3's company

Three me please

Three is a magic number.  From the micro (protons, neutrons and electrons) to the cosmic (planets, stars and galaxies), nature bundles it’s wonders in three.  I suppose it is no surprise, then, that humans do exactly the same within their world:

  • Storytelling and the trilogy

  • Religion and the trinity

  • Art and the tryptych

Our brains are hard-wired to seek out patterns and relationships, and we are drawn to clusters of three as the simplest way to connect thoughts.  We see it used in speech-writing, classroom learning and comedy skits.  Simply put: three rules.

So, perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that I too have a trifecta of sorts, at least as it relates to my creative world.  Today, it seems these three elements are intertwined more than I had imagined:

  •  My job

  • My travel

  • My installation

Mung bean installation on Maui will melt with the rising tide, Kaanapali Beach, April 2019.

Mung bean installation on Maui will melt with the rising tide, Kaanapali Beach, April 2019.

Triangulation

To be a full-time working artist is a dream of mine.  My guess is it’s the dream of most creatives, and unlike popular myth, it is completely attainable.  However, most of us have had other jobs to support ourselves at one point or another, and sadly, many feel ashamed of this.

Not me.  The work that has sustained me and my family for decades is not art-related, but it is the foundation that I stand on, and it has taken me around the globe.  Through this travel, I became so deeply inspired by the landscapes I roamed, my installation practice was reignited.  Now, my installation is sprouting new opportunity for work, but this time in the art world.

The perfect art world, high above the clouds on Haleakalā, deserves an abaca swirl installation, April 2019.

The perfect art world, high above the clouds on Haleakalā, deserves an abaca swirl installation, April 2019.

See how that rolls?  Job—>travel—>installation—>job - and the power of three is born.

 

USD 3.3M

I had an exceptionally good sales year in 2018, as did many of my colleagues.  As a gift to our team, my company hosted our annual sales meeting in Maui this year.  As a bonus, a few extra days to explore the island and an invitation for our loved ones to join was extended.

My guy, Chris, and yours truly, finding amazing new vistas in West Maui.

My guy, Chris, and yours truly, finding amazing new vistas in West Maui.

Mahalo, Opticon, bon voyage, and aloha installation!

Funny enough, this trip was my third visit to Maui, and it’s said, the 3rd time’s the charm.

 

No small trifle

One very delightful piece of this voyage was a treasure hunt I hosted for all the creative travel enthusiasts I had to leave behind.  The beauty of our digital world allowed me to stay engaged while installing almost 3000 miles from home.  Working remotely never felt so connected.

In the midst of meetings and Power Point presentations, I managed to sneak away for six installations over six days.   With a virtual family of travelers in tow, I shared a map of Maui and posted visual clues on social media about each piece.  Nothing like playing a game at work!

Vertical stack of paper pulp bricks painted with earth pigments and installed in drift wood.

Vertical stack of paper pulp bricks painted with earth pigments and installed in drift wood.

So, what was the real treasure in this hunt?   The amazing community I’m so lucky to have found along the way!

 

Triple threat

As rewarding as this trip was, installation always has it’s difficulties.  Add work and children to the mix, plus a healthy dose of wind, and new challenges were bound to bubble up:

Challenge 1:  Business meetings always spill into the evening, and the sun sets relatively quickly the closer you are to the equator.  How do you photograph an installation in the dark?

Threaded orbs installed on a banyan tree with the glow of darkness, Lahaina, April 2019.

Threaded orbs installed on a banyan tree with the glow of darkness, Lahaina, April 2019.

Same orbs but with a flash of delight! Which one do you prefer?

Same orbs but with a flash of delight! Which one do you prefer?

Challenge 2:  Teenagers have slightly less patience when it comes to tagging along on an installation trek.  How quickly can you find a site before your child gets bored?

My son, Mason, chillin’ at 10,000 feet, while I was a few hundred feet higher installing. Thanks for waiting!

My son, Mason, chillin’ at 10,000 feet, while I was a few hundred feet higher installing. Thanks for waiting!

Challenge 3:  Maui is in the middle of the ocean, so it is very windyHow do you keep paper pulp from blowing away?

Wind whipping is one of the many dangers of installation at 10000 feet.

