Lay It To Your Heart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“This entire week is about noticing,” Kerri said, looking at the week’s photos we’d just uploaded into our site. Sometimes the melange has an intentional theme and sometimes a theme announces itself. Our lives have become about noticing. I suspect all of our writing is, in one way or another, about noticing.

This is Blue eryngo. Flat Sea Holly to the poet. Eryngium planum to those more interested in species categorization. Shakespeare would know it as a thistle, a cure for love sickness. “And lay it to your heart.”

The evening breeze turned our steps toward the marina. It was a brutally humid day and we were restless in the air’s oppression. Arm in arm we talked of how long it had been since we wandered in this direction. It used to be a daily stroll but more recently we’ve sought trails away from people. The forest quiet rather than the crowds at the shore.

The color of the plant stopped us. I felt as if I was looking at a magical universe of purple-blue planets or something more likely found under water. While Kerri snapped photos I marveled at the color. The shape of the leaves reaching from the thistle center. Little blue suns.

Our chance encounter with the Flat Sea Holly blew some nice air into our sails. We walked on talking about the gift of noticing, taking photographs, how to be better artists, amazing sights all around.

Shakespeare’s thistle cures more than lovesickness. We lay it to our hearts and it lifted our humid-heavy- spirits.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FLAT SEA HOLLY

Try To Explain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s nearly impossible to explain. I’ve had the conversation a thousand times and I know it’s fruitless from the outset. Why did I choose a life without a safety net? A life with stability and benefits? Why was I willing to work 80 hour weeks for not-very-much-pay? I’ve heard more than once that “Artists are indulgent.” Or, “Artists are fools.”

Maybe. I’ll never know because it is impossible to explain to someone who operates from a different imperative. I’ve thought myself foolish more than a few times, and, usually, when I measure myself by the standards of 9-to-5.

For me, like all the artists I know and admire, there has never been a distinct line between work and play. Given any amount of free time, I’d rather be in the studio than anywhere on earth. When I was directing plays and running theatre companies, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get back to work. The time between productions or studio time, what most people call “vacation,” was-and-is meant to catch up on sleep and fill up the well for the next project. Often, this thing called ‘vacation’ was an opportunity to visit museums, drink in art/inspiration or stand in a castle or sit in the city where the next play is set.

For most of my life, even before I really thought about artists or artistry, vacation involved a sketchbook. I sat in the back of the station wagon and drew Colonel Sanders from the bucket of chicken or tried to copy a photo from the National Geographic magazine. Fun and play involved a deep dive into the world I could create/discover through a pencil on blank pages.

I can spend hours sitting and watching people. Small dramas. Gestures. Manipulations. Kindnesses. A little burst of love that would otherwise go unnoticed. Traveling for work meant time spent in airports, a goldmine of observation-time. Work or play?

Perhaps that is why there is no line between work and play. I see it in Kerri, too. We are constantly noticing. Paying attention to what is beautiful or interesting. Feeling what is needed and what is not. We’ve talked endlessly about being empathic. Feeling what others feel. I’ve watched Kerri walk into a rehearsal and “know” where there is pain, where there is joy, know when she needs to wrap some humor around a bruised community. Many years ago, a wise-old-artist told me that I had to learn to distinguish between what was my “stuff” and what was not. What were my feelings and what was not. Sage advice. I’ve been witness to many artists imploding, carrying other people’s garbage as their own.

When we walk, Kerri takes photographs. “I’m sorry,” she says, stooping to focus on a leaf or stone. Why does she apologize for noticing? Here’s a hint: all of her life she’s been asked to explain why she stops to notice. What value can there possibly be in stopping forward motion, especially in a world hell-bent on “getting there faster.” What is the value-proposition of noticing? “Can you please explain why you have to stop and see and, of all things, make it into music?” Or a story. Or a painting. Or a dance.

“Why did you climb that tree?” the adults asked. “It’s where I write poetry,” she explained. Work or vacation? Is it play?

Every Saturday we go through Kerri’s photos from the week and choose five as prompts for our Melange. We collect phrases we hear, words that inspire or disturb. Those end up in the Melange, too. Are we working? Is this play? We delight in sitting each day and writing together. We laugh at our Smack-dab cartoon. They are fun to write and draw and color. None of this makes us any money. Is it work or is it vacation?

I’m currently drawing cartoons and tossing thought-bombs into a community of software entrepreneurs – the boss understands that I notice things and can translate what I notice into other shapes and expressions. Is there value in that? Is it work? Is it play? Will it make money?

Are there possibly other measures of value?

It’s nearly impossible to explain.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACATION

Come Look! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The artist finds, rather than creates and controls.” ~ Declan Donnellan

I’m not sure when I began including floral shapes in my paintings. I’ve always appreciated the shape of symbols and shapes as symbols. One day in my Seattle studio, I lined the walls with my most recent paintings and was surprised to discover leaves and plants and stems etched into figures and the spaces. My charcoal and paint flora was generic; they were not studies of plants nor in any way representational. They were shapes. They were accidental.

Even when my plant-shapes became intentional they remained generic, improvisational. I didn’t go outside and study the shapes of leaves. It never occurred to me to step into the field next to my studio and look at the plant life. I’m slow that way.

And then I met Kerri. We walk almost every day. While my mind wanders into the ethers and gets lost in the sky, she is busy looking at life’s minutiae. She stops often and takes photographs, usually of a tiny treasure. A forest flower. The bud about to burst on a limb. A butterfly nestled into the leaves. “Look!” she exclaims and kneels on the path, camera in hand. She navigates thorns, wades into tall grasses, climbs over rocks, all to get close enough to see, really see the miniature miracle.

Because she sees, I see. She is single-handedly responsible for my ongoing Georgia O’Keeffe revival. And what I’ve re-learned as Kerri beckons me to, “Come Look!” is that my vast imagination is not capable of creating the amazing shapes and colors and delights that surround me. I’ve been walking through this intense world of marvels my whole life and noticed only the smallest slice. The best I can do is pay attention and dance with what I find.

It’s humbling – as it should be. I’ll never be a better creator than nature because I am a creation of nature. In fact, I realize again and again that my job as an artist is not to create, it is to discover what is already right in front of my face. To open eyes – my eyes and others’ eyes – to the enormity of what already exists. The wild shapes, the dancing colors, the glow of life that I’ll never be able to capture, no matter how great my technique or pure my intention. The best I can do is point to the mystery, with symbol, shape and color, and say, as Kerri does for me each and every day, “Look! Come Look!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SUCCULENTS