrists, the pandemic, another broken wrist, lost jobs and economic free fall initiated an era of blank canvases.

I’ve done this almost every day for two years. I stand at the edge of the boxes. I look at the large canvas layered with undertones of red, covered with layers of tissue, preparing the ground for the image. Charcoal sketch marks barely visible, images I drew and wiped away. I suppose it’s not accurate to say the canvas is blank.

My sketchbook is closed. It sits on the table next to the easel. If I opened it, on the last pages, I would find rough sketches for the painting. Ideas in rude pencil scribbles.

Memory is an organizing principle. A story plot line. We make sense of today based on how we organize our memories into a tellable tale. Looking at the canvas is like looking into a mirror and I ask myself what made me pick up a pencil the very first time. The small-boy-me was seeking. “Running or seeking?” I ask. My studio has always served as a sanctuary. A place where I found quiet, made sense of the chaotic world. “Running or seeking?” I ask again.

Staring at the canvas I should feel loss but I don’t. Each morning, Kerri and I sit next to each other and write. This is the 232nd consecutive week that, five days a week, we’ve written together. She edits what I write, makes suggestions, and I do the same for her. We produce a cartoon every week. For my work I’m also drawing a series of cartoons that, after I script and draw final drafts, I hand them off to Kerri. She digitizes them and, quite literally, adds elements that improves them. I’m not empty of artistry but full to overflowing. I no longer need to retreat to enter my sanctuary.

It’s hard to know where my work ends and hers begins. They are ours. A perfect collaboration. Two as one.

Last week we had a fence installed. Invasive neighbors, throwing rocks at Dogga, lobbing toys into our pond, we’d finally had enough. The fence felt like reclamation of space. The impact was immediate. We hadn’t realized how completely the space invaders – like broken wrists and job losses, had interrupted every rhythm and pattern of our life. Basking in our space – our space – Kerri started to laugh and point. Two birds, lawn art purchased in a small town on our long drive from Seattle, always in our yard but always barely seen, we’d hastily placed them next to the new fence. “Two birds, one shadow,” she said, jumping up to snap a photo.

“Two birds. One shadow,” I repeated her words. I’ll take it as an affirmation. A new fence. A new era. All the world is my studio. My sanctuary. It’s what the small-boy-me was seeking all along.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TWO AS ONE

Consider The Brushes [on KS Friday]

As an artist, I have fondness for brushes. I’ve been known to disappear into an art store and lose significant amounts of time in the brush aisle. I rarely buy them – I am notoriously hard on my brushes and wait until they fall apart to replace them – but when I replace them I feel as if I just hit the lotto or found a buried treasure in the art store.

I cut my hair to make my first brush. It was mostly useless and left strands of my hair in the painting. It was the essential need for a brush that clued me in to my life path. I didn’t want it; I needed it.

Lately I found myself wandering through a strange and alien world: the Ulta store, followed by an eye-opening trip into Sephora. Despite the ubiquitous advertising, the fact that I live in this society, how is it possible that I had no idea of the nuance layers of soaps and cremes and removers and buffers and…brushes. Beautiful brushes. As Stephanie once famously exclaimed of me, “You are a man after all!”

Clueless.

I was, of course, fascinated by the brushes. Not just the brushes, but the need to have the right brush. Buffers and liners, fans and foundation and shadow brushes! I am a painter of people, I paint the image of faces, and was fascinated watching the painters of actual faces consider and choose their tools. The right brush. Blush, smooth, hard line.

I cannot count the number of times people have told me that they are not creative, that they do not have a creative bone in their bodies. Standing in the alien land, watching the painters carefully choose their brushes, I wondered how so much creative energy, so much enthusiasm for the right color, the right medium, the best brush, goes unrecognized.

This alien land was pulsing with imagination, desire for the right tool, and the drive to share and help and create. There was a generosity of spirit rarely found on the other side of the doors. Women helping women. Laughter and advice. I liked being in this strange land of strange brushes and kindness – even as an outsider. A stranger. I found a breath of fresh air (perfumed as it was) while following my guides through the brush aisle.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about BRUSHES

grateful/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Imagine The Possibilities! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~ Lao Tzu

I’ve had this quote sitting on my desktop for months. I’ve been on a Lao Tzu kick, a Kurt Vonnegut kick, a Rainier Maria Rilke kick…all at the same time. They are, not surprisingly, in alignment on many topics, among them self-mastery. “The secret?” they whisper. “Stop trying to control what other people think or see or feel and, instead, take care of what you think and see and feel.” Their metaphoric trains may approach the self-mastery station from different directions but the arrival platform is the same.

It’s a universal recognition: take the log out of your own eye.

Sometimes a penny drops more than once and so it is with Saul’s advice to me. “Look beyond the opponent to the field of possibilities.” “And, just what does that mean?” you may shout at your screen. It sounds like new-age hoo-haw.

Ghandi said, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong.” It is the height of self-mastery to bring ideas to the table rather than a gun. It is the height of self-mastery to bring to the commons good intention and an honest desire to work with others to make life better for all. Power is never self-generated but is something created between people. Power is distinctly different than control. Power endures since it does not reside within a single individual. Power lives, as Saul reminded me again and again, not in throwing an opponent but in helping the opponent throw themself. “Focus on the possibilities,” he said again and again. Throw yourself to the ground often enough and, one day, it occurs that there may be another way.

