Category Archives: Life

Pick up the damn brush…

Last weekend I was lucky enough to hear Crystal Evans Hurst speak at an event. It was incredible. One of those soul stirring moving talks that somehow manages to call you on all of your shit and you’re really glad that someone finally did but a little bummed because you know you can’t go on living in denial anymore type talks.

It was the kick in the rear I needed in a really big way.

Sometimes you need to be coddled and given sweet words of gentle encouragement and sometimes someone needs to stand up and tell you to quit the shit already and do the damn thing. I needed the latter.

She told me to pick up the damn brush.

Well she told an arena full of other woman, a group of people I happened to be a part of, to pick up the brush. I don’t think she said the word damn… but that’s how I heard it. That’s how I needed to hear it. And it felt like she was talking directly to me.

And I need to just pick up the damn brush already.

When I started the artist residency in motherhood back in June I just said that my goal was to be more intentional about having a studio practice. I didn’t really define what I thought a successful year in this residency would look like but I can tell you that I definitely clearly defined what failure would look like. I have been operating with that definition of failure as my focus. I have been making sure I only do enough to say I tried but not too much that when that failure happens I can’t shrug it off and say “No biggie. I should have known better. I mean after all (insert believable excuses that are all actually full of BS)!”

It was and is important for me to be more intentional about having a studio practice. But even if I’m not, I am still going to make stuff. I can’t help it. It’s so imbedded in who I am that I am always finding ways to make even if I am not consciously choosing to make. However, if I want to satisfy this deep passion to be an artist, I need to start picking up the damn brush. I need to stop with all the second guessing, the wondering what it means, why I should or shouldn’t, if anyone will ever take me seriously, and the endless list of things that keep me at that point of only doing so much.

I want to make stuff. I want to share that stuff with the world. And I need to be okay with the world’s cold shoulder.

I also want to inspire other people. To share my story just in case it motivates someone else in the smallest way to be bold enough to pick up their own brush.

Hopefully at some point I’ll have something else to write about other than trying to overcome all this self-doubt keeping me from doing what I love, but for now this is what I have to work with.

As always, thank you for reading.

-r.n.a.

You should check out:

– Crystal Evans Hurst website

– This amazing reading of a letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse that shows that we are not alone in the agonizing self doubt (warning: some pretty crude language is used in this letter)

– And this page about Eva Hesse because I love her work so much

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Inspiration in October…

I am not sure how or where I came across it but I recently came across Dr. Rick Henson’s Negativity Bias. In short when we have bad experiences those experiences stick to our brain like velcro and when we have a good experience they bounce off our brain as if it was made of teflon. You really have to focus on the good for it to stick so to speak, I think he says for 15 seconds. This is my attempt to make some of the good stick.

Over the last month I have been keeping track of things that have inspired or moved me. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the drudgery, the endless dirty dishes and dirty laundry and dirty diapers and messy toys and errands and grown up stuff I dont want to do… But it’s not all drudgery, there are a lot of wonderfully inspiring moments that happen, and focusing on catching those good things makes all the other stuff swirling around me like an adult Pig Pen less distracting.

Here is a list of some of those things in no particular order.

This spot in Maine…

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This car seat video… 

These geniuses made installing my kid’s carseat a million times easier, the car seat safer, and eased one of the millions of anxieties that come along with being a mom.

This episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon…

Without really getting in to my political views I’ll just say, I’m with her. Seeing Hillary Clinton on Jimmy Fallon was weirdly comforting in a way I didn’t know I needed to be comforted after the last presidential election.

This craft project with Rory… 

Print - 1 (1)Making a stuffed dinosaur named Arg-Arg with my 3yr old made me realize that not only do I suck at collaborating (why not just do everything my way?!) but I’m not as open as I would like to be. I tried to fight her on every one of her ideas. Impressively she fought back. There was no tears or tantrums, just a matter-of-fact ‘no let’s try it mommy. It’ll be so cute.’ She was right, this guy is way more adorable because of her ideas.

This spot in my backyard… 

backyard - 1 (1).jpgMy backyard in the morning is so loud with birds going about their daily business. When I let the dogs out in the morning I have been trying to make a point of spending a few minutes listening to their song.

What has inspired you this past month? How do you set down all the bad experiences that have stuck to you like velcro so you can enjoy the good?

As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

Extra Stuff…

If you are interested in reading more about Dr. Rick Henson’s work, particularly on Confronting the Negativity Bias, go to his site.

If I could just control time…

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Where has September gone?

I feel like it just showed up and now it’s gone without even saying goodbye.

I hate how quickly September always seems to go. Then it’s October for a few days and all of a sudden I’m cleaning up christmas decorations and wondering how the hell I ended up in a whole new year.

