Make It To Last [on KS Friday]

I’ve watched master carpenters work. They consider the wood, the grain, the feel. Joinery as artistry. When John volunteered in the scene shop I teased him that furniture made for plays need not survive the apocalypse. No matter. He built tables and chairs for plays that will be at auction 100 years from now. He cared about his work, not his circumstance. The future hosts of Antiques Road Show will speculate about the mysterious origins of the unique and fine furniture found in the old prop house.

Standing in the old firehouse I was taken by the floors. They were not mass produced, engineered in a factory, or pre-cut to fit a template. They were planed by hand. Individually cut. They were pegged into place. The human touch was everywhere apparent. Someone, now long gone, cared about the job. Rough carpenter, solid sturdy work. Unlike the contemporary version of flooring, this was made to last. It was meant to outlive the artisan and the artisan took pride in that.

I recently learned that our refrigerator was engineered to breakdown in seven years. “It’s not a good business model to make things to last,” the salesman explained. Years ago, when I bought my truck, Rob told me it would start having trouble at 90,000 miles. It would be junk by 130,000. He was spot on. “They’re made to fall apart,” he said.

It is true, we do things fast. And, there’s a host of praises to be sung about our capacity to produce, the speed at which we invent and adapt. However, I wonder what the person at the factory assembling my destructible refrigerator thinks of their work. It must just be work. What about the engineer and designers? Made to fail? And what about me? A consumer of goods, an easy discarder-of-things.

Standing on the floor of the firehouse, I couldn’t help myself: systems do what they are designed to do. I wondered, in this age of easy discards, what kind of community conversation we would entertain if the business model – if the community model – the leadership model – considered the pride of workmanship, if human hands and hearts were more apparent in the process. Pride in workmanship. What if we made things to last rather than to discard? Would we see each other through different eyes?

read Kerri’s blog post about the FLOOR

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

untitled interlude/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Listen To The House [on KS Friday]

Our house is telling a tale. If you wandered through the rooms you’d see two related intentions. First, there is a transformation in the sunroom that reaches into the outside spaces, the deck and patio. They are now designed for quiet and for simple gathering. They are beautiful no matter which direction that you look. We are attending to our peace-of-mind. The ripple is reaching into all of the rooms.

Second, the dining room is full of bins and boxes. The table is a place for sorting and reviewing. We are cleaning out. We are making space. We are letting go of non-essentials.

My favorite part of both intentions is that there is no rush. Our cleanse is not manic. Our space-creation is rolling, meditative, fluid. We are, quite literally, taking our time. Appreciating our time, our space, our sanctuary. We are using dishes that have never been used, attending to the beauty as well as the taste of our meals.

We are not spending vast sums of money to achieve our design. In fact, almost none-at-all. We’ve bought a few plants. Some pillows. Replacement bulbs for the string of outdoor lights. We are mostly working with what we have. Rearranging. Eliminating.

As Heather once told me, what you do outside you are also doing inside. I hope she is right in that. It implies that, inside, we are making our peace-of-mind a priority. We are removing much of the clutter from our souls. Cleaning out the garbage bag or, perhaps, simply letting-go-the-non-essential-fight. Taking stock. Making space. Appreciating the day.

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

read Kerri’s blog post about the FIRE TOWER

taking stock/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Come Home [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.” ~ Andrew Wyeth

The first time I walked into this house, I felt that I’d come home. It was a potent moment because I’d never felt that before, not in my entire life. I was a wanderer, even as a small child.

I’d come to meet this woman named Kerri. I’d been writing emails to her daily for the previous six months. A job afforded me the opportunity to stop over and meet her face-to-face. She picked me up at the airport [she was the one holding the daisy], we held hands and skipped to the car, talked non-stop during the hour-plus drive from O’Hare airport. When we arrived at the house, I laughed when she asked me to wait at the front door. She wanted me to come into the house through the front door but the key hadn’t worked in years, so she ran around back to come through the house to let me in. When the door opened, with my rolly-bag in tow, I stepped into the house and caught my breath. I almost started to cry but inhaled my overwhelm back into my body. Home. I knew this place.

It was a festival of texture. Raw wood exposed through the aging, flaking paint. Immediately I could see that this woman populated her world with stories, surrounded herself with rocks and wood and tin. She lived in a tangible world, loved the raw and the real, and had a designer’s eye. The dining room was a miracle of tortoise-esque pattern made when she stripped the wallpaper. She loved it so much that she abandoned her plan for paint and left the marks exposed.

