look-see-draw-move to the seat to your left-keep going

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This is the last week of school and the group has mastered technique. They developed skill. We have a couple of days left in the semester and I take the opportunity to one more time (this semester) get students out of their comfort zone. It’s invigorating for everyone.

This still-life is made up of a variety of shoes (familiar objects). Some students lend their shoes (for added color and shape). This is the first assignment where I instruct everyone to move quick(er). I remind them to look and as usual tell them to put down what they see. I call time and have them move to the seat to their left. They do not take their own supplies with them. They use what is in their neighbors supply box. I meander through the group and  when the student appears ready, I hand him or her color-pastel. No one has used color in this class.

By the time we are complete everyone has moved emotion aside, eased into the exercise, used color pastel, and made quicker decisions (utilized confidence).

Can you see each drawing has at least 4 pairs of hands in it?

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hemming flames

I love what some writers can do with words.

Last January, Trish tells me about her soon-to-be-published book. The title is Hemming Flames, she says. My quickest thoughts… fire? forest fire? firemen? wild and out of control fires wanting to contain or control? The response is visceral…fire in the gut?

Months pass and now I hold the hardback book in my hands. I read the title and see the image and make different associations… a cover? clothing? that which we wear? fray? and again…control?

Whatever it is, it gets my attention and keeps it.

Hemming Flames is a beautiful hard back book of very personal poems written by Patricia Colleen Murphy.

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The weekend before I get Murphy’s work, a friend drops over to pick up a book she lent me last summerI recall how I respond to Adrienne Rich’s book, Driving into the Wreck. The title and the words hold my attention. I read through the book the first day and then I have to put it down. It takes time for me to come back to it and read again – slow and careful. I have feelings of determination (to continue reading) and curiosity (understand).

The day I get my copy of Hemming Flames I read late into the evening and then some more first thing the next morning. The days that follow I come to it with curiosity and I have to say…once again that odd feeling of determination…to read with care and let it sink in.

Art.

I email Trish. I ask how people have responded. 

The book has been very well received. I am so glad it’s out in the world. A lot of people have mentioned that they feel it is a brave book. I’m glad for that because it was hard to be that brave.

I agree, she does courageous work.

Today….

 Turkish Get-ups

I thought she meant costumes but she meant
what’s inevitable when you’re down. It is how

to stay exceptionally strong, she says. She says
this to me often out of one of her many mouths.

We’re born prone, she says. Then we roll onto 
our bellies. Up, she says. Get up, she says. Get up.

I am down and I hear her in the other room.
Without visual clues, I can’t tell the exact

meaning of her statements. She says, it is not 
hyperbole if it is true. She says, you began life

as a vowel. She says, people incapable
of guilt can have a really great time.

Years ago, fresh out of grad school, I take lines from Sylvia Plath’s writing.  I creat a series of small drawings (stream of consciousness narratives).  Pulled in by how Plath organizes her words and thoughts, I want to make sense of her writing. I do this with Doris Lessing’s work too. I don’t work in this way anymore but it’s easy to imagine Murphy’s words could hold the framework for such a series.

Here are lines (from different poems) that catch my attention. I separate each by indentation. What I could draw out – I wonder…

I drop a smile into the tub
near the edge. Irretrievable!

and then he carves
sailboats into the linoleum.

all studium and no punctum

I spend all day in a room
with every item I will ever own

Doctor put me on the stare-pills.
I can’t feel my distal parts.

Brava Trish!
To learn more about Patricia Colleen Murphy and her work go to → hemmingflames.com.


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Patricia Colleen Murphy teaches creative writing at Arizona State University where she is the founding editor of the literary magazine Superstition Review. Her poems have appeared in many journals including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, Black Warrior Review and others. She has received awards from the Associated Writing Programs and the Academy of American Poets, Gulf Coast, Bellevue Literary Review, The Madison Review, Glimmer Train Press, and The Southern California Review. A chapter of her memoir-in-progress is published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review.

pattern, clothe and the first charcoal study

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The goals for this assignment: Learn to use charcoal. Look at and identify value.

In this first study (with new materials) students learn to see value, in particular they work with local value (value intrinsic to the form). Basically they look at darks and lights.
They learn to work charcoal (entirely different from the marker they just mastered).  They set in a ground (mid-tone value) across the entire picture plane. They use a fine point  eraser to set in the composition, going from the general to the specific (also different from the previous ways of developing a composition).  They put down charcoal to set the darkest darks and pick up (erase) charcoal to define the lightest light. They work the surface. They look at and learn to work edges.

