Essentialism

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do/
With your one wild and precious life?”

—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

“Path at Jacobsburg Park”    oil on board, 4x7 inches

“Path at Jacobsburg Park” oil on board, 4x7 inches

I feel myself growing older, and as I approach middle-age, I come up against the true limits of my energy, physically and mentally. My spirit longs to be infinite in its passion and creativity, but my body tells me that its resources are clearly finite. I dearly wish to manage my resources in the best way possible, and this has resulted in me reading a whole lot of books about time management and priorities. One of the very best books I have read so far is called Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

The message of McKeown’s book is: Less, but Better. Basically, you can only do a few things really well. I guess this isn’t “news” but it was certainly helpful for me to read.

“There are a thousand things we could be doing. But there [are] only one or two that are important.” — Jack Dorsey

It follows that if you can only do a couple things really well, it’s important to pick the right things. You need to be honest with yourself about what your goals are.

Question: What is my goal?

My Answer: To have a regular studio practice. To get better and more authentic. To make progress with meaningful work. *

Once you know your main goal(s), you then must remove obstacles to your goal. You can do this by designing a routine where the essential is the default position. For me, the default is that I’m working in my studio on weekdays. I have set hours, and I stick to them.

*Besides having a regular Studio Practice, my other two main goals are to take care of my Health and spend time with my Family. Before taking on something new in my life, I must ask myself if it will become an obstacle to one of these three important goals.

turtle.jpg

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” — Pablo Picasso

One huge obstacle for many people is over-committing to things that fragment your time and energy. For me, especially, I need to be wary of saying yes to anything that infringes upon my solitude, which is absolutely essential for my work. McKeown recommends a “Slow Yes, Quick No” approach. Also, it’s helpful to pause before you speak.

Before you commit to anything, ask yourself:

  • Am I investing in the right activities?

  • Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?

  • Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution to my goal?

  • Is this Essential?

60067969_2127421267549013_2055944898351202304_n.jpg

“In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.” — Lao Tzu

McKeown advises his readers to “practice extreme preparation.” This means not packing too much “stuff” into your time. This will help you not to “do too much.” A good rule is to “add 50% to your time estimation.” So, if you think something will take you an hour, give yourself an hour and a half.

However, from my own personal experience, I would have to say that’s way too low. I need to give myself at least four times as much time as I think I need. So… my one hour project is really a four hour project. At least.

I hope that this blog post has helped you a little, and I encourage you to read the whole book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. You might also enjoy last week’s blog post in which I discuss Deep Work by Cal Newport.

60212846_458891628251044_7843536230200377344_n.jpg

What is essential?

Eliminate everything else.

Deep Work

“…time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.”

—Cal Newport

59845599_670638350047228_2553744862226677760_n.jpg

I just read Deep Work by Cal Newport, and I loved it. I highly recommend this book for everyone, but especially for artists. In an effort to really absorb the message of this book, I decided to summarize it in a blog post, focusing on the parts that have been most helpful to me.

I also illustrated it with some cartoons which I hope will make you smile!

So… here goes:

THE IDEA: Deep Work is Valuable, Rare, and Meaningful

  • In an age of network tools…knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e-mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction.

  • If you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. (yikes!)

“This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”   —Cal Newport

“This state of fragmented attention cannot accommodate deep work, which requires long periods of uninterrupted thinking.”

—Cal Newport

  • “…network tools [instagram etc.] are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.”

  • resist this trend and prioritize depth!

  • “I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule.”

  • “…ruthlessly culling the shallow and painstakingly cultivating the intensity of my depth.”

  • “A deep life is a good life.”

  • High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)

“Busyness is not the same as Productivity.”  — Cal Newport

“Busyness is not the same as Productivity.” — Cal Newport

THE RULES: Work Deeply, Embrace Boredom, Quit Social Media, Drain the Shallows

Work Deeply

  • work deeply. cultivate a deep work habit.

  • “You have a finite amount of willpower that becomes depleted as you use it.”

  • “…add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

  • Focus on the wildly important.

  • “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing…” — David Brooks, “The Art of Focus”

  • “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

  • “…time spent in a state of deep work dedicated toward your wildly important goal.”

