2D or not 2D - that is the question?

To flip is to flop

One pair of flip flops is all this artist needs.  If I didn’t love the polar north so much, my toes would always be exposed in the only shoes in my closet.  One pair, no choice, no problem.

Flip flops were made for installation! Placing a few colorful sticks on a dock in Union, Washington.

Flip flops were made for installation! Placing a few colorful sticks on a dock in Union, Washington.

Asked to choose between chocolate or vanilla, the bean made of cocoa would win, even though chocolate chip ice cream would be the obvious solution.  One flavor, no choice, no worries.

Canine or feline?  That’s easy – woof.  One pet, dirty house, ugh.

Meet Callie - resident studio dog, lover of eggs and cheese, and one giant fur ball!

Meet Callie - resident studio dog, lover of eggs and cheese, and one giant fur ball!

Having choice is one thing, but having to choose is quite another.  As much as I like to believe in the power of choice, I also recognize that I prefer fewer options, thus making the selection process quick and easy.

So, in a world where there are endless possibilities, why are we asked to pick a favorite, to choose one instead of the other?

I ask this because in the world of art specifically, I can’t choose, and quite frankly, I don’t want to.  It’s the one area where I want to try everything (ok – maybe not realistic figure drawing!), and for once, the more options I have, the more my creativity can thrive.

Stack Shack in all of it’s macro glory! A rainbow of organic dye in Þingeyri, Iceland, February 2019.

Stack Shack in all of it’s macro glory! A rainbow of organic dye in Þingeyri, Iceland, February 2019.

2D+3D=5D. Now that is math I can get behind!

 

Tik Tok

Wait…there is one more area where I long for a ‘sky’s the limit’ kind of choice:  Travel!

No surprises there.  When Chris asked where he could take me for my 50th birthday, the list of options, places high on my bucket list, was lengthy.  In the end, the choice, Lofoten, Norway, wasn’t difficult because I still have so many amazing landscapes to discover.  There is time and it will never be too late.

Chris and yours truly leaning into the wind on our way to Lofoten, October 2018.

Chris and yours truly leaning into the wind on our way to Lofoten, October 2018.

And these words perfectly describe how I feel about my creative journey.  Yes, it appears my passion has led me to installation, filled with all kinds of delicious sculptural material to build, but the photographer in my DNA is itching to compose a still life of my creations.  Not sure what the painter in me thinks about all this craziness, but she’s okay to fling some color around in the meantime.  There is time.


Resident artist

Even with the wanderlust and countless corners of the globe to explore, I seem to choose Iceland again and again, just like those worn out Havaianas.  This time (February 2019 to be exact), however, I decided to return to that enchanting island near the Arctic Circle to explore my love of the fifth dimension.

Shot Glass installation on the beach of Þingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland, February 2019.

Shot Glass installation on the beach of Þingeyri, Westfjords, Iceland, February 2019.

For my first artist residency, I proposed to dive deep into extracting organic dye from the land and sea of Þingeyri, Iceland in the Westfjords.  With these colors from nature, I would experiment across mediums, and one might even accuse me of stepping into the craft side of the arts’ universe:  Dyeing fabrics, installing the frozen liquid across the village and pouring it on paper to see how seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale would soak into washi.  Is she a cook or a seamstress?  A forager or a printmaker?  What is this artist crafting now?!?

My warehouse studio at the Westfjords Residency. Cold, but oh so spacious!

My warehouse studio at the Westfjords Residency. Cold, but oh so spacious!

Passion…

 

Palette perfection

Ten days in a remote fjord in the middle of winter was the perfect setting for limited choices.  It was exactly the wildly windy silence I sought to focus exclusively on creative expansion.  Choosing only four organic substances for extraction also felt comfortably restricted.  My reward in the sparseness was a beautifully abundant color palette only Mother Nature could create.

Seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale - oh my! Organic dye in all it’s natural wonder.

Seaweed, lichen, cabbage and kale - oh my! Organic dye in all it’s natural wonder.

From simplicity came the complexity I seek in my art practice, a choice I may never have made on my own.

Any doubt lingering in my mind about a need to choose just one discipline continues to dissipate.  What my Icelandic residency gave me was not only a deeper understanding of organic dye, but a sharpened curiosity of how I might use it’s subtle beauty across varied platforms.  Iceland also gave me some amazing artwork!

