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November 2016

Straight Down the Rabbit...Er, Pinhole


Check out my nifty new camera! Is it not just gorgeous? Top of the line paint can, er, pinhole camera, and I had an absolute blast with it, thanks to my most awesomely talented cousin, Therese's and her pinhole workshop. (Follow the link for some photos and a description of the fun.)

Picture about 9 or so women, most of us with no experience using this technology, but all of us anxious to learn. Therese gave us a bit of history, examples of pinhole photographs, a handout with technical info, and then the fun began.

She led us upstairs into a darkened room, with what looked like a huge brown trash bag taped over the window. In reality, it was some sort of light blocking photo paper. One tiny hole in the "trash bag" admitted a tiny bit of light into the room.

We ringed the outside edges of the room, waiting for our eyes to adjust. Ever so slowly, an upside down image began to appear...the house, trees, and yard across the street. Lots of oooohs, ahhhs, and excited talking.

Basically,we all had gone "down the pinhole" and straight into the inside of a camera obscura! In other words, we stood inside a camera, seeing an image the way it would see it, and I loved it!

Back downstairs, where Therese issued our new paint cans, cameras, explained how to load the paper, work the "shutter" or black tape covering the pinhole, and about how long to expose the photo, which, turned out to be a real guessing game.

Before letting us out, she took us into the dark room, another new experience for me, and we talked through the four steps of what we needed to do - photo developing solution, a solution that halted the developing process, a solution that that fixed everything, and then a water rinse. This room was DARK, only lit by a few red bulbs.

Then, out we went, scouting for things to shoot...pine cones, ourselves ( pinhole selfies!), prayer flags, etc. Eventually, we shot the skeleton residing on Therese's porch, ultimately dragging him into the bright sunshine.

Go out, shoot, come back in, enter the darkroom cautiously. We didn't want to let light in at the critical moment, nor did we want to bump into or step on each other. The light into dark business took some adjusting.

We dropped the paper into the developer and held our breath. Some photos came out pitch black (over exposed), some came out nearly white (underexposed), both which elicited groans and a few mild oaths, but every now and then we got something really cool, which resulted in shrieks of delight.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Inevitably, we lost track of watching the clock, which threw off the timing of it all. No matter, we just kept playing. One type of paper gave us a negative print, the other a direct print. It turned our that each type required different timing, both with exposure and developing.

For me, I learned to totally surrender control. With digital, the result is instant. I can see if I got the shot or not, then adjust accordingly, right on the spot. With a pinhole, I did a lot of estimating both when shooting, and then again with developing. My images had a softer and definitely less focused feel, and since I wasn't looking through a view finder, I could only guess at what the camera saw. I had quite a few surprises!

Even though I ended with precious few "good" shots, I loved it all, the newness of it, Therese's unflappability in dealing with all these women needing help, the learning curve - just all of it. I want to do more.

If I stick with the pinhole camera I brought home, I need stuff I don't have - a dark room, chemicals, so on. If I get really brave, I can buy a more elaborate pinhole camera, use film, and travel back into time, when I sent away the film and had to wait for it to come back to see what I got. I can see it happening, folks!

So, thank you Therese, just thank you and I'm hoping for more workshops on cyanotypes and lumen prints. I'd gladly pay to repeat a pinhole workshop, because I'm so obviously at the start of a learning curve.

Pulling It Together - Maybe


It began innocently enough.

Bending over to focus on the most gorgeous thistle, I heard, "What are you looking at? I normally don't see people stooping and bent over, looking at something on the ground. Most are looking at the ponies."

I straightened up to see a fellow photographer grinning at me. Grinning back, I pointed to my treasure, and the flow of words began.

We talked about what we liked to photograph, the equipment we used, etc. Without missing a beat, she handed me her camera so that I could play, and then hurried back to her car to grab a few more goodies to share.

Eventually and reluctantly, I handed back her Canon 70D, a few other treasures, and we said our goodbyes.

On the way home, Phil and I talked about whether or not, we might be able to figure out how to purchase a new camera for me. The more I've learned about photography, the more I found out what my then current Rebel version could not do. Technology gets obsolete darn quickly.  I pretty much could work around most things with a bit of frustration, well, sometimes, lots of frustration. My Rebel took pretty awesome photos, but I wanted more. The upshot turned out to be that we would begin exploring the possibilities.

A few days later, Phil told me that my soon to be toy was on a government employee purchasing site, but even better, the newer version, the 80D was out. He'd researched both, and asked, "Why not go with the 80D?" And, a few days later, it was on my doorstep!