I’m trying to slow down. Be more mindful and live in this day, but it doesn’t seem to help time slow down at all. Or maybe I’m not doing it right or maybe the point of being more mindful isn’t to control time… I just want to control time.

It would be so much easier if I could just control time.

I’m also trying to be less concerned with what I think I am supposed to be doing with my studio time and instead do what I want to do during my studio time. I have a few goals, guidelines of things that I would like to see done by the end of the year to keep my focus. I tried working on only one project at a time and I hated it. I need to be able to step back and take a break. Having more than one project going gives me the freedom to do that. On the other hand though, I have to limit the number of projects I have going or I will never get anything done.

And it feels really good to get stuff done.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

 

Other stuff you should check out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just show up… 

It’s really hard to focus in here… 

When I know all of this is waiting for me on the other side of the door… 

The beauty of having my woodshop right off the kitchen is that the baby monitor works in there, allowing me to hear when my little ones are waking up. Sometimes the lack of physical distance from all of the things that are easier to do while the kids sleep makes it harder to focus.

Or maybe I’m just looking for a reason to not focus… trying to avoid all those negative ninja gremlins waiting in the rafters of my studio to attack. 

Self doubt sucks. But it’s real and stupid but real and a pain in the ass but also real but also really lame and I wish it wasnt real but it is. 

I’ve been trying to just to show up. Not vanguish all evil or create a piece so stunning the art world can sense it’s existence and seeks it out so they can hold it up as the greatest peice ever made… I just need to show up. 

It’s not easy. I can feel the weight of all of the meanial and safe daily tasks trying to pull me away… the pile of dirty clothes luring me into the laundry room with promises of finally seeing the bottom of the hamper… images of a clutter free kitchen dancing in my head… the promise of all the things I could accomplish in the hour the kids sleep if I don’t go into the shop and waste my time making something that wont be that good anyway… In reality all those safe and menial tasks make me feel like a modern Sisyphus. 

But fear makes me forget that there is no end to the daily chores, that there will always be clothes in the dirty hamper, that no matter how hard I try I can not clear the clutter and mess faster than my two monsters can make it. 

An making art / being vulnerable is scary. Especially in a society that values art as a final product but doesnt always value what can be seen as the foolish and frivolous pursuit of making art. 

So right now, I’m just trying to show up. 

As always, thanks for reading. 

-r.n.a.

You should check out:

Brene Brown, Professor of the Dark Arts and Expert Advice Giver on how to defeat The Gremlins 

– This summary of the story of Sisyphus incase you didnt get the reference I made

– This amazing residency for mom’s if, like me, you are trying to navigate being a mom and an artist. 

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I Don’t Have Any Time…

Trying to plan meals and keep two kids entertained…

The hardest part of committing to the artist residency in motherhood has been time management. Before the residency I would spend my kid’s nap times catching up on dishes or the laundry. Now that I am trying to spend that time and any other free time in the studio other things are starting to pile up. The visual clutter is making it harder to make art a priority so I am trying to take a step back to create a schedule. Despite the ease in which I can create a mess, I do not function well in a disorganized environment.

This last week I have focused my late night internet wanderings while feeding my little one on how other people schedule their time. I finally looked into bullet journaling. Turns out I used to do a very simplified form of it in college without realizing what the trendy bloggers were calling it. I personally think the name is misleading, it’s a personalized and customizable day planner. And despite my hesitation to spend time writing down and thinking about all the things I don’t have time to do instead of doing those things, I am going to give it a shot. The goal is that by being more intentional with my time I can be more productive and feel less chaotic.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

As always, thanks for reading,

-r.n.a.

 

 

Use Your Words… 

Constructive criticism can be incredibly valuable. Critique was one of the worst/best parts of art school. It was the worst because it required a level of vulnerability. When done with a great group who understood the benefits of not just saying something superficial or nice like “You worked really hard,” it was the best. It created a dialogue to help you talk through your ideas, potentially gave you a new arsenal of inspiring artists to look at, and gave you a gauge of how well your idea was being articulated to an audience. 

 
After graduating the regular critiques ended. Sure I have a group of people I know that I can send photos too or video chat with who would talk through something I’m working on but I have to seek them out, put myself out there instead of showing up to the mandatory critique whose attendance and participation is a requirement if I want a good grade. 

When I do seek it out I ask things like: 

“Does this look dumb?”

“How weird does this look?”

“Am I stupid for thinking this works?”

“Stupid right?”

Talk about a meaningful conversation!

And it’s not just with something I’m making, it’s with anything I do. If I’m not sure about something I’m wearing: “I’m not making this work am I?” If I have an idea that I want an opinion on: “I know this idea is stupid but what do you think about (idea)?” It’s annoying just writing about it.

