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

Sing The Song Of Simple Lessons [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This is a song about the simple lessons. The amusing and eye-opening answer to “because we’ve always done it this way.”

As a budding young artist I was frustrated because my charcoal lines were not as alive or fluid as the masters I so admired. I wrestled and strained and struggled to achieve “alive” lines, doubling down on my technique, my personal bridge to nowhere, as if doing more of the same, rife with inner turmoil and tension, might achieve my aim of ease.

Watching me struggle, amused by my absolute dedication to doing the same old thing in the same old way, as if I might accidentally squeeze out a new result, my art teacher, a wisened older woman full to the brim with laughter and humility, came to me, took the charcoal from my hand, and showed me how to hold it, not like a pencil, but like a flower. My lines were instantly alive. My teacher laughed at my amazement.

New ways – better ways – are rarely discovered on a tension path. Why is it that we look in the same drawer multiple times when we’ve lost our keys?

We have, for years, made lunches from yummy food wrapped in a corn tortilla. More often than not, our food falls to our shirt, our plates, the floor, because the tortilla splits. “We have to do something different,” Kerri says each day as her tortilla disintegrates. Dogga delights in the mess and recovers the spoils that hit the floor. Day after day, year after year, the tortilla struggle has been a part of our lives.

During a recent visit, Kirsten, watching our struggles, shook her head, sighed and asked, “Why don’t you use two tortillas?” It was a revelation. A simple change that never occurred to us, babies of depression era parents.

“Two tortillas!” Kerri exclaimed. “Yes!”

I nodded with satisfaction. A better life, a cleaner meal, was in reach! Less mess in our future!

Two tortillas. Hold the charcoal like a flower. Revelations born of ease and the obvious answer.

Someday we will learn (or not): No stress necessary. Relax. Insight sings the song of simple lessons.

read Kerri’s blog post about Two Tortillas

What’s Now? [on Two Artists Tuesday]

After a fairly contentious conference I co-facilitated in The Netherlands, Kerri and I took the bullet train to Paris. It was early in our relationship and our first time abroad together. We couldn’t afford to get to Paris otherwise, so tagging a small vacation onto a work trip seemed foolish not to do. It was the perfect place at the perfect time. I released the conference friction the moment we stepped off the train. I didn’t know it at the time but on the streets of Paris I left behind a skin that I’d badly needed to shed.

We had limited funds so we bought baguettes and Camembert cheese, fruit, tarts from vendors and bottles of wine. We ate in parks. We wandered the streets. Climbed the hill to Sacre’- Coeur, visited Rodin, and tried to get lost. We fell exhausted into bed each night, full of art and sound and color and delicious wandering. One night we sauntered to the Arc de Triomphe and barely escaped a riot. Bus loads of police in riot gear appeared on the street and, wide-eyed, we slipped out of the crowd and hustled to find more peaceful rues. Paris now serves as a marker. There was before Paris. And after.

“This shadow looks like that picture I took of the Eiffel Tower,” she said, showing me the photo of the shadow. The angle is perfect. The shadow is appropriate. Shadows. What was. An outline of the people we were, reflected on the snow. And, the series of photos, shadows along the way, the surprising people we have lived-into since we wandered those streets, shedding old skin, and boarded a plane home with a a question, “What’s next?” What’s now?

read Kerri’s blog post about SHADOWS

Be Like BabyCat [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We had a difficult time choosing our Melange this week. The final week of the year is overwrought with reflection and, let’s face it, 2020 is not like any other year. There is too much. For the first time in our 151 consecutive weeks of writing, on Sunday night we published an almost empty slate; one solid decision and four placeholders. We knew our prompt for Monday because, well, it was Monday. The curtain was rising.

It is tempting in a year like no other to write about the tragedies, disgruntle-ments, mountains to climb and we’ve certainly done our share of that. The pandemic has merely served as a baseline to the other palette of poo that populated our 2020 experiences. As we rounded the trail on Monday we decided that filling-out the Melange week with DogDog and BabyCat might be the respite that we needed. Our boys keep us laughing. They bring us back to the moment, to the real stuff of life. More than once this year, lost in the stormy sea of my mind, I’ve joined the boys on the rug, ruffled ears and stroked chins – and in a matter of seconds I’ve been awash in the thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” They are wizards of transformation.