I pretty much had the same reaction that I'd had with my Canon Rebel....stared at it in shock and awe, turned a few pages in the accompanying manual, had a minor heart attack, and shoved it back into its box and hid it.

The damn thing terrified me.

Knowing I would have fits with its manual's tiny print and gibberish, I went in search of the appropriate Dummies book to get some help. Turns out the camera was so new, the Dummies book had not yet been released. I put myself on the "ship when it's available" list on Amazon, thankful to have more time to wrap my head around all the tech.

All too soon, my Dummies book arrived. Settling in with it and the camera, I began reading and swearing. All the buttons and dials were in different spots, and oh, dear God, the thing has a touch screen. I now had to swipe up, down, and sideways. Option after option presented itself. I quickly learned one go to lens, an 18-200mm, was not compatible. My wide angle would work, as long as I was not in Live Mode. I also knew what sort of memory card to get, and I could turn it on and off!

Pretty much though, it all just overwhelmed me. The Dummies book contains 342 pages of mind boggling gibberish. Back into the box it went. I desperately wanted to use it in NY/Vermont, and then again during my creative art retreat. But trying to learn the camera at the same time would surely send me into complete panic and overload, and I knew I'd miss shots.

And, I wanted my go to lens, which my wonderful husband went ahead and ordered.

Now, I had a new camera and a new lens, and oh, dear God in heaven, could you just send a miracle, and I'd know it all and hot have to cry?

Now, two things mocked me from their respective boxes; if you didn't know that cameras could laugh at you, well, let me assure you, they can.

The lens muttered its frustration at not being used.

I came up with lots of excuses, some valid, others not about why I had yet to shoot a photo with my new goodies.

I've been home a week now from my two adventures, and I promised myself I'd start small, but I'd start.

So, this morning, out of its box it came. I sat down with strong coffee, a nutrition bar, and my Dummy book.

I read a bit, and then I'd pick up the camera and try to make sense of it. So many whistles and bells, so many options. You know, I think if I poked around in its settings long enough, I could program it to clean my house.

But, after an hour of reading...poking around the camera...swearing a bit...rereading...poking some more, I began to make sense of it. I pulled a few key things from the first few chapters, starting small, but starting.

I figure if I worked at it an hour or so a day, muscle memory will begin to take over. I'll get the basics well under control, and then I'll continue moving through the chapters.

The battery is charging; I'm off on another adventure tomorrow, and I will use this camera over the next few days.

Picture a middle aged (senior citizen?) shaking her hand at the sky, "Gone with the Wind" style and muttering, "As God is my witness, I will never be scared of this camera again..."

The funny part? The workshop I'm attending is on pinhole cameras, about which I pretty much know nothing. Nothing. And pinhole is just about as opposite of digital photography as you can get.

Not sure how this will all go, but there will be photos!

Really, there will.

I promise.

Do You Remember?


I love snail mail, the making, sending, and receiving of it. Not much else that appears in my mailbox makes me smile the way snail mail does, and certainly not the bills. The junk mail, at least, has the possibility of ending up in my journals as "art."

I also think that life's simple moments make the absolutely best memories.

So, a few weeks ago, I conned convinced my most awesome sister, Denise, to participate in a project where we would snail mail each other memories from our childhood or more (much more) recent past. The snail mail could be note cards, letters, post cards, whatever fit the moment. We'd do it when we could, no specific timetable. I wanted this to be workable, or as we say, the most "awful fun."

A few days ago, I received the card you see above. Denise wrote, " Do you remember peeking inside the trunk of the cherry tree near the kitchen? A mama bird would build a nest in a hollow spot in the tree trunk each year. We would wait for her to fly away and then run to steal a peek of her babies."

And, yep, that long forgotten memory came flooding back. We've each sent two now, and I wish I'd thought to document and share them here before.

I first sent her a postcard of Chincoteague, reminding her of the time where we swore to my dad that we'd be sure to take the rental key with us, since he'd not be around to let us into the house. You can see where this is going, right? We left it behind, and when we got back, sure enough, Dad was gone, and we'd locked ourselves out. No way on God's good earth were we going to wait for him to return and suffer his laughter. So, we broke in, all the while laughing like loons and hoping no one would see and report our efforts. Long story short, I tumbled through a window we'd prodded open, fell onto the kitchen floor, and could not stop laughing to let her inside. We kept that secret from Dad for YEARS until my husband blew it wide open in casual conversation, which immediately ceased while Dad raised his eyebrows and just gave us the "LOOK."

Denise replied with memories of running and jumping along a pile of rocks that created a jetty in Rehoboth. I never could understand why this activity caused my mother to have near heart attacks, until a few years ago when I stood and looked at that jetty, wondering where in the hell my mind was all those times! We had absolutely no fear back then, and we did it as often as we could.

