Wednesday, December 20, 2017

do you remember stillness?

The bathroom door in my childhood home had a Native American lady carrying her son bundled on her back.  It was right there on the back of the door.  If I had been raised Catholic I’m sure it would have been the Virgin Mary.  Some days it almost became a dragon’s face. 

This is when I say “back in my day…”  You see, back in my day, when you needed to spend a few minutes in the bathroom you didn’t have a tiny computer to take with you.  So you sat there quietly and pondered life just as God intended.  If you were going to be a while, my dad had a collection of Reader’s Digest magazines and maybe a word find or two.  But for a kid with an imagination, the wood grain on the back of the door provided plenty of amusement. 

There was a lot of wood grain in the house.  The cabinets, the table, the hardwood floors all brimmed with fine wood grain.  Yet none of that grain became a mother and child.  The wood grain on the bathroom door was able to morph into imagery only because I was still. 

We’ve lost the ability to be still in modern life.  Obviously the smart phone is to blame for eternally occupying our brains and our eyes.  Saying this helps shift the blame away from us.  Yet in the back of our minds, just behind the news feed we’re scrolling through, we know that the phone is just a tool.  The tool is not to blame because the tool is not in charge.  The truth is, we’ve lost the desire to be still. 

All you need for proof is to go to the bathroom.  Before your cheeks feel the cool of the seat you’ve got your phone in your hand.  While you do whatever you went there to do, your thumb is scrolling nonstop.  Email, Facebook, Instagram and if it’s really serious you may even have time for Twitter.  Even if you just checked it. 

Ever go to the bathroom and reach for your pocket and feel the horrible dread of it being phone-less?  What an eternity.  Time stretches on and seconds drag on like months.  You sit there, completely helpless, wondering what you’re missing in the world of digital communication.  Did someone else like your photo?  What if someone is texting you?  What if you’re not the first one to leave a clever comment under someone’s post? 

A few feet in front of you there’s a skull emerging out of a camel’s body.  There’s a moose with an oversized and asymmetrical set of antlers.  There’s a monster truck with what looks like a poodle driving it.  But you’ll never see it because you don’t want to see it.  Because you don’t create the opportunity to see it.

Or you may be less visual than me.  Maybe you’re a thinker of thoughts.  Maybe you have a novel in you.  Maybe you’re hearing the notes of your next song.  Except you can’t because you wont create the opportunity to be still.

I’m not sure if life moved slower before technology.  I’m not sure if humans had less worry in their day-to-day lives.  I do know they had more time to think about it.  Perhaps that extra time and the ability to be still gave them more time to think creatively about their problems.  Maybe it allowed them to develop plans and to think of all their possibilities and arrive at the best solutions.  Maybe that explains why everyone seems to have more anxiety today. 

Each semester my studio is filled with students who are nearly paralyzed with anxiety.  They have so much to do and they have no time to do it.  And yet, every single one will have a well-maintained list of social media apps on their phones.  Many are maintaining them during my class.  But brainstorming and sketching ideas?  Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

I’m picking on students but I’m guilty as well.  We all are.  I may have picked up my phone twice while typing this.  But I can’t help but wonder what our world would look like if we were to be still.  Would we be as impatient?  Would we be as anxious?  Would we be more creative? 

What if we made a conscious effort to find out?  What if we created opportunity to be still?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

i'm writing this to you


This semester has had some pretty heavy moments that happened mostly second hand.  What I mean is, I've watched other people go through stuff and felt terrible for them.  When you're me, you spend a lot of time pretending you don't have emotions when actually you feel so much empathy for the people around you.  As a fixer, I just want get their attention and tell them exactly what they should do to solve their problem.  But even when I'm right, that's not how the world works.  They don't listen and I watch them bumble through their bad choices bouncing off problem after problem and suffering more and more emotional damage as a result.  I want to be cold and say, "See? Should've listened" but instead it hurts to have to watch it all play out.  

So many of the people I'm talking about are my students - past and present.  But it's not just them.  It's family and friends and sometimes even complete strangers I know through the weirdness of the internet.  I also understand that at some point this may even make it's way to the eyes of my own kids at a time when they need it.  

Well, there are some things I'd like to say to all of you.  Here goes...

You are cool.  I don't care what your clique was or what music you like or how often you go out.  You are cool.  It's not what you do that makes you cool.  It's who you are.  You're interesting and complex and multidimensional and that's cool as heck.  

I like you.  I don't mess around.  If you're connected to me in any way, it's on purpose.  I have chosen to not Exacto knife you out of my life.  That means something.  I like you.  There's something about you that interests me.  You have good energy, you make me laugh, you intrigue me, you pour your soul into me, you light up your surroundings or you're awesome in some super-cool way.  And I'm not the only one who likes you.

You don't have to do anything in order to be loved.  There's no thing you do or magic button you can push to make someone love you.  If you feel that way in whatever relationship you're in, get out of it right this second.  There's a person, there are people who will love you without question, without hesitation and they'll do so while feeling privileged and honored to get to love you.  You should never feel like you have to do more to make someone love you.  We've established that you're cool and that I like you and I'm an excellent judge of character.  The people in your life are lucky as heck to get the opportunity to love you.  If you're not with those people right now - that sucks.  And it hurts.  But you will find those people and you will not have to perform any tricks to get them to love you.  Be patient.

You're not the only one who feels anxious or awkward.  We all have it.  We all feel it.  You may have a particularly tough case of it and you may feel really hard, but you're not alone.  Every other person at that social event feels it to some degree.  Every other person is freaking out on the inside about the same future event.  Some of them hide it better than we do, but it's still there.  There's nothing wrong with you.  You're not broken or flawed.  You're human.  And you're in good company.

You don't deserve it.  This is true in both directions.  Whatever crappy thing has happened to you, you didn't deserve that.  You didn't do anything to bring it on.  It wasn't your fault and it wasn't because you did that thing way back when.  The planet is messed up.  We messed it up.  We're all walking around every day making mistakes to varying degrees and some of those mistakes will fall on innocent people.  That doesn't mean you deserve that bad things that happened to you.  You also don't deserve the good things.  You don't deserve that success or promotion or award.  There's a whole laundry list of things that happened before you even became an adult that allowed you to be in the country, society, family, school district, college and job that put you in a position to be successful.  Congratulations, but your posture upon winning should be that of a very surprised and very grateful early career Taylor Swift who just can't believe her good fortune.  You did nothing to deserve it.  Be hopeful and be grateful.

You don't know as much as you think you do.  Oh man, you have no idea at this point in your life just how wrong you are.  The things you know to be true will change drastically in the next 10 years.  Knowledge isn't the same thing as truth.  I know you're smart and quick witted, that's part of why I keep you in my life, but there's so much you don't know.  Keep your mouth closed and your mind open.  The fool tells everyone how smart they are.  The wise let everyone figure it out for themselves.  Trust your teachers and you may want to sit down for this one:  trust your parents.  They know stuff.  They're all trying to help you avoid some horrible pitfalls.  Listen to them.  Mind open, mouth shut.

Stop thinking so freakin' small.  Dream big.  Dare to fail!  When you graduate, don't just let that part time job become full time and keep all your dreams in a box under your bed.  Don't go to work for the retail place thinking you'll get that dream job eventually.  Print that resume and put your butt inside the lobby of your dream job.  And don't think that once will do it.  Do it every week, every month, every year until that dream job is just your job.  These opportunities do not come to your house looking for you.  Take the initiative to go after your dream.  Call that company, start your own business, make people tell you no a thousand times.  Stop looking for what you think is possible right now and go get your dream job.  

Your family is not dysfunctional.  Your family is just your family.  We are all a screwed up bunch of people spinning around the sun.  Within the bounds of safety and reason, cling to your family and love them hard even when they are unlovable.  Yes, your brother is an idiot and your mom is overbearing and your dad may be incarcerated but you know what?  That's your family, like it or not.  They need you as much as you need them.  You have so much to offer them and they have so much to offer you.  Make them a part of your life as long as you have breath.  Trust me, everyone's family is just as bad.

Be yourself.  Don't dress like that person.  Don't listen to that because someone else says to.  Don't change how you talk, what you think or what you do to please anyone else.  There's a reason we are all different.  Whatever you think makes you a freak is the thing that we so desperately love about you.  You are exactly the type of person you were created to be.  Be that and enjoy it.

Don't try to change people.  Yes, they are different from you in so many ways.  They have a different religion, different morals, different hobbies.  It's not your job to change them.  Love them for who they are and if you can't, then love them enough to leave them and let them be themselves.  

Love more.  As I said, this planet is messed up.  I'm convinced that our messed up state comes from a lack of love.  We've failed to love each other as we should.  That void causes humans to search for something to fill it, leading to violence, hatred and every kind of terrible thing.  I'm also convinced that the solution is love.  Love your family and friends fully and without holding back.  But also love the people in line at Walmart and the ones driving slow in the fast lane and the ones who do terrible things to you.  Love everything and everyone with all your heart.  And then love even more.

And last, you are loved.  Right now, this second.  You didn't do anything or even ask for it but you are loved.  Why else would I be writing this to you?  

We'll get back to photos and ridiculousness soon.  But maybe read that all again and let it soak in.  And if you want, send it to someone else who needs it.  You can say it's from you.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

remember fall semester?

So since I left you hanging all semester long, here's a quick tour of the fall semester:

 We welcomed the start of the semester with a pancake breakfast for our Art majors living in our new Art Village on campus.

 Oh, and remember the Great American Eclipse of 2017?  

 It was pretty cool.  We live in the totality zone and had a great view from the comfort of our front yard.

 It got weirdly dark for a couple of minutes and then returned to the hot, humid August afternoon.

 Remember Cheeto Bear?  Luke made a teddy bear out of cheesy poofs and after a couple of exhibits it sat in the sculpture studio all summer.  So many chemicals it didn't mold or decay.  So naturally we set it on fire.

 Pack those cheesy poofs in your emergency tote.  They burn forever.

 It's pretty funny to look through those early photos now after just seeing the same people stress over finals.  See how happy and carefree they look? 

 The wood project started the semester as always, introducing so many new people to the joy of power tools.  Still one of my favorite parts of teaching sculpture.

 We drove up to the apple festival.  It was odd.

 Mom and LJ still grow apples and give us all the bad ones to feed to Frosty.

 I got to teach Adara this semester.  Never a dull moment with Adara in your class.  She's a joy.

 Remember when I made a giant steel sign for that church?

 We kicked off Art Slogging in the heat and kept up a good group all semester long.

 There's the sign painted and installed.

 Macks finishing up her wood project.

 Sloggers featuring Justin with his award winning crazy socks.

 We sold this guy at the Phobia exhibit.

 We did it later in the semester this year, but I did get my river time with the Art Dream Team minus James who had to move that day.

 I super-ninja installed this sculpture at USC Upstate one day after school.  In and out in 20 minutes.

 We did the Art Hike to DuPont State Forest.  See that girl in the middle?  I saved her life.  Full on white water rescue.  It was awesome.  

 The whole group in front of Hooker Falls.

 Carved a pumpkin with a power tool for Halloween.

 Art Sloggers turned out for the Moonshine 5K at school.

 Oh, and remember when we had that world famous artist come do a sculpture workshop?  That was awesome.

 Jim Arendt, me and his work on the wall.

 Ha ha, and remember when Cessquatch and Katertot came to my reception?  That was awesome too.

 Cessquatch brought me a dozen doughnuts.  She's cool.

I dressed up like Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation for our Halloween party.

 G and I got to get away for a couple of days to Charleston.  That was awesome too.

 The family made me stay home for Thanksgiving this year.  I made them go hiking.