Building a body of mixed media work from the   Iceland   series. Organically dyed fabric on canvas, 12x12 inches.

Building a body of mixed media work from the Iceland series. Organically dyed fabric on canvas, 12x12 inches.

Letting it slide

One pair of snow boots is all it takes to keep this artist’s toes toasty in the Arctic chill.  Four times over eight years, no change, all good.

One pair of boots and a bucket of ice. What more does an artist need?

One pair of boots and a bucket of ice. What more does an artist need?

In February, I also brought a pair of slides to Iceland, my winter version of flip flops.  As we made our quick exit to beat the blizzard winds threatening to strand us another day in the Westfjords, I accidentally left my slides behind.

Note to self:  I only need one pair of shoes wherever this journey takes me.

Kisses - Byrdie

Not too frail to fail

On the rise

Bubble bread is a buttery ball of doughy goodness that bakes in our oven every holiday season.  Although I don’t recall when or where it melted its way into our family’s feast, my children have gobbled it up every Thanksgiving since they could rip it from the loaf.

The famous Bubble Bread in all of it’s risen glory!

The famous Bubble Bread in all of it’s risen glory!


As much as this seasonal treat brings smiles and happy tummies, bubble bread has a history of being an epic failure in my kitchen.

Rise yeast, rise!  This mantra screams in my head as I hold my breath waiting for the single-celled fungi to wake up and eat the sugar I’ve lovingly fed it.  I’ve learned to have several packets of yeast in the wings after too many holiday attempts left me scrambling to find a grocery store that was miraculously open on Thanksgiving or Christmas.  No longer a problem in today’s commercial world, I still feel a tiny nervous pang every time the yeast hits the tepid milk.

Baking is truly an artform, and frankly, I have struggled with it my whole life.  Here’s the thing, though:  without every failed attempt, and the push to try, try again, there would be no tradition of bubble bread in our family.  Honestly, it is the process of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down and rolling tiny morsels of yum that keeps me coming back, even when the yeast decides to take its own holiday.

Dough of the installation kind, organic and placed on a beach in Maui, June 2018. No yeast required.

Dough of the installation kind, organic and placed on a beach in Maui, June 2018. No yeast required.

Basically, bubble bread is exactly how my art practice tastes.  It is the product of failed attempts that has allowed me the humility to stumble, the courage to get back up and the sweet reward at the end of a winding road of discovery.

 I think it’s time I share some of my failed ingredients.  Move over yeast!

There is an egg in bubble bread, but frankly, there should be no eggs in installation! Maui, June 2018.

There is an egg in bubble bread, but frankly, there should be no eggs in installation! Maui, June 2018.

Mounds of trouble

Reflecting on the past year, I am not only grateful for some incredible creative opportunities that have bubbled up, but also thankful for all of the bumps along the way.  And, let me tell you, there have been more than a few.

Torturing a Bird of Paradise for the sake of art….if you can call it that! San Diego, CA, April 2018.

Torturing a Bird of Paradise for the sake of art….if you can call it that! San Diego, CA, April 2018.

To read the definition of failure, you often see it referred to as the ‘opposite of success’.  But, if you dig a bit further, failure can be described as simply a condition of not meeting an intended objective (thanks, Wikipedia!).  Sounds pretty benign to me, and it is predicated on the assumption that there is a goal, which in my book means you got your ‘stuff’ together.

As an artist, each one of us knows the complexity of translating vision to action, from mind to hand to paper (or substrate of your choice).  Most of my creative musings are never realized in a final piece, and what I’ve discovered is what I see in my head and heart is only a tiny sliver of the artistic puzzle.  I have to try every piece out, move them around, see if something links together, and use every ‘failure’ as guidance for the next step.

 

Note to self

One year ago, I decided to throw a few of those puzzle pieces around.  To be exact, I chucked a bunch of ice across the elfin land of Iceland.  My intended objective was somewhat fuzzy, but I knew it was time to see what that gnawing creative vision was all about.  Let’s just say the first pitch was a curve ball.

The very first documented installation attempt, rough at best, Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Nov 2017.

The very first documented installation attempt, rough at best, Blue Lagoon, Iceland, Nov 2017.

But what specifically did I learn from that icy first day?

  • It’s cold, wet and windy so pack the right clothes, and don’t forget to wear them.

  • Not all installation locations are equal, so be prepared to lie face down in snow, dirt, mud, and sand, or better yet, look for placement at eye level!

