Give The Gift [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” ~ Pablo Picasso

As guiding principles go, this one, for me, is top of the heap: deep down, everyone wants to play. Behind every stony face and wrinkled brow is a titanic impulse to play. It’s as true in boardrooms (or bored rooms) as it is in artist’s studios.

Sometimes it takes effort to peel off the layers of acquired seriousness. Sometimes it takes a deep sea dive to locate the original impulse and bring it to the surface for air. No matter the case, with a proper opportunity, play will find a way. Air will fill the lungs and hoots will follow.

If I had a magic wand I would ding the world-of-humans on the noggin’ and reveal their original impulse. Drop the armor, take off the mask and feel the sunshine. Kick off the loafers and feel the grass beneath your feet. Slide across the floor in your socks. Ties are better used as headwear or for slinging snowballs.

Wind up the reindeer and listen to the laughter in the race to the edge of the table. The inner child is one wind-up reindeer away. The inner artist needs finger paint or frosting for a cookie. The opportunity for play is the best gift of this or any season.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REINDEER

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

Make Space [on DR Thursday]

I’ve read that a too-busy mind can’t solve problems. To see solutions, beyond quick fixes, requires some open thought space. There’s plenty of research supporting this notion. It’s the reason most epiphanies happen in the shower or while taking a drive. The mind loosens its grip long enough for a new idea to rush in.

Lately, when my brain is in a twist, I take a few moments and visit the switchgrasses in our front yard. They are electric with color. This year, they are showing shades of pink, yellow and orange that they’ve never before revealed. The white plumes dance above the color, moving with the breezes. It not only takes my breath away but I’m finding it impossible to knit my brow and hard-squeeze synapses into sense-making while watching the dance.

I’ve cleared the boxes and bags from my studio. There are still multiple canvases stacked willy-nilly against the wall, it needs a good sweeping, but I can already feel the space breathing. I can feel myself breathing. As it turns out my studio has been a reflection of my too full mind. Clutter keeps the juices in check.

Last night we watched a movie. The main character, an equestrian, was having a hard time returning to competition. She was trying too hard. She was trying to be perfect and her mind and heart were locked up, in opposition. The horse felt her discord and could not move freely. “Forget about winning,” her dad told her. “Go have fun and remember why you loved to ride in the first place.” Sage advice when a good heart is being drowned out by a noisy mind.

An open studio. The grasses tickling my mind into chuckling relaxation. Space. Who knows what new idea is waiting to rush in!

read Kerri’s blogpost about GRASSES

flawed cartoon © david robinson, kerri sherwood, john kruse

Cast Great Shadows [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There is a small statue on the bathroom sink upstairs. It’s from another era. Inscribed on the base is the phrase, “I love you this much.” The little figure stands wide-eyed with outstretched arms. I use the outstretched arms to hold my hair-pretties. Hair-pretty is a technical term. Kerri tutored me on proper hair terminology when I decided to once again let my hair grow long. I always had long hair until I started facilitating, consulting, and coaching. My clients could handle the clogs but couldn’t see beyond my hair.

I have grown fond of the little statue with outstretched arms. Sometimes I talk to it. “Hand me one of those hair-pretties,” I say, or, “Do you really love me that much?” Occasionally I’ve asked the statue for an opinion or advice but he remains silent since his inscription is a universal answer. Pay attention to what you love. Love without bounds. Love without borders.

One of the qualities that I love in my life is how playful Kerri and I are. Barney the piano is dissolving in the backyard, so, with great excitement, we ordered a chandelier to suspend above Barney. When the chandelier arrived, we decided it wasn’t a good fit for Barney so, for a few nights, it lived under the table umbrella. It cast great shadows so we sat beneath it and cooed and ahh-ed. Kerri took photographs. I loved our moments. Dogga slept through it all and I loved that, too.

It isn’t that complicated. Pay attention to what you love and let the rest go. Of course, like all simplicities, it’s easy to say and hard to do. That’s where the little statue comes in: it reminds me that love isn’t something you do. It’s something you are. It’s something you allow, especially when the borders and rules and boundaries and expectations and self-inflicted limitations aren’t clogging the view.

How much? All in.

[Kerri just told me she bought the little statue for her dad when she was a teenager. And, at some point, it found it’s way back to her. An even better story!]

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CHANDELIER

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Gurgle On! [on DR Thursday]

I’m certain the first time I tried to walk I was not successful. A few stumble-steps and a return to the floor. My first attempts at speaking the English language did not receive a passing grade. As I recall (and I don’t recall), I made some gurgling sounds into which the adults surrounding me projected meaning. I’m certain they cheered and encouraged me to gurgle-on.

Learning is not a terribly difficult thing to do when 1) there’s a reason to do it, and 2) judgment, including words like “success” or “failure” are absent from the experience. Thank goodness my first art teacher treated me like an infant and, rather than critique my mess, she encouraged me to gurgle-on. Consequently, I associate my artistic impulses with fun and exploration instead of the thousand shades of rignt-and-wrong that most people are subjected to.

Recently Skip wrote and asked, “What’s the second rule?” Suspend your judgment and learn.

We just bought a mandoline. It slices and dices and chops and cuts. “The first thing we’re going to make is potato chips!” Kerri proclaimed. And, then, her brow furrowed. “What if we do it wrong?”

“We’ll learn something and make another batch.” Trial and error. Both “trial” and “error” are essential ingredients in the learning process and, since all of life is a learning process, you’d think someday we’d learn to value the “error” portion of the experience. We do ourselves a great disservice placing so much emphasis on passing the test and having the “right” answer. The essential ingredients of trial and error can’t breathe in brains fogged by so much right-and-wrong-ness.