 And remember just a week ago when we finished off the semester with the cool annual Christmas Tree lighting event?  That was awesome too.

I'm so very lucky and honored to be surrounded by so many awesome people.  I'm really grateful.  It's been a busy semester but it's been a great one.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

dear blog

ok, so this is awkward.

we haven't talked in a while, blog.  i know i've said i'd update a few times over the last few months but other things got in the way.  it's my fault.  i'm sorry.

the thing is, school started after that last post.  fall semesters are notoriously busy and this one was no different, at least as far as school related things go.  we jumped right into the projects and the advising and the purchasing of materials and the upkeep of the sculpture studios.  all that was going well.  the kids started a new school and that added an extra little kick to the schedule but we were managing just fine.  but then there was the art making that started to make a little noise.  

the late winter, spring and summer started out 2017 with a lot of art rejections.  it seemed that every week i got another rejection email for an exhibit.  i kept entering things and went about my business at school and then the emails suddenly turned positive.  by the time school got going well, i was having to work on scheduling several deliveries and figuring out what work was going where.  then a couple more emails came and panic started setting in.  all of these shows were happening at the same time and i even had the bad moment of a couple of pieces being double booked and i had to employ my diplomacy skills to not seem like such an unprofessional slacker artist.  it all worked out perfectly, though.  i have absolutely zero complaints.  

by the end of december i will have had 8 exhibits in 3 months.  some were drawing, some were sculpture and some were both.  one was a solo show.  it was an amazing stretch.  to date i've completed 29 new drawings in 2017 and i have a commission waiting to make it at least 30 by the end of the year.  this does not include the butt drawings, one per week for the entire year.  i finished 2 new sculptures for one of the shows and i have a couple more unfinished ones waiting in the studio.  and somehow g and i still managed to finish the second season of stranger things, of course, that didn't release until most of this was out of the way.  

however, along with those unfinished sculptures in the studio, there are also a couple of tshirt designs for school i haven't got around to yet.  there are 3 books i've started and not finished stashed around the house.  the hedges haven't been trimmed since mid summer, the building needs to be painted, the truck hasn't been washed and at least 3 out of our 3 dogs are in desperate need of a bath.  oh, and i still cant remember that girl's name from winthrop 15 years ago.  

It also appears I forgot how to capitalize in my haste.  So, dear Blog, you're in good company amongst the many things I neglected since August.  But it would be nice to catch up.  Maybe we'll get a cup of coffee soon and I can share some of the coolest things that have stood out since our last chat.  I might even have some photos.  It'll be fun.  

Until then.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

turns out it was the summer of sand sculpture

Who knew?  Sometimes you name the summer and sometimes the summer names itself.  This summer started out as "The Summer of Free" in the hopes that we would be able to find free adventures all summer.  The summer budget is a mess here.  There's a big Costco trip right before I get my last paycheck at the end of the semester and then we have a contest to see how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we can eat until I start getting paid again in the fall.  The Summer of Free sounded pretty good in May.  

And we had some free or very cheap fun over the summer.  Farmer's markets and lots of breakfasts at home, lots of state parks with cheap admission.  Free art museums with only a couple of dollars for parking.  Waterfalls, four wheeler rides and hikes.  All qualified for The Summer of Free.  

But in my last weekend of summer break it occurs to me that I made a lot of sand sculpture this summer.  I was lucky to have spent 3 weeks on the sand with time to create.  So while I made a few steel sculptures and finished several new drawings and even read a good number of books, this summer was definitely "The Summer of Sand Sculpture".

"The Summer of Sand Sculpture" started out properly enough with a sand sculpture class at Litchfield Beach, SC.  We started our week off with a group sculpture.  I mostly supervised.

As the students took to the new material I was able to play around a bit too.  I made a functional wall to protect Slagle's first sculpture and eventually turned it into a long weenie dog.

 He was tough enough to survive high tide and later that day I turned him into a skeleton weenie dog...but I don't seem to have a photo of that one.