This was an artist’s house. The hardwood floors creaked. Some of the antique door handles popped off if you pulled too hard. “It’s an old house and has its quirks,” she explained as she pulled a screwdriver from the silverware drawer to tighten the screw that holds the screen door latch in place. I learned over time that there are somethings you fix and others that you don’t because to fix them would interrupt the relationship with the house. Now I, too, weekly pull the screwdriver from the silverware drawer and tighten the aged-nearly-stripped-screw that holds the screen door latch in place.

Shabby-chic. They gave her style a name and she beamed the first time she heard it. “That’s me!” she exclaimed, “Shabby-Chic!”

When my dad came for our wedding, he stood on the back deck and said to me, “If you don’t put a finish on this deck, you’re going to lose it.” I told him that Kerri liked it that way. In fact, she’d throw herself in my path, she’d break my fingers, if I attempted to clean it, let alone paint it. He nodded and said, “Well, that’s all that matters really.”

Home. All that matters. Alive with stories that reach back and back and back. Texture and piles and projects everywhere I look. The lock on the front door still doesn’t work. And, like my wife, Kerri, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

read Kerri’s blog post on SHABBY-CHIC

Care Enough [on Merely A Thought Monday]

hope copy

This is my broken record moment: a system will do what it was designed to do. Sitting as I am in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the latest national flashpoint, I feel I have a front row seat to the system activating in response to a challenge.

Our system was designed to prevent “the unity of the commoner” in order to keep the focus off of the ruling aristocracy. This morning I read this sentence in the news: The president is fanning the flames of violence and dividing the country for political gain. The implication of Trump’s attacks is that there is a binary choice between law and order, and offering understanding and a path to justice for Black Americans.

A binary choice. A false choice. The commoners can EITHER have law and order OR they can stand for equal justice for all Americans. With equality comes the possibility of unity and unity is a threat to the system. In other news, just as you might suspect, vigilantism is on the rise. The system is responding exactly as designed.

Here’s the conundrum: we believe that protest and civil unrest are the path to real systems change and yet protest and civil unrest always split the community (prevent the unity of commoners). The path to social change in the USA cannot come from division. It might start there but it has to transcend the designed divide.

While the pandemic rages and the commoners are fighting each other on the streets, the stock market has soared. The United States has the highest level of income inequality among the countries in the G-7 and the gap is growing. It is not an accident that Fox News has its Henny Penny followers running around screaming “Socialism!” at the very time that America boldly steps toward an oligarchy.

My dad used to tell me that I’d educated myself into stupidity and I’d shake my head. Why would anyone choose to be uninformed? An ignorant populace is easily swung by the nose. An ignorant populace might have guns but they are unarmed where the real danger lurks.  It seems a good many of us are happily manipulated, hungrily eating anger and hate rather than asking a question or bothering to scratching the paint to discover if what we’re being sold is true or a con. It’s easy to check a fact or a source but you first must want to do it. That is where we fall down. We simply do not care. We opt for tribal division and easy blame over communal health – again, the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Caring enough to question. That, too is an option. Caring enough to question is a possible path forward but requires us to look beyond the spoon-fed-rhetoric, the misinformation campaigns, and the intentionally stoked fires of division. It requires us in our questioning to shift our focus from the fight to the workings of “the ruling aristocracy.”

There’s also this: the businesses in downtown Kenosha and beyond are boarded up. The people of the community came out to paint them with messages of hope and support. Stamped on the hood of a burned out car is an appeal: Let’s Be Better Humans.

The impulse for change and a better world is there. A river of hope is there. The voices from the angry fringe will always shout loudest but I have to believe the vast majority, the quiet people who come out to paint, are looking for a common ground. There is hope, lots of hope, if we can take a look in our national mirror and see that we are doing exactly what the system is determining that we do. If we see it, we might be able to care enough to question, to deny the divide. We might be able to come together. We might be able to find a way to do better, to be better humans.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPE

 

let'sbebetterhumans website box copy

 

 

Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

in transition copy

Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

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in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 david robinson

De-Swash Your Font! [on Merely A Thought Monday]

font copy

20 and Kerri can fill an entire evening with conversation about fonts. Serif and sans serif. They grimace and make faces. Some fonts are praised for their simplicity while others are disparaged as presumptuous or gauche. Baseline, Cap line. I listen with amazement. They’re both designers. To get a rise out of them, I tell them that I’ve never really thought much about fonts. They look at me with shock and disdain. Then, one or both slam me with the ultimate insult: “Well, apparently, you’ll read anything.”