Work with and not against. It seems so simple. The bulb hovering over my cartoon head lights-up. Work with yourself, too, and not against. Place your eyes in the field of all possibilities. Obstacles are great makers of resistance, energy eddies and division. Possibilities are expansive, dissolvers of divisiveness.

I am writing this on the Sunday that Christians celebrate their resurrection. The day that “every man/woman for him/herself” might possibly and-at-last-transform into “I am my brothers/sisters keeper.” All that is required for this rebirth is a simple change of focus; a decision to master one’s self instead of the never ending violent attempt to exercise control over others.

It’s the single message, the popcorn trail left for us by all the great teachers. Instead of fighting with others, master yourself. Imagine the possibilities!

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CEILING LIGHT

Break It [on KS Friday]

Breaking space with a line changes the dynamic of the entire composition. I played with those dynamics for years. Vertical breaks. Horizontal lines that read like confused measure bars, segments of inconsistent time. Sometimes the lines tilted and pulled to the past. Sometimes they leaned into the future, urging the image forward. All of those interpretations were, of course, in my mind; I have no idea how others interpreted the lines on my canvases.

We are in the season of fog. Sometimes it’s so dense that we stand on the rocks and cannot see the water. Lake Michigan is hard to hide! The fog is a worthy magician.

The fog-magician also has the capacity of pressing three dimensional objects into seeming flat two dimensional images. The sudden silhouetting of the world pulls Kerri out onto the deck every time. “Can you believe it?” she asks, grabbing her camera and stepping through the door and into the fog. Dogga and I watch. We are happy in three dimensions and resist the call of stepping into flatland.

When she returns to our dimension, she shows us her photographs. “I love this one because the wire made a line,” she says. “It breaks the image.”

I smile. Vertical breaks in the composition. I say, “It reads like an abstract painting.” Three dimensions becoming two, a line breaking space, capping or pulling or simply interrupting.

Jackson Pollock believed his paintings were recordings of movement. Paint dancing. Who really knows how others interpret his paintings. Beyond the curator or art historian, who cares, really? The relationship between art and audience is meant to be direct, pure. No third party interpretation necessary.

“What do you think?” she asks.

“I love it,” I say. “It makes me want to paint.”

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about FOG

when the fog lifts/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Create Something [on DR Thursday]

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I’m on a Vonnegut bender. Lately, I’ve fallen into his quotes and I think I’m about to re-read everything he wrote. Standing on the threshold of synesthesia, he submitted his master’s thesis in anthropology on the shapes of stories. It was rejected by “the committee” as being too simplistic, but embraced by the world after he achieved success as a writer. The man was as witty as Quinn and a definite stander-on-the-margins of society, reflecting back both its beauty and brutality.

Trapped in the amber of the moment. Gorgeous. And, standing at the center of the moment, all the explanations necessarily fall away. There is no “why” because there is no separation, no other place to be or person to become. The committee would reject the notion outright since committees are dedicated to explanations and justifications. The elevation of one idea above another. The writer, the artist, serves a different master. “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Yes, another Vonnegut quote. Create something. Soul growth rather than reasoning.

At the center of the moment there is no why. There is no space for puzzling-it-out. There is simply this: a rousing and rowdy “why not!” Blue sky. Tall grasses dancing. Feel it. All of it. No single explanation can possibly contain it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GRASSES AND SKY

prayer of opposite © 2004 david robinson

Feed It [on KS Friday]

“The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a single cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises – the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say that the fart app is more important. It’s an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.” ~ Vince Gill

I am the first in line to tell you that everyone has a creative mind. Everyone. That river of ridiculousness running between your ears is nothing other than creativity-run-amok. What else? Telling yourself that you are not creative is, in itself, a creative act. Seeds planted early in life grow into mighty obstructions. Creative wastelands are created. If you want to hear a terrific appeal to educators to nurture rather than stifle the creative mind, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk. It’s appropriately titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

I’ve listened to numerous school boards tell me how much they truly value the arts – until it’s time to pay for it. Sadly, it’s not a question of whether or not they value the arts; it’s that the arts, the creative minds, do not fit any of the standards of valuation against which all things are measured. They do not know how to value the creative minds that they steward. Arts organizations and artists, mostly, are not money makers. Creative minds, creative acts, do not fit in the boxes and are not measurable on standardized tests. Thinking outside of boxes is, after all, the point of a creative mind. Metrics and goals stop a creative mind and heart in its tracks. The cruelest thing you can ask any artist to do is write a grant.

And yet, an artist has to make a living. Yaki asked me if I had to choose between making a living and making my art, which would I choose? I answered, “Art, of course,” but that it was really a question of Maslow’s hierarchy: it’s hard to make art when you are not surviving. What I didn’t say is that his question perfectly captured the reason schools kill creativity and creative brains are sorely mistreated: it is assumed one must choose between. Making a living and thriving creativity are understood as oppositional.

How many parents have tried to dissuade their children from following their passion for the arts? How many times have I heard Kerri say of the stacks of music on her piano waiting to be recorded, “What’s the use?” How many times have I sat in my basement studio looking at my stacks and rolls of paintings and wondered, “Why bother?” We do it to ourselves, too.

And then, the phony metric falls and we breathe, pick up our brushes and sit at our keyboards. There is a river of riches that runs deeper than money. It is, after all, a creative act to kill a passion. It’s also a creative act to feed and nurture an artistic soul. Both. It’s what the school board doesn’t understand: the choice is not between making a living or living as an artist, the choice is between feeding inspiration, expanding a creative mind, or smothering it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CREATIVE MINDS

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

watershed/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood