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?

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!