  • It’s okay to feel scared, stupid and foolish because you are stumbling (and most likely slipping and falling) into the unknown.


First attempt saved by trial and error, contemplation, experimentation and the incredible arctic light of the autumn sun in Iceland, Nov 2017. Lava rocks and lichen certainly didn’t hurt.

First attempt saved by trial and error, contemplation, experimentation and the incredible arctic light of the autumn sun in Iceland, Nov 2017. Lava rocks and lichen certainly didn’t hurt.

 

The perfect storm

One of the warped puzzle pieces of social media is that I can choose to create a façade of perfection.  No need to show the 17 attempts to capture one decent photograph of an installation gone sideways or the stack of rejection letters from galleries, grants and publications.

Trust me, the heap is huge on this artist’s studio table.  However, without crawling through each one of those failures, I would not have pushed through to secure my first international gallery installation in Mexico next year. If at first you don’t succeed

Cactus garden at Fabrica la Aurora in San Miguel de Allende where I will have a large scale installation in March, 2019. Hope to see you there!

Cactus garden at Fabrica la Aurora in San Miguel de Allende where I will have a large scale installation in March, 2019. Hope to see you there!

We should celebrate it all, the good, the bad and the ugly, and wear each one proudly like a badge of honor for all to see.

 

Tangled webs

In the spring of 2018, I applied to an artist residency on a local farm in a big leap of faith to honor a newly revealed intention so proudly displayed on my first vision board.  My proposal was to gather natural materials from the farm and create woven installations throughout the property.

A tree on the Mary Olson Farm as a potential installation site, Auburn, WA. Little did I know that lichen would play a starring role in my next residency attempt.

A tree on the Mary Olson Farm as a potential installation site, Auburn, WA. Little did I know that lichen would play a starring role in my next residency attempt.

Although I landed in the Top 10, I was not selected for the next round of interviews because there was no history of weaving in my background.  The ‘rejection’ did not keep me from requesting feedback which I would not have otherwise received.

Nope, it was this critique that allowed me to strengthen my next residency proposal:  forage natural materials from the wild land of Iceland to make natural dyes for installation. 

Testing pigment extraction from  Evernia prunastri , a lichen foraged from a fallen tree in my neighborhood. If successful, might have deep purple dye in 2 months.

Testing pigment extraction from Evernia prunastri, a lichen foraged from a fallen tree in my neighborhood. If successful, might have deep purple dye in 2 months.

Guess where I will be in February?  Hello Westfjords, Iceland….

The long and wild drive to the Westfjords, Iceland, Nov 2017. It ain’t a road for the faint of heart!

The long and wild drive to the Westfjords, Iceland, Nov 2017. It ain’t a road for the faint of heart!

 

Over-cooked

Two weeks ago, my daughter Zsofi made bubble bread twice for the holiday, and only once, did I mess around with the yeast.  Maybe I stirred it too vigorously or it was that ‘back-up’ pack from last year, but it just didn’t rise to its doughy potential.

Reaching into my bag of tricks, lessons learned from every botched job of yore, I placed it into the microwave above the toasty-warm oven working overtime to cook our Thanksgiving feast.  No…I did not turn the microwave on…but left the dough, knowing maybe, just maybe, the ambient heat would give the yeast the gentle nudge it needed to rise.

Guess what?  Success.

Tell me about your recipe for success?  The box below needs a new trick or two!

Take charge of living large

The stuff of dreams

Nestled in the sand among sea-weathered driftwood in La Push, Washington, my daughter, Zsofi, dazzles us with tales of the universe.  As the stars above begin to twinkle, wild statistics of relativity bounce around our banter like the sparks of our campfire:

  • All of the planets from our solar system can fit between the Earth and the Moon.
  • Jupiter is approximately 318 times as massive as Earth.
  • 1.3 million Earths can fit inside our Sun, but 9.3 billion Suns would be needed to fill VY Canis Majoris, the largest known star in the universe.
How many grains of sand can you hold in your hand?  Only the La Push jellyfish really knows...

How many grains of sand can you hold in your hand?  Only the La Push jellyfish really knows...

And to bring us right back to the very beach we are huddled on, famed astrophysicist, Carl Sagan’s timeless quote drifts by:

  • The total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.”

So, as we sit in awe of the cosmic vastness around us, a very simple truth emerges:

We are small.