I then sent Denise a card reminiscing about the time that Mama Cat and her daughter, Katie, each had a litter of 6 kittens withing days of each other. Two mamas with 12 babies between them. My mother wept, and even my dad's face blanched. Another sister proudly told everyone that we had a "real cat house in our garage."

And, now, I've got another memory ready to be dropped off at the post office, and in a few days, when I think she's gotten it, I'll reveal its contents here, because I don't want to ruin her surprise.

I love the idea of all of this - the memories surfacing and being shared, the cards that brighten our mail boxes, and the thought that after a period of time, we'll each have a wonderful bundle of memories, for us, and for our kids after we've gone, not that either of us plans on making our departure any time soon!

As we say, it's just the most "awful fun!"


Holding Space for Others

Red thread

Laundry tumbles in my dryer; towels wait to be folded and stashed in the linen closet.

Paper, glue, fabrics, pens, and other assorted art make stuff hides my studio floor. More stacks of it play the "Leaning Tower of Pisa" act on my tables.

Meat needs to be repackaged into smaller portions and frozen for later use.

But in the midst of all of this mess, this entering back into reality, I'm playing with photos, catching up a bit on Facebook posts, and just figuring out how to move through my day without losing the magic of these past few days.

In between the busy-ness of today, I've flipped through most Facebook posts, just trying to get a sense of what's been happening out on the interwebs, but now and then, something begs to be read more carefully. Barbara Techel's "On Being a Space Keeper" was one of those. Barbara writes so beautifully about holding space for others, letting them "discover and uncover what is right for them." I smiled as I read and re-read her words; she's managed to capture what I've been living for the last several days, the last several weeks, really.

We need our safe spaces, the people that listen to us, encourage us, and help us to believe our creativity needs to come into being. They don't judge, tell us we need to be doing something differently, let us figure things out on our own, gently offering help if asked. You can read a bit more here.

I spent the last 5 days with an amazing group of women, gathered in Maryland's mountains at Lesley Riley's Red Thread Retreat. We talked, laughed, drank wine, ate amazing meals, and created art books with Nina Bagley. At the beginning of the retreat, Lesley put one rule into place, "No talk of politics." I can't begin to describe the relief when that negative energy disappeared.

Workshops ran from 9 to 5, more or less. We broke for amazing lunches, wonderful nourishing food delivered to the main house. At any time, people wandered off to walk in the woods or along the river, gather leaves, or just be alone for a few moments. Nina encouraged us to take chances, to explore new techniques and methods. If you forgot a supply, you just asked. Someone was bound to have it and offer it freely.

And, here's the big deal: we all got along; no alpha leaders emerged. We simply helped each other on the journey, encouraging, offering help if needed...holding space for each other.

Evenings brought wine, beer, snacks, and lively discussions. More amazing food appeared at dinner, and we took turns cleaning up. No one needed to create a schedule; we simply got it done. A few of us wandered off to get massages.

And, now, I sit typing, trying to put it all into words, and pretty much failing. So few people truly hold space for each other. We seem to have tumbled into a mad world of too much anger, too much judging. I'm tired of political rants from both parties, of rude and uncivil people trying to cram their beliefs down my throat and/or making each political candidate to be the devil come back to life. I avoid it as much as I can, but it's pretty damn hard to miss all of it. If we all just held space for each other, could you imagine the change?

As Barbara writes, "Holding space, sitting in silence with my soul, praying for peace for our world, that energy then moves out into our troubled world."

Please, go read what Barbara wrote. Sit with it for awhile, think about at least one person you could "hold space" for and then do it.

Really, truly, go do it.

It's wonderful. I know it, because I lived it.

Thank you, Lesley, Barbara, and all my Red Thread friends,  for everything.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Permission to Do Less


Sometimes, I do myself in; there's just no two ways about it. I create work where there doesn't need to be work.

It's all in the name of being creative, and in some ways, people's expectations. For the last several years, I've participated in Jennifer Belthoff's Love Notes. I do it because I love snail mail, and because I love creating snail mail. I love sending it, and I love receiving it.

In Love Notes, we send 3 postcards over the course of 3 weeks to a partner. Each week comes with a prompt, and for 3 weeks, my mailbox and I smile in delight.

Here's where I make work for myself: I decided my post cards needed to be hand made. No store bought post cards for me, no sir. It began easily enough, 3 postcards, tiny little 4" X 6" works of art. Sometimes, I opted to create note cards, not post cards, but still, easy enough.