 The next day was a crazy bird skull in the mid tide range.

 Another day allowed for a weird sand head.

 Side view of weird sand head.

 Collaborated with Slagle for a cool spiral death skull at Huntington Beach State Park.



And on our last day we made a huge group collaboration which resulted in a very large, very strange beach creature.

 My contribution was the tighty whities.

A couple of weeks later it was family beach vacation.  The sand skull is a mandatory part of the week.

But there was also a sand Spongebob.

 And a sand Homer Simpson.

And then a big sleeping dog.

Blue and Violet for scale.

And a sand hot dog with chili and relish.

Blue and Violet for scale.

The following Monday Blue, Violet and I had to daytrip down to Charleston to pick up artwork.  How could we be expected to not hit the beach for the afternoon?  Mandatory sand skull with bucket hat.

And then there was the end of summer trip back to the beach.  On the first day I made a big bird skull eating a surfer.

The second day featured an old school castle for Violet.

Violet for scale.

Then it was a giant cartoon dog.

 ...and his butt.

Handlebar mustache man.

 Violet for scale.

A big bird man at the request of a little girl who made sure to ask what I was making each day.

 Alternate view of bird man.

And then we tried an installation on the last day of 6 bald human heads buried in the sand along with an unlucky bird head.

 Alternate view.

 Detail of bird head.

Quotes from strangers:

"How long does it take you?" - Depends on the size of the sculpture but 2-3 hours for any of these above.  

"What are you making today?" - I usually figure that out after I start piling up the sand.  Or when a kid from a family I've never met suggests something.

"I could never make anything like that" - Prove it.  Pile up a little mound of sand and give it a try.  Start with a smilie face.  Or a stick figure.  

"Are you an artist?" - Well, sorta.

"Did you make that?" - Depends on what kind of mood I'm in.  Sometimes yes, other times my kids made it.  Sometimes I point at a stranger and blame him.

"How did you do that?" - Sign up for my class next May and I'll show you.  But this is not rocket science.  What you learned when you were making sand castles at age 3 is still the same basic premise.  Pack the sand and use your imagination.

"What is it?" - It's usually a skull.  Or a bird.  Or a creature with human features.  Or a dog.  

"How can you sculpt in public when you hate people?" - I truly do not know.  I draw and sculpt in my studio at home and it is a completely solo activity.  I do not want people around.  I love the time alone in my head.  On the beach people are watching you, taking photos of you and, horror of all horrors, they will come over and talk to you.  I do know that I love to make people smile.  As cheesy as that sounds, it's a real, honest statement.  There is a way I go about chasing that goal in a gallery or fine art setting.  But here, on the beach I get to see a gut reaction to what I've created.  After it's finished I will retreat to the umbrella or the balcony for some lunch and from there I can watch as some of the beach neighbors will casually get up from their chairs and walk over to take photos of the sand sculpture.  Some will bring their kids over to inspect it.  They all smile.  Some will go bring other family members over as well.  But the beach walkers give the best reactions.  They've headed out for a stroll to the pier or to burn off some of their kids' energy and they're all up on it before they notice.  They slow down, smile, then stop and point for the benefit of their walking partners before they grab for their phones.  Some will back up or walk around the sculpture discussing it.  Then they'll take a quick look around to see if anyone is claiming it.  I have my sunglasses on and hat pulled down so it looks like I'm asleep.  Something unexpected has gripped their attention, interrupted their boring walk.  They smile or laugh and then continue on their way.  This summer I noticed several different people walk by every single day.  Some of them talked to me and told me they came specifically to see what I was making that day.  One lady posted pictures on her Facebook every day so her friends back home could see.  And the best possible reaction is when other people on the beach see the sculptures and begin to make their own.  Some kids beside me one day came over and told me they were going to make a cat.  They did and then they brought me over to inspect it.  It was great.  Later in the week a big sand turtle popped up.  Then a shark.  It was awesome.  

Monday morning at the crack of dawn my summer break if officially over.  It's been an excellent one.