At first I thought the font obsession was unique to Kerri and 20 and then I learned that Kirsten caught the font gene from her mother. Kirsten won’t take a book off a shelf if she doesn’t like the font. “Who designed this!” she shouts in the library. “Why would anyone use that font!” she adds to the patrons averting their eyes and scurrying to hide from the dangerous lady.

And then there was the frigid night in Chicago when I realized that it was a family fixation. We were walking with Craig to find the zoo lights when we passed a Barnes & Noble. Craig shook his head and said, “They really need to upgrade their font.” I stopped in my tracks. Thinking my stopped motion was a comment on his font-thought, he added, “Well they do!”

Now I spend my days worried that I, too, will soon become hyper-critical about fonts. I wonder when I will begin to scrutinize stems, ascenders, and shoulders. Will I recoil when confronted with Comic Sans or wrinkle my nose at Didot? Will I find myself asking, “Why didn’t they use Frutiger instead of Futura? Will I contract the font virus?

I pretend. I shake my head when Impact is misused. I snuff when cued at the improper use of a serif, the too-expressive vertex. The pressure to belong is intense! But, in truth, I remain a font goat. Much to the disappointment of 20, Kerri, Kirsten and Craig, I read with pleasure, absent of almost any font awareness, whatever is put in front of me. Gadzook! Bad serif!

 

read Kerri’s out of control rant about FONTS

 

 

feet on the street WI website box copy

 

 

Go Tiny And Skip! [on DR Thursday]

PeaceOnEarth copy

Kerri called them ‘morsels,’ little snippets of my paintings. She’d isolate a spot, crop it, perhaps add some words or simply let the cropped image become a new, stand-alone design. We offered her morsels through society6.com [prints, cards, coffee cups, pillows, etc.]. This morsel is from the corner of a large painting, An Instrument of Peace.

The morsels had a profound impact on how I see my paintings. In many cases, I liked the morsels better than the paintings they came from. The morsels said more with less. They took me by the hand and led me back to the forgotten lands of shape, form, and color in their purity.

The morsels helped me comprehend and then dance back and forth across the crevasse between design and painting. Painting [for me] is a deep dive, personal spelunking. It is a meditation. Design is visual play. It’s skipping in the sunshine, looking for shells on the beach. Carefree [Kerri is the designer in our family so it is especially easy for me. I’m like the supervisor on a road crew; she does all the work and I stand there, pat my belly, look important, and get all the accolades].

Originally, Kerri made this morsel as a wish for peace. It is among her many morsels that celebrate this season, the return of the light. Peace seems in short supply in our divided nation, our angry world. She asked that we use this morsel today so I pulled it from the archive. She knows that art carries great power and can inspire people to see anew, to dance back and forth across their personal crevasses, and lead the way back to forgotten lands of community and shared vision. Shape, form, color. Beauty generated and shared inside as well as out. Reaching rather than rejecting as a first action.

All of this possibility, hope, an enormous wish, carried in one little tiny morsel.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

PeaceOnEarth copy

for a print or wall art of this image, go here

 

 

oversizedjoy copley place website box copy

 

an instrument of piece ©️ 2015 david robinson

morsel: peace on earth ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Make A Curvy Road [on Two Artists Tuesday]

curvy road copy

The approach to the ferry at Northport is made intentionally curvy. It was designed to slow people down.

The intentional slow down is not like a speed bump or round-a-bout. It is not a mechanism to slow traffic before entering the ferry zone. It is meant to help folks to mindfulness. The place is beautiful. In a world dedicated to rushing through to the next thing, at a place on earth where the ferry will not wait for you, a winding road just might help a dedicated-race-to-the-next-thing-mind to recognize that this-moment-might-be-just-as-valuable-as-the-next. Experience it. Be in it.

It is a good design. In the many times this year that we’ve taken the winding road, it never fails that we see multiple cars stopped. People get out. They look. They take pictures. They point and talk and laugh. They stand in silence and breathe it in. It is performance art at its finest.

We slow down, too. Each time, the race to reach the ferry evaporates from our mind. We see. Kerri stops the car, “I have to get a picture of this!” she says. I appreciate her appreciation; there are layers to good design. Each time we greet the winding road I wonder what our world would be like if our design intention was to slow down rather than race through. Rather than divert our attention, what if, like great art, the purpose was to bring us into the vast expanse of this moment?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about the WINDING ROAD

 

shadow bristol woods website copy