Wind whipping is one of the many dangers of installation at 10000 feet.

3, 2, 1…

Three has been a lucky number in my life (just look at those amazing three people I call my kids!).  So, I won’t dismiss the power of 3 and the critical part my job plays in today’s creative triangle.  Without it, I would not have traveled to Maui’s paradise to create yet another set of installations, trying fresh materials and finding new beaches of inspiration.

Wheat pasted paper rolls embedded in a rocky beach in West Maui, April 2019.

Wheat pasted paper rolls embedded in a rocky beach in West Maui, April 2019.

So, as a typical human being, I suppose I also look for patterns and relationships in the world around me.  While pondering the impact of my day job on my creative practice, a few more connections popped up, which I leave for you to chew on:

  •  Without the 3 primary colors, we would have no rainbow

  • Without the 3 legs of a tripod, a camera would struggle to capture the aurora borealis,

    and perhaps most importantly…

  • Without AAA’s TripTik, we would all be lost.

Don’t worry -  I got you covered on the last one.  If you’d like your own copy of the Maui treasure map, click, click, clickLet me know what treasures you find in the comments below…

Kisses - Margaret

The square root of pie

Creative Blocks

A bat, a moth and a butterfly flit into a bar…

Might seem like a strange visual, but these are the most common images (sans bar!) that people see when they examine the first of Rorschach’s ink blots.  Known as Klecks at University, the Swiss artist-turned-psychiatrist developed his love of Klecksography into one of the most widely known psychoanalytical evaluations of our time.

Two Peas  , 2018 , my first attempt at painting with the organic blue dye of butterfly pea blossoms.

Two Peas, 2018, my first attempt at painting with the organic blue dye of butterfly pea blossoms.

So, here is my question:  what is the fascination of finding the reality in abstract art?

As humans, we have an inherent need to understand what we see and connect it to the world around us.  The figure, the landscape, the dogs playing poker - we get that and it makes sense.  It's exactly why puffy cumulus clouds have a tendency to channel Mickey Mouse.

Seems Mickey Mouse was absent this day.  What do you see?

Seems Mickey Mouse was absent this day.  What do you see?

But, when someone says your work reminds her of dried fish swim bladder, what does that say about you, or more importantly, your art?

 

Mawther Nature's candy

Building and installing abaca sculpture, a fiber made from a native Philippine plant in the banana tree family, has garnered lots of ink blot banter.  The swirls have been lovingly compared to Dr. Suess’ fantasy world, Chihuly’s glass work and unicorn horns.

Abaca swirls installed on Black Butte Ranch in Oregon, August 2018.

Abaca swirls installed on Black Butte Ranch in Oregon, August 2018.

However, when Cherry, my Thai sister-in-law, feverishly helped me slather adhesive on the abaca to prepare for a festival installation this month, she saw fish maw.

How does a fish float and sink in water?  Swim bladder of course!

How does a fish float and sink in water?  Swim bladder of course!

And you know what?  I get it.

Not because the dried seafood delicacy Cherry was forced to eat as a child actually does resemble my abaca swirls.  Nope.  It’s because, for some reason, the number one recurring connection people make to my artwork is food.

 

Fish out of water

Merging my love of global travel with art installation, I never imagined I would learn about the foods of distant lands by sticking art in the ground.

Hibiscus infused ice installed on quicksand in Seabrook, Washington, July 2018.  Beach ice pops!

Hibiscus infused ice installed on quicksand in Seabrook, Washington, July 2018.  Beach ice pops!

Although my sculptures have seen international waters, none of these tasty treats have influenced my work.  In fact, some of these morsels and their homelands I’ve never even experienced.

Let’s make a shopping list:

  • Borrachitos – the little drunk filled with sweet jelly
  • Lokum - the Turkish delight meant for royalty
  • Khanom Chan - the nine layer dessert of Thai prosperity

Who says you can’t have dessert first?

 

Punch Drunk Love

I love everything about Mexican food, but I must admit, I’m not one for the sweets of this scrumptious country.  While on Desha Peacock's Sweet Spot Style creative retreat in San Miguel de Allende in January this year, an artist friend, Melissa Partridge surprised me with a gift of borrachitos.

Not a shabby place to create some adhesive domes while on retreat in Mexico.  Don't eat the art!