I love watching this first charcoal study develop. A different type of understand is formulating and confidence is building.

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Brittany’s knot and patterns

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Victoria’s pattern and knot

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Michael’s knot

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Kestin’s swirl and pattern

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Maygin’s slip knot and stripes

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Robert’s knot and diamond pattern

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Kanyata’s knot, stripes, diamonds, zebra, and silk

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Natividad’s knot and red cloth

Drawing 2 students work in pastel, a more complicated medium. The focus: local color – true color.

Susan, an advanced student, works with collage. She takes numerous prints (she’s a printmaker) and works to create a new composition. She resists the process at first but then decides she likes it. I do ask her to include drawing – graphite and/or pencil color. One thin connecting thread is what she gives me. I’ll be working on getting her to do more.

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Susan’s collage

It’s been a long week. I appreciate the critique and our discussion of local value. This class is committed and continuing the work feels significant.

be the rage and be the light

Vanessa: I’m going to be in Phoenix … could I come visit with you?
Me: Yes! 

Thursday morning I drive to the Tempe Center for the Arts to pick up artist Vanessa German. The plan – bring her to Phoenix for lunch (Barrio Cafe) and then to my studio.

I find her in the atrium, sitting outside the theater. After greeting each other she tells me she’s walked out of a production. She reacts to what she hears and sees. I listen as she pulls words together in an organic and real way.

Her sentences are visual and visceral. She draws me into the body with her language. Because I connect to anatomy and its symbolism, I see and feel her right away. I recognize honesty. I like Vanessa, she won’t hold back.

We talk about truth, about honesty, vulnerability, courage, curiosity, compassion, and the value of questioning. We talk about history and education. I am aware, in the background of our conversation, hovers a new president-elect.

We also talk epigenetics, cells, and DNA, ancestors and magic. The woman knows the sacred.

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White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting Mixed media assemblages

While we eat, we talk about The State of the Art. We agree the opportunity was/is unique and important, fun and fabulous. Above is my photo ↑ of her sculpture (at the opening), which I sat with for a good amount of time. We catch up with how art and life have played out since then. She’s out there.

In my studio I learn Vanessa is also a photographer. She brings out her i-Pad and shares photos and stories about a recent stay at Standing Rock. My husband I listen intently as she tells us about the people, the water and trees. We are both moved. I need to get Vanessa back to Tempe where she is scheduled to teach a workshop.

I get on the highway back home and think about the fullness of our conversation this afternoon.


Vanessa is a multi-disciplinary artist based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is self-taught.  Her narrative will only expand as she continues to show her work, speak and perform.  She learns, she educates.

Below are her 2 photos and her own written words about them.

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artist photo – installation

this was part of my emerging artist of the year exhibition at pca. it was scary sometimes, i didn’t understand that curators helped to shape a show. I’d been use to doing everything myself, hustling, asking friends with ladders to join in a late night install; calling all graffiti artists, paying people outta my own shallow pockets and hugging out an exhausted embrace of gratitude. i truly didn’t get it. one of the most recent installs we did at a museum, and they moved most everything with museum staff; if I touched a sculpture the registrar would take photos of my hands moving over a piece. i am learning a lot about putting exhibitions up at larger and larger scale. I am learning about insurance, shipping, and communicating my ideas to all of the different people at the museum who make exhibitions work. today i am doing a teach-in with the docents at the everson museum of art in syracuse. i will tale you of any interesting bits later.

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Do The Whole Thing and Do It.With Your Whole Entire Soul. stand up inside of it.be the rage and be the light.move with it all as though a mountain wit the spirit of excellence lengthening yo spine. write yo own name on a piece of paper three times. three consecutive lists of yo very own syllables and then to kiss your hands.then to hold yo fingers up in the light of the day– splay them and then let them reach upwards to the sky to recognize the face of yo own soul in that there glory: All of the things that you are before the constructed world cobbled itself together, You Have Always Been and Will Always Be. Your Glory is Brighter Today– you have been sharpened. Hold that clarity on yo tongue and gleam with it. Love With It. You have been Sharpened. Let yourself feel good about this sharpening, what will you go to cut? Who will require you to scissor away at their bonds? There iz no thing that can hold you down. We Are The Mighty Ones.

German is an artist who communicates in broad, eloquent form. The powerful force she holds is grounded in love, vulnerability, courage, history (her ancestor’s, my ancestor’s and yours),  truth and magic. Did I say magic? Plenty of magic…

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Vanessa German in my studio.


State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now shown in 2 smaller exhibitions than the original (for practical reasons) currently travels the country. The work has recently left Savannah, Georgia and will open January of 2017, at Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee, Following that stop the exhibition travels to The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina in April of 2017.

I hope to visit one, if not both showings.

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Cards from the catalogue showing each of our work.

no woman is an island

Maria sends an email… I will be back in town next week and was wondering if you have any of your work on exhibit right now. We have friends coming into town for a few days and I’m thinking of things for us to do. So if you were showing somewhere I would love to take our friends. One of them is an artist herself.

I invite Maria, Susan and Laura to come to my studio.

As you might expect  anatomy study surrounds us. We talk the body for a good while. Laura personally relates to the newest kidney drawing sitting on my table. Susan wants to know about materials – the paint and paper.  I understand she has worked in woodcut and now does linocut.

Do you have any prints, she wonders. This question always confuses me. Do people mean a reproduction like a giclée or poster? Or do they mean an original print? I’m a printmaker. I stumble with the words … I have real prints, I say.

Maria wants to know about one particular small print. I’ve only thought about anatomy lately so I have to stop, change focus and think … considering the content of the work, I find it amusing. I can tell Susan and Laura do too.

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Self-Sustaining Confusion, MM – Collage and hand-painted print, 12 x 10″

Here it is, in a nutshell:
The title – Self-Sustaining Confusion – I find in physicist David Bohm’s book On Creativity. I write the phrase on a piece of paper and leave it on my work table. Weeks pass and one day the rest of the composition formulates while I listen to NPR.  A scientist talks about the brain chemistry at various stages of awareness (or lack of) and I hear things like 69 unfolded proteins and limited real-estate in the brain. And that’s that, I pull out a piece of copper and start drawing.

We talk printmaking and intaglio. This is a dry point.  I use a sharp-pointed tool to  scratch the image directly on a copper-plate (I love copper!). Can you see it? ↓ The process of both printmaking and collage tend to free me up, work flows more stream of consciousness.

About this print in particular – If I recall correctly I pull 15 prints, only 7 of them are worth saving. In general the drypoint technique won’t allow for too many pulls, the marks are too irregular.

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copper plate with drawing on it

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a few pulls of the print

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Each image varies slightly. This one is the first image I collage and paint in the series of 7.

We talk about California (where they are from), the ocean, and the desert. We discuss raising chickens (I learn some things) and having fresh eggs (Susan does).  Of course I bring up making  egg tempera paint. They leave my home with plans to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s (Taliesin West).

Ladies, I appreciate our morning together. Thank you Susan for wanting to take home Self-Sustaining Confusion. It’s the last one of that series. Enjoy it!

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The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

every picture tells a story

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Wouldn’t you know, they get their marker act together and it comes to an end. We move to charcoal next.

But before we do…
Here are samples of (larger than life) self-portrait work. They use media of their choice. This study moves students into understanding art is a form of communication.

Every portrait tells a story. We learn a lot about each other during this critique.

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Brittany

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Susan

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Michael

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Kanyata

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Maygin

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Kanata (#2)

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Victoria

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Collin

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Kestin

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Robert

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Karen

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Natividad

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Jen

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Alma

I include a few of the outdoor assignments. Students spend 4 days on the campus, drawing landscape.

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…and there’s Susan, an advanced student who learns how to collage. She’s never done it before and this is practice. The image does tell a story but it’s not about birds, it’s about a fox.

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Basically we cover texture, structure and depth. Next week is value.

down syndrome awareness month

Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21 is complete. Amy, Sophie and Annabelle come to see the drawing in person. My husband, eager to meet Sophie, is also present. We gather in the studio and enjoy pizza.

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Part of me wants to write about the conversations I have with people about this study, about Sophie, and about Down syndrome. It affects more families than I can know when I begin the work.

My hairdresser, for example, has a brother-in-law with DS.  She tells me about his mother who advocated for him. He could have been institutionalized considering the era he was born into. Instead he grows up at home alongside his brothers and sisters. Now in his sixties, he lives in an apartment that he shares with a roommate. I listen, ask questions and wonder why I didn’t know this before now.