Our first batch, like our first baby step, was a stumble. But more delicious. We stood over the pan eating our result and discussed second steps. What should we do differently next time? Less heat or more? Thinner slices or thicker? This is all I know. I love to learn, especially when food is involved and judgment is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about POTATO CHIPS!

flawed cartoon © 2016 david robinson

Jump Out Of Your Chair [on KS Friday]

If I want to think clearly – or clear my thinking – I walk. Sitting still has always been and continues to be an invitation for thought-log-jams. It was a problem when I was a student. Classrooms come with desks and an expectation that the learner will sit still. I became a master of the controlled wiggle, not because it broke the logjam but because it helped maintain my sanity. For me, sitting still is like a hair shirt with an itchy tag. Sitting still makes my IQ plummet several points. Sitting still interrupts my synapses.

Tom Mck told me that the alternative schools were populated by artists. I intimately understood his observation. Artists need to move to think. They thrive in an alternative to still-sitting.

I’ve made sure that my work throughout my adulthood included movement. Directing plays. Painting big paintings. Facilitating workshops. Even as a teacher I cleared the room of desks. This morning I saw a headline in Forbes Magazine declaring that children learn more through play than through guided instruction. It was curious to me that this was a headline. Sugata Mitra’s been shouting the news for decades. Neil Postman spent his life reading the research and advocating for what the research implied: turn little people toward a passion and get out of the way. Curiosity and desire are an unbeatable team. They will move faster than you might imagine. Move, move, move. Dance. Paint. Sing. Construct. Act. Play. They will let you know when they need you.

I’m learning the lesson again. My work places me squarely in front of a computer for hours each day. Flow. Eddy. Logjam. Wiggle. Move. Sigh, as the synapses start firing up again. Repeat. At this advanced stage of earth-time, you’d think I’d have grasped the full understanding that, for me to be effective, I have to move around. Each morning I review the previous day’s work and immediately know whether or not I found a movement/sitting-still balance.

When we stepped on the trail and entered the woods in North Carolina, my mind was chock-full-of-thought-logs. Like everyone else, I stare at the screen and lose track of time. A day can pass me by and I never leave my swivel chair. I swivel for survival. For months, I’d been swiveling and forgetting to stand up and dance my ideas. Fifteen minutes into our hike, the jam broke free. My mind cleared. I could see the subtle landscape inside and outside. I breathed a deep breath. The forest was gorgeous. My mind was spacious and flowing! I resolved, once again, yet again, to attend to the necessity of movement that keeps my mind and heart flowing. Wiggling is maintenance, merely. Swiveling is not a solution. The real game, the full flow, is only available when I jump out of my chair and move-it.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOREST

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

meander/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Go To The Shoe Room [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I managed the theatre conservatory at PCPA Theaterfest, I occasionally gave backstage tours. It was great fun because the favorite stop on the tour – on every tour I gave – was the shoe room. Visitors always enjoyed standing on the stage, they were impressed with the scene and costume shop, they delighted to watch the prop master at work, but the moment we entered the shoe room, they were transcendent. Wide-eyed and giggling, pulling period shoes from the shelves to show their companions, it was as if they’d entered a candy store. The magic was released through the shoes.

The shoes, I suspect, harkened back to a time of dress-up. Childhood. The shoes touched their spirit of play. They beckoned to be worn and, as any actor knows, the shoes will inform how a character moves. The sooner you don the shoes, the sooner you will “find” the character. The shoe room was a portal to possible-other-lives.

I am more enamored by sketches than I am by final drafts. I delight in watching master craftsmen and craftswomen work. Theatre artists do not create illusions, they provide access to other worlds, unknown paths. They invite us to the shoe room to try on another life, even for a moment. The process, to me, is more beautiful than the performance.

As we walked the paths of the Botanical Gardens, the technicians were preparing for the festival of lights. Walkie-talkies crackled. Connections were checked. Battery packs were carefully placed. Multi-colored light strands ran like rivers up the trunks of trees. E-candles on armatures floated in the waterways. Magic was in the making. During the daylight, the entire expanse of the Garden is backstage – exposed wires and explicit design. At night, the mechanics will fade behind the light curtain. Backstage will become fore-stage. The light will invite us into another world. The light will touch the spirit of play.

I have always believed that people, lurking behind those serious faces, really just want to play. It’s the reason I kicked off my shoes every time I entered a room to do a facilitation. Lose your shoes and it’s no longer a serious affair. Play threatens. Play is suddenly a real possibility. The spirit of play cracks even the most harden entrenchment. Play necessitates collaboration and sharing. Pirates and Princesses need mates and parrots and knights in order for the world to be complete. Lawyers will take off their ties and wear them as headbands when the shoes come off and the serious topics are approached in socks and bare toes.

I recently – as we all have – been privy to an endless contentious debate about what this nation needs to do to get back on track. I believe it is not so complicated. We can carry on our oh-so-serious-division, but the single rule should be that no one can open their mouth – politician, pundit, and pedestrian alike – before first taking off their shoes.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT STRANDS

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

Watch Your Mouth [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My mouth gets me into trouble. It has all of my life. Once, I told an artistic director – the theatre company was in trouble – that we could build our sets with little or no budget if they were cleverly designed. She said, “Great. You’re hired Mr. Designer.” She threw down the gauntlet. I designed a season of plays that cost nary a penny. Once a scavenger, always a scavenger.

My mouth gets me in trouble with Kerri almost every day. That’s how, over time, my mouth came to be an independent character, a persona separate from the rest of me. “Did your mouth just say that?” she asks. “My mouth said it, but I didn’t mean it,” I reply.

I have to constantly watch my mouth. It has a mind of its own and will take every opportunity to put my foot in it.

read Kerri’s blog post about my MOUTH

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com