Not a shabby place to create some adhesive domes while on retreat in Mexico.  Don't eat the art!

Melissa was not appealing to my sweet tooth. She saw the crystallized jelly cubes and immediately thought of the resin work I was installing in San Miguel. 

You might get a little drunk munching on these sweeties in Mexico.

You might get a little drunk munching on these sweeties in Mexico.

These sugary squares were originally created by nuns to give to their patrons in appreciation for support.  Eventually, the sisters found their entrepreneurial spirit and began selling the delicacy to the public.

Glitter infused resin cubes stacked and good enough to eat in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, January 2018.

Glitter infused resin cubes stacked and good enough to eat in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, January 2018.

Love it!  Artisans realizing the value of their work – something we all need to embrace!

 

The turkey trot

Unlike damar resin, an organic substance drained from trees in East Asia, the resin in my current work is 100% man-made polymer.  Nothing you want to gobble down with a tall glass of milk.  I would venture to guess eating tape, paper and glue would also not sit well on an empty stomach.

Don't pop this cube in your mouth please!

Don't pop this cube in your mouth please!

Not so apparently.  The Pop Cubes I’ve created have recently been compared to the wildly sweet Turkish Delight of the spice markets in Istanbul.

Lokum love to share with family and friends.

Lokum love to share with family and friends.

Although I would not recommend munching on my adhesive treats, the process of making lokum reminds me of the delicate nature of working with resin.  The ingredients are simple, but you have to make sure you follow the directions and have everything at your fingertips before you start cooking.

As you can see, I follow the directions perfectly, including the precise measurements and appropriate equipment for handling resin polymer.

As you can see, I follow the directions perfectly, including the precise measurements and appropriate equipment for handling resin polymer.

 

Thai spice drops

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  It is where we create food to nurture ourselves, body and beyond.  We gather around the table to connect, celebrate and commune.  Therefore, having my resin cubes compared to khanom chan in Thailand is an honor, and apparently quite lucky.

Glitter infused resin cube at Pacific Beach in Seabrook, Washington, April 2018.

Glitter infused resin cube at Pacific Beach in Seabrook, Washington, April 2018.

Butterfly pea jelly dessert Thai style.

Butterfly pea jelly dessert Thai style.

Making the jump from my sculptures to fodder was not an obvious leap for me.  However, if I reflect on the past year of installation, much of my work incorporates organic material and requires the kitchen as my studio.

I mean, isn't the artist's apron borrowed from a chef?

 

Dough nuts

Organic dyes first entered my practice when I built frozen pieces to install in Iceland.  I spent weeks in the kitchen researching dyes derived from plants.  Even the elusive blue was found in a magical tea brewed from the blossoms of the butterfly pea.

Nothing more beautiful than a gradient study of blue thanks to butterfly pea blossoms.

Nothing more beautiful than a gradient study of blue thanks to butterfly pea blossoms.

Planning my installation trip to Maui in June, the stove-top became my drafting table once again.  In a stretch to move from cubes to a spherical form, I opted for an easy solution – dough.  Funny enough, it was actually edible art!

Organic dough is more salty than sweet - beware.

Organic dough is more salty than sweet - beware.

Placing organic dough on the beaches of Hawaii elicited a kid-in-a-candy-store list from spectators:

A little sand never hurt.  Organic dough on Hamoa Beach, Maui, June 2018.

A little sand never hurt.  Organic dough on Hamoa Beach, Maui, June 2018.

Connecting my art to the confections of Mexico, Turkey and Thailand fits my Bohemian soul.  That said, I love that my organic work has crossed into the mass-media influenced candy industry of the United States.

Andy Warhol was definitely on to something.

 

Pop psychology

I’d like to think that Rorschach would be proud to know he had reached cultural iconic fame with his ink blot artwork.  Being immortalized by Andy Warhol in the art world is no small honor.  

Rorschach  by Andy Warhol, 1984.

Rorschach by Andy Warhol, 1984.

Interestingly, the ink blot was eventually used to test for creative thinking.

When I look, I don’t see a butterfly or a delicious dessert.  My ink blot always looks like an island I need to visit one day.

So, tell me, Artist, what do you see in your life's ink blot?  I promise not to analyze anything you might say 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...