BabyCat is a study in contentment. Scratch that. He is a master of contentment. While DogDog runs circles through the rooms of the house or barks at imagined intruders, BabyCats seeks stillness and sleeps. While we wrestle with fears of the future or sort through the wreckage of our stability, BabyCat finds the most comfortable place in the house and occupies it. He is not ashamed of his inactivity. He revels in it.

I watch him. He is my first cat, an alien being, a mystery that I can’t help but study. Yesterday, as he moved from one nap into the next, I thought that, if BabyCat was an artist, he would be in a constant state of conception. He sleeps on his ideas with no imperative to actually make them happen. He loves an idea for its own sake. In that deep-state-of-fulfillment, he specifically and successfully rejects all forms of self-criticism. He is a hedonist, shameless in his love of pleasure, his ease of enjoyment.

There were days in 2020 that pounded us into mush. If Kerri or I found ourselves in a fit of despair, without fail, in a matter of moments, BabyCat would crawl into our lap. He’d plop his hulking contentment in the center of our darkness, stop all movement, and purr himself to sleep, taking our despair with him into that netherworld. There are few more effective soul-balms than a contented cat on your lap.

Wizards of transformation. Contentment in a storm. No words necessary.

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT

Invite Magic [on DR Thursday]

NapMorsel

We are going on an adventure. Our adventure comes with a house on the lake. It is work and although some people might not consider work an adventure, we are not those people. The challenge is great. The work seems oddly destined. It “fits.”

Among the first things we moved into our adventure-home was this painting, Nap On The Beach. One of the quirks of being an artist is investing in the belief (or, perhaps, the cultivated-and-embraced-delusion) that the art you make sometimes carries “power.” This painting is autobiographical. It carries a good memory. It evokes a way-of-being. An intention for living. Once, early in our lives together, we fell into a magic sleep on a beach. We were so comfortable, so at ease entering our new life together.

Magic.

We wanted to invite magic and this way-of-being-together into our adventure-home and our next phase of work. And, so, we hung this painting. There are other paintings poised to join Nap On The Beach. They invite a different spirit. Unfettered, free. But, for now, there is this: comfort. Ease. Peace. Giving over to something much, much bigger. An invocation. An adventure.

 

 

preadventure painting sale box copy

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NAP ON THE BEACH

 

feet on the street WI website box copy

 

nap on the beach ©️ 2017 david robinson

Listen To BabyCat [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

babycat in a box copy

Everyone has there safe spot. The place where they can relax, let their guard down. Rest. Mine is the chair in my studio. For years my dad’s safe spot was his reclining chair. He’d melt into it and fall fast asleep. Safe spots are contained spaces. Quiet. Known. Cocoons.

BabyCat has many safe spots. He moves with the sun from safe spot to safe spot around the house. He recently added another to his holdings. It is not fancy. There is nothing designer about his tastes though this choice surprised us: a toothpaste box from Costco.

Moments before it became a BabyCat safe spot, the box was loaded with coffee, eggs, a bottle of wine.  It had no importance. We tossed the box to the floor merely to make space on the counter. A discard en route to the recycling bag. And then BabyCat occupied it. We knew immediately that this was not temporary housing by the way he settled in. This was the real deal. He purred.

Though we’ve moved it to a less trip-able spot, the toothpaste box remains one of BabyCat’s favorites in his safe spot rotation. Watching him move from zen to zen I realized he is never far from a safe spot. He has constructed his life according to maximizing his inner quiet and comfort. It is his top priority.

There must be a lesson to be learned in there somewhere. This year, as I run from place to place, from one stress spot to the next, enrapt in my all-too-important list of things to accomplish, I will stop (periodically) and remember the power of a toothpaste box, the lesson of BabyCat and the real  possibility of moving through life prioritizing my peace  instead of raising my blood pressure.

BabyCat Lesson One: identify more than one safe spot. Then multiply.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BABYCAT’S BOX

 

chicago market dec 2018 website box copy

Wait For The Flow

The Weeping Man

The Weeping Man

The Weeping Man is finished.

Sometimes the process of painting feels like wrestling with an angel: It will not release me. I will not let it go. We wrangle and discover the truth in each other. It is, as Quinn used to say of all relationships: “corrections as refinements”.

Sometimes a painting follows you for years and chooses its day. It chooses its time and simply steps into the light. It announces itself: “I am here now.” The Weeping Man was like that.