Zsofi sizing up the largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen.  The magic of La Push, July 2015.

Zsofi sizing up the largest piece of driftwood I've ever seen.  The magic of La Push, July 2015.

 

Major Minor

The notion of small, and it’s more expressive cousins of compact, tiny, petite and wee, are often celebrated in our culture.  All things technological are shrinking while becoming more robust and efficient.  Micro-living and tiny houses are infiltrating both our consciousness and our neighborhoods.  Even our planet, in its itsy-bitsy place in the Milky Way, is dwindling as globalization becomes the norm.

In the creative world, miniature art has been thriving for centuries with dozens of active societies across the continents.  Who isn’t intrigued by the artist who has the patience, focus and unparalleled fine-motor skills to create the minute?

That artist is not me….or so I thought.

Teeny tiny Ice embedded with pea and berry atop a lichen covered lava rock near Stykkishólmur, Iceland, December 2017.

Teeny tiny Ice embedded with pea and berry atop a lichen covered lava rock near Stykkishólmur, Iceland, December 2017.

 

Under the microscope

Building a sculptural piece for my installation practice has been dictated by the space it is created in - studio, kitchen, freezer, silicone mold – all relatively small.  However, the proximity I have to the work in vision, creation and documentation magnifies its size in my mind’s eye.  Nevertheless, like moving from sketchbook to canvas, I can see that my installation’s substrate is actually massive...

Welcome to Planet Earth!

I spy with my little eye a teeny tiny ice installation.  Can you find it?

I spy with my little eye a teeny tiny ice installation.  Can you find it?

 

Lights, Camera, Action

The Hawaiian Islands are a tiny ripple in the Pacific Ocean.  Iceland is an elf in the shadow of Greenland.  The expansive beach of the rugged Olympic Peninsula is a milli-fraction of North America’s coastline.  Yet, each of these wonderlands have elicited vastness in contrast to the tiny installations I have placed. 

Ice embedded with leaves at the base of Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland, frozen above at 330 feet tall, November 2017.

Ice embedded with leaves at the base of Dynjandi waterfall in Iceland, frozen above at 330 feet tall, November 2017.

Through the lens of a camera, I’m pulled magnetically towards the details of the artwork starring in my play, but the setting is an integral part of the plot.  The locations have been carefully selected by a visceral energy, their draw magically nipping at my wanderlust.

Simply put, I travel to these sites because of their immense beauty.

Blue butterfly pea infused ice installation melting fast on the black sand beach at Waianapanapa in Maui, June 2018.

Blue butterfly pea infused ice installation melting fast on the black sand beach at Waianapanapa in Maui, June 2018.

Placing an installation within a sweeping environment does not make me feel small, but rather fills me with limitless creativity.

You see, it’s all relative.

Acres of ranunculus blooming in Carlsbad, California, made a perfect site for an installation, March 2018.

Acres of ranunculus blooming in Carlsbad, California, made a perfect site for an installation, March 2018.

 

Blink of an eye

Beyond the miniscule nature of being alive and kicking in this teeny twirling orb called Earth, our time here is nothing more than a blip.  How about that for making you feel small?

In my artwork, people often wonder why I make ethereal pieces that will be gobbled up by the world around them.  All of the time and effort, heart and soul, to be snatched away in a matter of moments?

Organically dyed dough (or Fruity Pebbles!) installed between lava and coral in Maui, June 2018.

Organically dyed dough (or Fruity Pebbles!) installed between lava and coral in Maui, June 2018.

Placing tenuous work allows me to experience the now.  It is the nano-second of time that I can create my own unique mark and marvel at its micro-impact.

Standing in the massive lava flow on the MacKenzie Pass in the Oregon Cascades, a spectacle that belched its way across the landscape close to 3000 years ago, I see a few scattered trees.  They have no business being there, but it is their wee mark in time and space that captures my heart and my artist's eye.

So, get out there and plant your creative sapling now.

Glitter infused resin cubes installed in a Lodgepole pine setting up shop in a lava field on MacKenzie Pass in Oregon, August 2018.

Glitter infused resin cubes installed in a Lodgepole pine setting up shop in a lava field on MacKenzie Pass in Oregon, August 2018.

 

Bigsy Small

For many of us, the idea of being small is cripplingComparing ourselves to those around us can foster fear and produce feelings of inadequacy.  Artists have this affliction in spades, all wrapped up in limiting beliefs that keep us from making our mark, even though the world is anxiously waiting for it.

Installation of acrylic painted paper sticks installed along the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, March 2018.  I had more people stop to talk to me about the installation than ever before, all curious about what kind of mark I was making.

Installation of acrylic painted paper sticks installed along the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas, March 2018.  I had more people stop to talk to me about the installation than ever before, all curious about what kind of mark I was making.

Funny enough, the best way to move beyond this fear is by taking the tiniest of steps.  Just one unique speck today creates a growing momentum and informs the splotch of tomorrow.  We’ve been graced with space, so fill it up, buttercup!

 

The granular level

The next time you are laying in the sand, imagining the grains you hold in your hand are only a snippet of the stars you see in the sky above, remember this:

Living large and making a mark on Pacific Beach in Seabrook, Washington, April 2018.

Living large and making a mark on Pacific Beach in Seabrook, Washington, April 2018.

Guess that means we truly are larger than life!

How about leaving your mark in the comments below?

Barefoot in a Sneaker Wave

Better get your trench coat

From 16,000 feet deep in an under-water ravine to the crest of an 8-story thundering wave, the coast of Nazaré, Portugal has a magnetic pull.  In the churning Atlantic water of Praia do Norte, hard-core surfers, and spectators alike, plunge into the wild world of big wave surfing.  In fact, in November 2017, Brazilian surfer, Rodrigo Koxa, broke the world’s record by flawlessly riding this massive 80 foot wave, honoring a life-long passion.

First and last time on a surfboard in 8 inch surf at Praia do Madeiro, Brazil, 2010.

First and last time on a surfboard in 8 inch surf at Praia do Madeiro, Brazil, 2010.

 

Northern exposure

Later that same month, 25 degrees north of this famous breaker, lying face down on a rocky beach along the Strandir coastline, I encountered my own booming breaker.  Fingers numb in the gusting wind, I howled, “never turn your back on the ocean” -  a saying my kids have heard me utter many times.  Placing my second ice installation within feet of crashing waves, my travel mate, Chris, kept eye for any monster swell that could sweep us away.

Dried leaves embedded in ice installed on the Strandir coast in the Westfjords, Iceland.  The tiny black thread near the top left side of the ice is my glove, sticking relentlessly to the frozen piece. Thus, bare hands were required to install!

Dried leaves embedded in ice installed on the Strandir coast in the Westfjords, Iceland.  The tiny black thread near the top left side of the ice is my glove, sticking relentlessly to the frozen piece. Thus, bare hands were required to install!

In absolutely no way were we facing the danger of Nazaré, but chasing my creative dream pulls me back to the ocean time and time again.  What power do these wild waves have over my journey, and how do I make sure I’m not turning my back on the surf in front of me?

Facing the churning sea in Djúpalónssandur, Iceland to install blue pea infused ice.

Facing the churning sea in Djúpalónssandur, Iceland to install blue pea infused ice.

 

The Big Kahuna

Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing, is credited with coining the famous phrase that keeps us facing seaward.  Both practical and philosophical, this saying teaches us two important life lessons about the power of the ocean:

1.     There are significant physical dangers of being hit by a wave.

2.     Mankind needs to show deep respect for the sea.

Humbly, I’d like to offer one additional lesson to be learned:

3.     The wave coming could be the ride of your life!

Rising temperatures and rising tide at Kirkjufell, Iceland means melting ice...fast!

Rising temperatures and rising tide at Kirkjufell, Iceland means melting ice...fast!

 

v = f x λ

Waves as a metaphor for artistic creativity is perfectly suited.  Many of us have had times brimming with unbridled imagination and surging productivity.  For each crest, however, there is a trough, a quiet time…the lull.  Without one, we can’t have the other, so I’ve gingerly embraced both, experiencing the drought before the flood.

Silk thread orb installed at the driest place on Maui:  Haleakala Crater.

Silk thread orb installed at the driest place on Maui:  Haleakala Crater.

 

Roll with it

Today, facing an expressive tsunami, however, I am feverishly grabbing at each medium that pokes out of the rushing water.  Ice, resin, paper, fiber, adhesive, wax, paint and canvas are all bobbing about my studio.  While I could be drowning, each one plays an integral part in this wild ride, one supporting the other in ways I can’t begin to understand.  But, that is okay – I trust the process.