I’m in a waiting room this week and come across a magazine dedicated to Down syndrome. Has the magazine always sat here and only now do I notice it? I read an article about research and funding that reminds me…

I know someone who writes (beautiful poetry) and she also happens to research immunology. A few years ago we had a conversation about the immune system and rheumatoid arthritis (her area of study). I contact her and ask what she might know about Trisomy 21 and the immune system. Arpita responds generously.

(A note: If you follow my work, you know I only focus on details directly related to Sophie. This post is more general education about DS, in particular it is about the immune system.)

Trisomy 21. If you say these words to a complete layperson, they will find it lyrical, enchanting, exciting and even beautiful. But then you tell them what it is, and their smile fades.

Not a lot of people know that T-21 can have immunological abnormalities associated with it. As you rightly pointed out, not much info is available regarding the immune system in DS. It’s only now that we are getting an idea of what’s going on in these patients.  The immune system develops, but poorly. There is reduced numbers of cells of the lymphoid system. Those cells that do develop respond poorly to antigens and are unable to travel to site of infection or injury to do their thing. The cells divide poorly when they are activated by an infectious agent. Some cells are supposed to secrete antibodies of a particular type when they are activated and this process is also impaired. And thymus, the organ in which T lymphocytes develop, is rather small and underdeveloped in these patients, suggesting that the immune system doesn’t really get a chance to develop from the very onset. Again, the fascinating thing is that the immune system is not completely broken; it is just not strong enough to protect the poor child. 

I thought I finished the heart and lung area but with Arpita’s words, I come back to indicate the thymus gland (bright blue circles atop the heart – the lymphatic system strings throughout the body). I understand from a previous study, the typical thymus is larger when one is young and becomes smaller as one ages.

A body worker once told me it crystallizes suggesting the change a positive.

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Arpita continues…
There are other indirect causes postulated for the immunological abnormalities. These patients have poorly developed or malfunctioning digestive system, which makes it hard for them to assimilate nutrients. This could lead to deficiencies causing immune perturbations. Also, children with DS most commonly experience lung and heart infections, and many groups claim that this is because the architecture of the respiratory system is abnormal and the natural barriers which filter out infectious agents are less effective in such a setting.

What I find fascinating about DS is that despite the presence of a purportedly underdeveloped immune system, these patients are susceptible to autoimmune disorders. It actually makes me mad, you know…why would an already weak immune cell waste its resources in fighting its own body, when it should be fighting invading pathogens? Sadly no one knows why it happens. My guess is that it has something to do with the abnormal architecture of the organs where the immune cells develop early on. Events in thymus and bone marrow shape the repertoire of immune cells ensuring the survival of cells which are not only most potent, but also which will almost certainly not react against the body. If these organs have developed poorly or are missing certain vital components, this will undoubtedly affect the development of the immune system.

Are you familiar with the process by which immune cells move within the blood, within organs and across tissues? It is fascinating and beautiful documented through images and time-lapse imaging. It is an intricate dance of communication between molecules. There are bits and pieces of information that this movement and migration ability of immune cells is impaired in T-21. Again, no one knows why this happens, but lack of proper direction and mobility can significantly impair immune responses.

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Portrait of Sophie – Studying Trisomy 21, Mixed media on Paper, 80″ x  45″

So…I ask questions, research, and present what I come across and never know what’s to come next. Arpita and I end our conversation but not until she expresses something I take for my self.

…there is so much that we don’t understand about the human body, in particular how different parts communicate and intertwine with each other functionally. I think part of the reason is that because as young students we are encouraged to accept dogmas and hold on to them rigidly.

However, someone like you, an intelligent person with no dogmatic notions of the medical field, can look at the existing information with fresh, unbiased eyes, and hopefully help the rest of us to see important clues that we have missed. …good luck with your drawings.

I can hope. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

The web of life…today I understand better everyone brings something to the table.


I want to take a minute to thank everyone who helped with the research for this work. In particular those of you that helped me gather and understand the information so I could work with it and write about it. Thank you Amber, David, Dominique, Arpita, Elisa, and Amy. And thank you Sophie, for the spirit you bring to the picture.

For information about Amy Silverman’s book visit the website→ My Heart Can’t Even Believe It

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Big sister Annabelle taking a long close look at the portrait.