In my life I have painted hundreds of paintings and I can count a handful that are like The Weeping Man. Pure. In laying it out, I corrected one line. I added another. There are relatively few unnecessary brush strokes.

Flow is like that.

Paddle On

photo-3We’d been out in the canoe for more than an hour. The morning was warm and the water was still. We hugged the shore, cruising the lily pads. Dan told us some of the lily pads were over 150 years old. I was amazed at their capacity to reach through time but also reach through long stems to the water’s surface to drink the sun.

The turtle emerged from nowhere. It appeared from the depths, through the lily pad stem forest, and rose to within inches of the surface. It was big for a lake turtle, perhaps the size of a dinner plate. I let my paddle trail in the water. It was so close I could have reached into the water and touched it. We glided forward and turned the canoe so Kerri might see it but the turtle had already disappeared.

the view from the canoe

the view from the canoe

Turtle is perhaps the oldest known symbol for the earth. In many traditions, turtle carries the world on her back; the earth is her shell. She is a great reminder to go slow and persevere, to live grounded amidst the chaos of life. She symbolizes patience and ease. I was struck by how similar are the symbols of turtle and lily pad. Peace. Ease. Both are extraordinary symbols of grounding or rooting. Both cross the boundary of elements: the turtle lives in water and land. The lily pad reaches through the water to find air and sun. Both inhabit the depths and reach to the surface.

It feels as if I came into this world with art already in me. From an early age I drew pictures, not because I wanted to but because I had to. Like the lily pad, I was reaching for something unknown. I drew the same images over and over again: a cabin in the woods, eyes, clowns. I wasn’t drawing to master the image, I was drawing and painting in order to reach beyond the image. There was something there, beyond, deep in the depths, a root, rich soil, the void. There was a force behind the image that pulled me. My artistry felt like a descent into the caves of the ancients, a search for sources mythological.

Sometime during these past few years, the direction of the pull reversed itself. Like Orpheus in the underworld, I turned around. I walked toward the surface. In essence, the pull to the depths became a reach to the light. The sun called. Balance, in this life, at long last necessitated light and warmth.

Tom once told me that inheriting his family’s ranch and subsequently finding a trunk hidden in the wall of the house containing his ancestors possessions served as an affirmation that he had finally come home. Sitting in the canoe, the turtle rising by my side, I felt the affirmation. I am now only inches from breaking the surface. I drink the light because I know the depths and am adept at walking in the dark unknown.

the first layer of  under-painting for the next piece

the first layer of under-painting for my next piece

I am working much slower now. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. And my art, my life, is the better for it.

 

 

 

Take The Train

672. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I’m on a train. It is night so I can see the distant lights, feel the swaying of the car, hear the whistle blow as if from a distance. I love riding trains. They are calming, peaceful. People relax when they are on a train. All around me people are sleeping and the few conversations happening are in hushed tones.

Although it might seem that planes and trains serve the same purpose, they are vastly different. A trip on a plane is nothing like the experience of a train. On the train, we are not crammed in to too tight spaces, buckled in and consistently distracted from where we are – as happens on a plane. When you are on a plane they don’t want you to think too hard about what you are really doing (hurtling through space in an aluminum tube at 30,000 feet). The beverage service and movie are there to keep you occupied. They tell me that babies cry on planes because the air pressure hurts their ears but I have a different theory: babies know they are skipping through space at 500 miles an hour and haven’t yet been socialized out of their feelings; they cry because it is the only sensible response to their predicament.

Not so on a train. Here, there is an entirely different philosophy at play. On the train, we are encouraged to look, we are free to walk about; there is a viewing deck! We are encouraged to take in our surroundings, not be distracted from them. We are on the ground. We are “in” it, not above it (if they are not yet sleeping, my car mates are staring out the window, deep in contemplation). Planes transport people from point A to point B; the “in between” space is tolerated. Trains are experiences; the “in between” space is the point. You can’t be in a hurry if you choose the train. Babies sleep on trains; they can’t help it, nothing rocks you to sleep like the motion of a train.

It is a happy accident that I am on this train tonight. And, I am amused at the theme appropriateness of this happy accident: this week I’ve been meditating on presence and slowing down – and wondering where in our contemporary lives does circumstance actually assist us in slowing down. I’ve found my metaphor on a train.