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

Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

“A person who never made a mistake never tried something new.” ~ Albert Einstein

Recently, I revisited Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity. Among his many points, the central idea was simple and clear: we reinforce knowing answers instead of the pursuit of the question. We reinforce “being right” when the beating heart of learning, the vibrant center of creativity, the foundation of scientific process, is to try-and-see-what-happens. To be “prepared to fail,” as he said, is to remove failure from the equation. A curious mind seeks discovery, not “rightness.” An experiment is meant to test a hypothesis not immediately arrive at the answer.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the trail, new to us, the signage was more than confusing. “It’s a loop,” I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We chose the orange trail and started walking. We followed the blazes rather than the signs. A storm or drunken ranger must have erected the signs because they were often out of alignment with the blazes. “If we followed that sign, we’d be in the creek,” Kerri said.

Early on in our hike, a man came crashing out of the woods. “Is this the trail?” he asked. “I think I’m bushwhacking,” he said. This man, I suspect, followed the signs. He was having a great time but was somewhat relieved to be back on the beaten path. He was the first of many. A woman stopped us. She and her husband were having a disagreement about which trail they were taking. “Is this the long or short loop?” she asked. We shrugged, a shadow of concern creeping up in the back of our minds.

There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere on the trail. We asked more than a few people as we passed and received a marvel of contradictory instructions. “There’s a side path on the left.” “Somewhere ahead you’ll see a side trail on the right.” We took option B and had a lovely trek up the mountain but turned back when it became apparent that our choice did not include the waterfall. “Next time,” we said. It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back at the car before sunset.

With tired legs and lack of trust in the signage, we came to a trail crossroads. Orange went in three different directions. The sign that pointed the way to the parking lot did not inspire confidence but we followed it anyway. We passed an older couple, local hikers, that assured us we were on the right path. A couple crashed out of the woods, having lost the trail but were equipped with a GPS app: we were definitely headed in the right direction but had more than a mile to go to get back to the car.

“It does not feel good to feel lost,” we agreed. “Especially when the light is waning.”

Arriving back at the car, breathing a sigh of relief. “That was fun!” we laughed. “And stressful at the end.” We were never actually lost but we were successful at filling ourselves with doubt. We were grateful for the older couple that reassured us, the lost couple with the GPS that broke out of the woods exactly when we needed them.

And, we learned a lesson. Next time we’ll take the time to study the map. And, we’ll be equipped with a better app. Our lostness was always in our minds, in our doubt. The next time we lose ourselves in second guessing – and it is certain to happen – we’ll be better equipped to handle our self-imposed-disorientation.

In the meantime, we’re already whipping it up into a great survival story. I didn’t mention the bears or starting fire with flint and steel. Building a survival shelter from twigs. That version, the real story of our heroic adventure, is certain to come soon. Lostness, it seems, stimulates fabulous creativity.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

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

Soothe The Storm [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My favorite early Chicken Marsala sketch was of an angel delivering Chicken to his new assignment on earth. The angel says, “Get in there, champ! You can do it!” And a very resistant Chicken cries in desperation, “But they are BOTH artists!” Kerri and I are artists with all that term implies. Passionate opinions. Quirky (okay…volatile). Often in need of a perspective-giver. What Chicken didn’t know is that the two artists in his assignment, namely Kerri and me, are great soothers of each other’s storms. We have the gift of never ranting at the same time. When one of us becomes a rocket, the other becomes grounded earth. There is a beautiful equal-and-opposite equation, too. When one of us enters into a creative high, it pulls the other up.

Chicken had a great assignment and just needed to look beyond the wrapper. That angel knew what she was doing.

read Kerri’s blog post about RANTS

smack-dab. ©️ 2021 kerrianddavid.com