Glitter infused adhesive domes melting in the Hawaiian heat.

Glitter infused adhesive domes melting in the Hawaiian heat.

I have to - these are my life-saving floaties.

 

Making waves

So, if today's story is about ‘The Big One’, let’s dive more deeply into some of the ways we choose to describe a tidal wave, creative or otherwise:

  • Sneaker Wave:  Well, as we already determined in my last blog, sneaking has its perks.  With creativity, it can pop up at any time, without warning, and pinch us hard.  I say it's better to laugh than cry.
Abaca installation turned upside-down in San Antonio, Texas.

Abaca installation turned upside-down in San Antonio, Texas.

  • Killer Wave:  Yet another negative description, but how many times have you used it to describe something extraordinary?  If you get out there, showing up every day, I guarantee you will be killing it.
  • Rogue Wave:  When creativity hits, I urge you to ‘go rogue’ in the full Urban Dictionary sense.  Don’t follow the rules.  Let your heart lead and do what feeds your soul.
Nobody gave me permission to do this installation.  The only formal invitation I received was from Mother Nature.

Nobody gave me permission to do this installation.  The only formal invitation I received was from Mother Nature.

  • Freak Wave:  So, Rogue, go listen to the lyrics of Come from the Heart and dance like nobody is watching!  As one of my favorite contemporary artists, Nicholas Wilton, would coach:  create art in exactly the same way.  Flying your freak flag is what makes your art uniquely yours.
  • Extreme Wave:  Not for the faint at heart, when creativity comes calling, push yourself as far as you can, all the way to the edges of your comfort zone.  I promise, you won’t fall off.  That’s where the good stuff hides.
Blue pea and red cabbage infused ice installed near the outer edge of Ögur, Iceland.

Blue pea and red cabbage infused ice installed near the outer edge of Ögur, Iceland.

 

I met a Cyclops in Ghost Trees

If the names for waves weren't scary enough, what about swells being creatively called Jaws, Dungeons and Mavericks?  What do these mega-wave meccas have in common with Praia do Norte, or the crazy 'artist' who chooses to play in the 'surf'?  At these beaches, to ride the Big One, tow-in surfing is not a luxury, but a technological necessity.

Yes, it means having a partner in crime, someone who understands the fierce power of the ocean and pull of passion, and is there to help propel you safely through the choppy waters.

Guess we should add one more life lesson to The Big Kahuna list above:

4.  Never swim alone.

Chris, partner in crime, soaking seaside after a long day of ice installation in Drangsnes, Iceland.

Chris, partner in crime, soaking seaside after a long day of ice installation in Drangsnes, Iceland.

On the very same island as Jaws, Chris stood watch with the surf pounding against the lava field at La Perouse Bay while I swiftly placed the last of my Maui installations.  Mouthing the words that have become my mantra, my partner in crime faced the waves by my side, keeping me safe while I dove in.

Feeling the ocean spray in my face while installing organically dyed dough at La Perouse Bay in Maui.

Feeling the ocean spray in my face while installing organically dyed dough at La Perouse Bay in Maui.

 

Passion Fish

My sleep is often filled with dreams of crystal clear tidal surges that I manage to negotiate perfectly with a surfer’s ease.  The trick I've learned is this:

Dive straight into the face of the wave before the crest crashes.  Passion is on the other side.

Tell me, what do you dream about?  Jump into the comments below - the water is perfect!

 

Why I put the ice in Iceland

it's cold out there!

In the deep darkness of December, thirteen impish little guys cause all kinds of ruckus across the frosty heaves of Iceland.  These pranksters, the Yule Lads, spend the holidays swiping and gobbling their way through the night, sneaking treasures into the shoes of children, both naughty and nice.

Welcome sign to the Dark Fortress, home of the Yule Lads

Welcome sign to the Dark Fortress, home of the Yule Lads

Warming his stiff legs by an open fire, I was lucky enough to meet my first Yule Lad in 2013, Stekkjarstaur in Dimmuborgir among the snowy lava spires.  Something magical was in that flame, sparking my inner elf and awakening the mischief in my creativity.

Meet Stekkjarstaur, a.k.a. Gimpy, and my travel buddy, Chris.  What an incredible surprise to stumble into a Yule Lad hiking in a lava field in the north of Iceland!

Meet Stekkjarstaur, a.k.a. Gimpy, and my travel buddy, Chris.  What an incredible surprise to stumble into a Yule Lad hiking in a lava field in the north of Iceland!