And, along the way, it snow balled. Not only did I send my little works of art off to the current partner, but I sent them to past partners as well, as well as some newly made online friends. And, then to my sister, Denise. And then...

Well, I'm up to 20 pieces of art each week. Yikes!

Really, I love it...well, when I'm home to create, I do. This past week found me in Vermont for 6 days. I came home on Tuesday, did my laundry on Wednesday, and packed yesterday and today for a 4 day art retreat.

The stress levels began to climb, climb some more, and well, I may have been on top of Hogback Mountain with my stress. My art room looks like Hurricane Matthew has come and gone, plus which, I needed to be packing the supplies I'd be using.

Even if I worked non stop for this last day and a half, 20 handmade post cards would not be happening.

My pride / ego got a bit bruised; no one would be marveling on line at my creations.

Yet, here's the kicker. I didn't need to be creating 20 pieces of art; that's not what Love Notes is about. It's about connecting with people; it's about bringing happiness to someone once a week for three weeks. It is NOT about my art or my ego.

I've packed my ego away for the time being; 20 beautiful Vermont post cards are going out into the world. 20 gorgeous images of Vermont in the fall, with those wonderful bright reds, oranges, and yellows. 20 post cards with messages written to bring delight.

The best part? I'm okay with this letting go of stress I've put on myself. I'm okay with realizing I can't do this all the time.

There will be post cards going out next week, as time is limited there as well. Probably, I'll do something handmade the last week; I do love the creating and the joy my tiny creations bring.

But, if not, that's okay as well because like I said, it's not about me. It's not about my art.

It's about connecting, and Lord knows, that's something we need in our crazy world.

Don't Let the Noise Stop You


We all have stories to tell and art to make, and it's so very easy to let the voices inside and outside of our heads stop us.

But these stories, these pieces of art...collages, paintings, batik, potholders, and more...well, each and every one deserves to come into to being. And, yet if we listen to the naysayers, to the "let's be practical" folks, to everyone who wants us to toe the line in some way, well, most of what lives inside our heads and hearts never comes into fruition.

Last weekend, I listened to Jon Katz and Tom Atkins talk about creativity, most especially writing. Commonalities emerged, and they emerged when I listened to Maria Wulf and Carol Law Conklin as both worked with fabric in some way. These precious bits we need to internalize run right across the spectrum of living creative, not substitute lives.

We need to remember to create for ourselves and to keep creating whether folks approve or disapprove. We are gathering the bits and pieces of our lives for us, to make ourselves whole, and a part of us ends up in anything we create. How could it not?

What we create is important; we need to acknowledge this - well, more than acknowledge it. We need to honor it, make it central to our days. It doesn't need to be huge, it might just be 20 minutes as we can grab them.

It doesn't need to be a huge finished project, but we need to do it, to trust what we have to say. We might go astray, even produce something we think should never see the light of day. (Although, others might just disagree!)

So many of us, myself included, find all sorts of reasons to not sit down and write, make art, sew, etc. Sometimes we're afraid of those external voices judging us, judging what create, or judging how we spend our time. They create so much noise in our head, that we just want to clap our hands over our eyes and give up.

More importantly, it's really the internal voices that stop us. Maybe we don't feel that what we have to say or create is anything new. All of it seems to have been done before, right? So, little old normal insignificant us - well, why bother? It's all been said and done before. I heard this over and over as our groups met.

But, as we began to listen, to talk, to share, we found out that we had unknowingly touched each others' lives in so many ways.

Sometimes, it's okay to put ourselves first, to claim what's important to us. Easier said than done, I know, because you see, I know I've apologized for taking my time to be creative.

We all need to stop this apologizing; we just need to stop. Everyone in our group love how being creative made them feel; we felt joyful and complete. Creativity nurtures our souls.

We need to push the judgemental voices, internal and external, right out of our heads. As Jon told us over and over, "The space inside your head is very very precious."

I'm lucky; I've found my safety nets, as Tom would say. I have so many supportive people in my life: a husband who understands that dinner might not make it to the table at a prescribed time because I lost all sense of time as I worked in my studio. I have Jon and Maria, who gently push, prod, and encourage me to claim my creativity, and even more so, to share it. I have Tom, who listens and then reminds me to invest in me. I have a wonderful sister, Denise, who reminds me over and over to let myself soar. I have family who tells me that what I create is pretty darn cool. I have the Creative Group, who leave positive reinforcement and gentle suggestions about what might make something better.

Plain and simple, these are the voices I need to listen to.

Photo of Mary Kellog and Jacqlyn Thorne, members of "The Creative Group at Bedlam Farm." Both ladies write beautiful poetry, and I am so grateful to know them.