I’m constantly telling my two year old to use her words instead of whining… I need to take my own advice. Those style of questions are basically a grownup form of whining. Whining shuts everything down but your desire to get away from the whiner as quickly as you can. Or at least that’s my reaction. 

I’m trying to be more direct and clear. To ask things like, “I am having a hard time resolving this design aspect. Any thoughts?” Or “Could you give me your opinion on this? Wondering how I am doing with articulating my idea.” It leads to way more constructive dialogue than a pouty, “This looks dumb right?” 

As always thanks for reading,

-r.n.a. 

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The Beginning…

Today is the official start for my year long Artist Residency in Motherhood!!!!!!

I have been thinking and wanting to do this since I first heard about it over a year ago. At the time I was working full time and waiting for kiddo number 2’s arrival. I really liked the idea of the commitment but I lacked the courage so I pretended like I would do my own version of it which was code for “i’ll make a lot excuses so this never happens.”

I did dip my toes in the art making occasionally. Drawing became a great outlet in the weeks leading up to kid2’s arrival. After kid2 arrived she sometimes would take a nap at the same time as her sister and I would run to my studio as quietly as I could and then just stand there. Not sure what I could actually accomplish in 20minutes (or at all) I usually ended up trying to organize something or cleaned while promising myself that next time I would do something more creative.

It was thrilling.

Then I did what I am really good at doing and completely discredited any shred of creativity I was foolish enough to think I had. Awful stupid things that I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough at if I heard anyone else say them filled my head. The worst of them… ‘Grow up Ren, stop with this foolish art stuff.’

In Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly she calls it Shame Gremlins. And dirty little gremlins they are. She talks about how the more vulnerable you feel the worst the gremlins become… the lady knows what’s up. Every time I would even think about the potential of doing something art related the gremlins would spring to action, propelling down from the rafters shouting their war cry ‘REN SUCKS!!!!!’ The more I tried to ignore them the dirtier they played, knowing exactly what to say to shut me down.

Not to be all ‘This book totally changed my life..,’ but this book is totally changing my life.

I feel ready in a way that I just haven’t before. I am also tired of letting the gremlins run things and ruin something I really love doing, and that’s showing up in the studio to make art. 

What was going on while I was writing this post, seemed more accurate to chose the shot where none of us are looking. (This is also the reason for any spelling or grammatical errors in this post)

As always, thanks for reading!

-r.n.a.

 

You should check out:

Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly… Don’t forget to support your local bookstore if you can 

-Artist Residency in Motherhood’s website 

 

 

 

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L7 Weenie…

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Made by the talented Spencer Simmons. 

There is this glorious period of time that exists between the moment you tell someone you can do something and the moment you actually have to step up and do it. It’s also super stressful.

Sometimes it is reveled that I am an artist of sorts, that I graduated from art school with a degree in woodworking and furniture design, that I studied photography, and that I am in the process of setting up a studio in my home.

Sometimes I talk way to much.

And they believe me. Just saying that I went to school for photography and woodworking makes me a great photographer and woodworker in their mind. Or at least one that is more than adequate. The conversation often will include a comment about how they would love to see my work or how they would love if I would do something art related for them.  I hope they never see my work and forget that I ever said anything.

Because until they see my work or give me a task to complete they just go off my word and they believe that I am more than an adequate artist. Once they see my work they may realize that although I call myself an artist I am far from one. Or if I help them with their art crisis I may fall short causing them to realize I am no artist at all, just someone with a lot of art making stuff and a misguided notion that they can do anything useful with it. I don’t know what their expectations are but I do know that I wont be able to live up to them.

I still haven’t convinced myself that I am an artist/woodworker/photographer or figured out what those words even mean or what it even looks like to be an artist/woodworker/photographer. It all starts to lead into this whole existential dilemma that makes me want to say FORGET IT. (Okay it makes me want to say a different  word that has four letters that also starts with the letter f but my in-laws, parents, and sweet people that might not appreciate such vulgarity might be reading this so I edited it.) 

And so I make excuses. I don’t have time, I have my daughter to take care of, my space isnt completely set up to work in yet, I don’t have the right tools, it’s too cold outside while also being too hot, the lighting is off, I ate to much or too little for dinner, I needed to check facebook every 5minutes, I don’t know how to use the equipment in my woodshop, the local lumberyard doesnt have the right wood that I like to use, I was going to work on it tomorrow, my nose itches, I’m probably getting sick so I should just curl up in bed with a book because I do not read as much as I would like, I am to tired and need to just go to bed, i’m just going to go to bed instead because that’s easier and no one will judge me while I sleep for not sleeping good enough.