“…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” — Cal Newport

“…your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to…” — Cal Newport

Embrace Boredom

  • Don’t take breaks from distraction. Instead Take Breaks from Focus.

  • Once you’re wired for distraction, you crave it.

  • “Do what Thoreau did, which is learn to have a little disconnectedness within the connected world—don’t run away.” — William Powers, Hamlet’s BlackBerry

  • Diminish your brain’s craving for these stimuli!! Resist switching to these distractions at the slightest hint of boredom.

  • Schedule in advance when you’ll use the Internet, and then avoid it altogether outside these times. Write down the times on a piece of paper! Keep the integrity of those offline blocks!

59410571_1200625183464621_131078235755642880_n.jpg

Quit Social Media

  • take back control of your time

  • “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”

  • again, willpower is limited

  • these services [social media] are engineered to be addictive!

  • When tempted to stray, ask yourself: “Do the benefits outweigh the harm?” (loss of deep work time is harmful)

  • “[Social media services] can be fun, but in the scheme of your life and what you want to accomplish, they’re a lightweight whimsy, one unimportant distraction among many threatening to derail you from something deeper.”

  • constantly checking social media weakens your mind’s general ability to resist distraction, making deep work difficult later when you really want to concentrate.

Drain the Shallows

  • treat shallow work with suspicion

  • become hard to reach

  • you don’t have to answer emails or texts immediately or plan a lot of meetings that fragment your deep work.

59847809_331539790874644_3168541835484200960_n.jpg

“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention;

let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.”

— Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy

59295473_675400842930417_2963558452493811712_n.jpg

I hoped you liked this post. I can’t say enough good things about this book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport. He also wrote a book called Digital Minimalism which has been profoundly helpful to me.

Next week I’ll talk about Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

River Sketches

“I will come to your river/
Wash my soul again…”

—Ibeyi, “River”

View from Riverside Park , charcoal on paper, 9.5x13.25 inches

View from Riverside Park, charcoal on paper, 9.5x13.25 inches

Last Thursday, the sunshine was so delightful and warm, it was impossible to stay indoors. I took my sketchbook and drawing supplies and walked along the river, finding quiet places to stop and be. I’m lucky to live at the intersection of two rivers, the Delaware and the Lehigh. Whenever I feel anxious, I find it soothing to sit near the river and contemplate its changing, moving waters.

Bridge over the Lehigh (1),  walnut ink on paper, 4x6 inches

Bridge over the Lehigh (1), walnut ink on paper, 4x6 inches

I found a sunny spot in the grass, and I sat there drawing for a long time. I didn’t look at my phone, so I wasn’t even sure how much time had passed, which was a truly liberating experience. It was also refreshing to just play around with my art supplies and be creative without any clear goal.

I really liked this view of the two bridges over the Lehigh River, with hills and church domes in the background. I did two versions of this composition.

Bridge over the Lehigh (2),  marker on paper, 4x6 inches

Bridge over the Lehigh (2), marker on paper, 4x6 inches

Even though I had a hat and sunscreen, I got a little sunburn, which actually felt delightful, surprisingly. I think my body has been missing the sunshine.

Train Bridge over the Merging Rivers , pencil on paper, 6x8 inches

Train Bridge over the Merging Rivers, pencil on paper, 6x8 inches

My son asked me recently which season was my favorite, and I paused for a long time before answering. In fact, I couldn’t really pick one. But I do know that Spring is the season which I always feel is over too soon. I wish it would last a little bit longer: the frothy pale green and lacy blossoms and the fluffy little goslings…

Sketch of a family of geese,  pencil on paper, 4x4 inches

Sketch of a family of geese, pencil on paper, 4x4 inches

As I walked home, I passed a bright stretch of green grass doted with yellow buttercups.. The baby geese, stumbling in their fluffy little bodies, were following their mom happily.

This might be something to paint someday…

“Family of Geese”  monotype, 6x6 inches

“Family of Geese” monotype, 6x6 inches

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring comes and the winter.”

— Rachel Carson, as written out in a recent letter from a friend

Pie

“The dance of pie is the dance between the perfect and the beautiful.”

—Grace LeClair, Pie: family recipes, how to’s, and stories

Today I have a sweet treat for you! Here is a collection of some of my new pie paintings, thanks to the scrumptious and delicious baking of my friends, Lisa Yelagin and Anne Gerr, who own Pie + Tart bakery. (Unless otherwise noted, the paintings depict pies made by Lisa and Anne.)