What tiny gems can I leave behind for the wide-eyed and young at heart to stumble upon unexpectedly?  A sparkling surprise for just a tiny moment before lacing up their boots and moving on?

Ice...obviously.

Gold leaf embedded in ice, installed in a snow drift in Suðureyri, Westfjords, Dec 2017

Gold leaf embedded in ice, installed in a snow drift in Suðureyri, Westfjords, Dec 2017

 

Medium rare anyone?

My love of ice as an artistic medium is longstanding, maybe born from:

  • Holiday seasons growing up when my mom would freeze pine needles and holly berries in an ice ring for the spiked punch bowl?
  •  Watching icicles form through a frosty window, one tiny drip of water at a time, only to melt in exactly the same way?
  •  Climbing snowbanks to pluck them from the roof’s edge and enjoying nature’s homemade popsicle?
Icicles falling from a rooftop in Bolungarvík, Westfjords

Icicles falling from a rooftop in Bolungarvík, Westfjords

If childhood memories primed the pump, discovering the ephemeral beauty of Andy Goldsworthy’s site-specific land art sealed the deal.  His creation of exquisite artwork made exclusively of organic materials, only to be exposed and lovingly manipulated by nature’s fingertips, is at the core of my artistic inspiration.

I was hooked…ice hook(ed) to be exact.

 

Installation is my insulation

In my second year of art school, in the frigid climate of Montana, I placed my first ice installation.  Studying photography, I opted to embed Polaroid transfers from a trip to Russia, in hopes they would blow away when thawed, perhaps found or lost forever.  But, it was the deep carmine flower petals frozen in the ice blocks and the crimson pigment outlines acting as their pedestals that felt pure to me.

 

Hitherto, ice installation by Margaret Byrd at the University of Montana, Nov 1994

Hitherto, ice installation by Margaret Byrd at the University of Montana, Nov 1994

Exactly 23 years later, my second ice installation was created, placed and thawed in the most enchanting polar landscape I’ve been lucky enough to explore:  Iceland.  More than twenty icy art bundles were scattered across the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula, left behind to let Mother Nature collaborate in any way she felt fit.

Who am I to argue?

Ice embedded with berry, installed in situ at The Blue Lagoon, Nov 2017

Ice embedded with berry, installed in situ at The Blue Lagoon, Nov 2017

 

Out of control

As artists, we may never have full control over our medium.  If we hang on too tightly, we can squash creativity, wonder and the excitement of discovery.  Perhaps I hide behind the delicate property of ice, allowing its inconsistency to be the twinkling star of my work?

As solid as ice in my hand

As solid as ice in my hand

Regardless, the breathtaking moment I open the freezer, seeing how the water has transformed and the crackling magic of the unexpected is revealed - this is why I come back again and again.  My heart skips a tiny beat to see how the infused material dances with the water on their icy date.  It's not unlike peeking into your shoe to see what morsel was left behind by a roguish Christmas troll.

Great balls of fire...no wait, ice!

Great balls of fire...no wait, ice!

 

Sneaky Pete

So, that brings us back to the mischief in this tale.  If my desire to leave small marks of visual candy has an altruistic tinge, the devilish side of this artist is also smirking ear to ear.  I mean…I run around (sometimes stumbling), uninvited (typically), probably on private land (some of the time), defacing nature (sort of) and littering creativity all over the place.

Sounds like graffiti to me!

Peter was my confirmation name.  Why?  Because it means 'stone'.  I knew even then!

Peter was my confirmation name.  Why?  Because it means 'stone'.  I knew even then!

If you look up ‘sneaky’ out there in the virtual world, there isn’t much with a positive twist.  Seems in general, sneaking around is kind of frowned upon.

 

But, I’d like to reframe it for you:

  • Sneaking treats from the cookie jar is absolutely expected, no matter what age you are.
  • Sneaking around your neighborhood on a sweltering night playing flashlight tag is how every kid should spend the summer.
  • Sneaking out to meet your lover is downright romantic.
Chris and I on the last day Súðavík saw the sun for six weeks, Dec 2017

Chris and I on the last day Súðavík saw the sun for six weeks, Dec 2017

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice

You see, sneaking any kind of ‘sugar’ is kinda sweet.  Just ask any of the Yule Lads!  They are sneaking into my comment box every night...