This past christmas I got a christmas gift that called me on my shit. This gift was so good it called me out right in my excuse making face. To be fair the gift giver had no idea they were calling me out, they thought they were making me a nice gift. And it was a super nice gift. My sister-in-law’s husband made me a wooden beer carrier. He had seen it online, thought it was cool, and figured out how to make it with supplies he got at home depot in his basement where he is not hiding a state of the art wood shop as far as I know.

He thought I would like it so he figured out how to make it. The end.

If it was me I would have spent three months talking myself out of making it for any number of reasons that were not actual reasons based in any sort of reality, and then I would have just bought something while feeling blue about how little time I have to make art and the growing number of projects that I know I will never get too. It is so stupid but I have the hardest time changing my thinking.

But I have to. It has to change because until it does I am just going to be a wanna-be artist that is too much of an L7 weenie to do anything about it.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

 

 

 

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Traveling between universes…

How do you illustrate the power and emotion of growing up with divorced parents? The struggle of trying to live in two parallel universes? The transition of going from one parent’s house to the other?

Since moving to Maryland I have made a few trips to see my family at my dad’s house. Part of the route is the exact route I traveled every other weekend as a kid to visit my mom. It’s strange to be 28years old, with my own daughter in the back seat, driving the same route. The route is super charged with memories that pull me in reluctantly, flooding me with moments from all of those car rides. I am equally as moved by what has changed and by what has stayed exactly the same 10 years later.

I have always played around with the idea of making work about the duality of being raised with divorced parents. To illustrate how it felt to be raised in that setting, to make the conversation focus on the children of divorce. Not to shame parents who got divorced, or to some how make my own parents feel like they failed me in some way, but to say, ‘Hey having two birthday’s wasn’t as exciting as I wanted it to be,’ or express how frustrating it was to have someone ask if me and my sisters had the same mom, or how hurtful it was when I would say no and they responded with ‘Oh so then your actually only half sisters.’

Confession: I do want to shame those people because that’s actually just a turd thing to say to a kid. They are my whole sisters because love doesn’t play by your genetic technicalities.

For now the idea will continue to muddle around in the back of my brain, it will either continue to take shape or just float around as a fragment of an idea. I’m finding that is how my brain works, it needs time to really flush an idea out. It doesn’t like to be rushed. I remember hearing that Louise Bourgeois would spend 10 years from initial idea to finished piece. They would start as sketches, then become small hand-held clay or wood models, then slowly become bigger and bigger until she felt she had found the right scale. Of course she had multiple ideas being flushed out at any given time but all of her work followed a similar process.  In the mean time landmarks of my route between universes have started to show up in sketches and doodles, becoming the subject of my recent exploration in india ink. I don’t know where either this subject matter or this new medium will take my work but I’m enjoying exploring both.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

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I’m Not that Bold…

Earlier this week I caught the faint whisper that Mary Ellen Mark had passed away.

I was first exposed to her work through her documentary Street Wise. I had just moved to Philadelphia from Seattle, WA where her documentary took place. Although filmed 25years before I arrived in Seattle, the landscape was still familiar. I had just been introduced to the work of Diane Arbus and Dorothea Lange, these women who had created these relationships through the lens of their camera to give those that were being overlooked a voice. Watching the documentary, I was overwhelmed by Mark’s ability to tell this story without glamorizing the life of Tiny or Rat. She didn’t make me feel sorry for them either, somehow she found that middle road that so many struggle to find when dealing with this type of subject matter. I left the class and walked straight to the library to pour over her photography, in awe of the way she put herself and her camera unashamedly into this world that was not her own in order to capture it. Along with Arbus and Lange, the subject knows they are being photographed. Many of Mark’s shots imply that she was bent down, leaning in, engaging with the subject to photograph them. I wish I could be that bold.

You put a living, breathing, human being in front of my camera and my blood stops moving through my veins. Even if I know them, if they are willing to be photographed, or even if they asked me to photograph them the reaction is the same. My stomach tightens and my mouth goes dry as I fumble around with my suddenly foreign camera. I had to go out and shoot at least two portraits of strangers in Portland for the medium format class I was taking. It was one of the later assignments, I had made a few dozen photos already and was incredibly comfortable with the camera I was using. Then I went and tried to complete the assignment, waiting until the last possible moment to do it. I nervously stood on a busy street, trying to find the courage to stop biting the side of my thumb and wondering where I was going to find the courage to actually ask someone if I could take their picture. When I finally did it went horribly wrong. I quickly took two shots making so many mistakes you would think it was the first time I had ever attempted to photograph anything. For some their camera gives them this confidence. For me its not big enough to hide behind and instead draws to much attention when I am trying to go unseen.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

Check out…

Time Article about Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark Website

Diane Arbus Website

Recent article on Dorothea Lange from NPR

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