My paintings are accompanied here in this blog post by the writing of my friend, Grace LeClair, from her wonderful cookbook/memoir/ love story: Pie. *

“Pie: Family recipes, how to’s, and stories”

by Grace Le Clair (excerpts)

Pie holds an almost mystical place in my family. The crust that contains the filling, the roundness, the alchemy of turning raw fruits of field and tree into something touched by hands and fire and thereby transformed, filling the mouths of those we love.

And pie is just as down to earth as it is mystical— celebratory of the simple pleasures of a task well done, a day in the field, shared food, sweetness and good company. Pie is a plain food, touched by hands. I cherish the crimp that holds the bottom and top crusts together, evidence of the hands of the maker.

My hands hold the memory of my grandmother’s hands as I repeat her motions, crimp and turn, crimp and turn. It is from her that I learned that we perpetuate eternity by our actions of the moment, small things that by their repetition make enduring patterns….

Giving and Receiving

For me, pie brings up the larger topic of giving and receiving. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents on their farm. My grandfather came in from his fields and sat at my grandmother’s table that was always ready. “Drink, Ma,” he would say. “Bread, Ma.” She bustled to provide these things, a meal of meat and potatoes, then pie.

“It’s not up to my usual,” was my grandmother’s introduction to her amazing pies. It was her preparation for and defense against my grandfather’s strange but consistent response to them. His first bite and the table grew quiet, waiting for his verdict, too often a gleeful cry of “Sowah!” the liftng of the crust and dumping of sugar on her marvelous filling, tender blend of apple cinnamon and sweetness. If the pie was not deemed “sowah,” it might instead be “s-w-e-e-e-t.” Once in a while, very rarely, a pie would merit the stellar rating of “pretty good.”

“Since you don’t seem to like my pies, I won’t be making them for you anymore for a while.” That’s what I imagined her saying, but she never did. She continued her sweet and sour blend of artistry and martyrdom, giving consistently in the face of my grandfather’s seeming unwillingness to receive.

Last Thoughts, Good Wishes

The dance of pie is the dance between the perfect and beautiful.

To find pie freedom, imagine you are making one hundred pies and this is just one, about to be devoured by the most appreciative audiences…

The joy in giving pleasure overcomes the fear of imperfection and failure. The celebration of beauty—all those fruits, all those round shapes, all those dear friends in the kitchen, all those beloveds eating pie.

The encounter with flour and shortening and salt, fruit and sweetener, the gentle tossing, the rolling, the heat, the waiting, the aroma, the cutting of the pie. This is the same vulnerability we have all the time. Is how I am OK? Is what I bring to life enough? How is my offering going to be received?

“It’s not up to my usual.” My grandmother’s defense against my grandfather’s criticism is something I want to replace with a heartfelt, “here I am and here’s my pie,” a freedom partly dependent on assuring myself loving recipients and partly on the willingness to just be.

“Sweet Potato Pie” oil on canvas mounted on board, 7.5x8.5 inches    (This pie was baked by my 12 year old daughter, Nell)

“Sweet Potato Pie” oil on canvas mounted on board, 7.5x8.5 inches (This pie was baked by my 12 year old daughter, Nell)

I love this photo of Anne and Lisa! Come visit  Pie + Tart  next time you are in Easton, Pennsylvania!

I love this photo of Anne and Lisa! Come visit Pie + Tart next time you are in Easton, Pennsylvania!

PS. Below are a few extra pie paintings, depicting pies made by my good friend Liza Feltimo. I felt like they wanted to be part of this blog post, so here they are.

“Honey Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Honey Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Blueberry Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Blueberry Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Key Lime Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

“Key Lime Pie” gouache on paper, 4x6 inches, not for sale

*For your own copy of Grace’s cookbook, which is filled with stories and recipes, please email Grace LeClair: graceleclair@gmail.com

Monotypes Made by Children

“…and still I do not know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a continuing great song?”

—Rilke

Here are some of the monotypes made by the kids during Sunday School recently. Once a month, I lead an art class for the Sunday School at Trinity Church, and I’m constantly amazed by what the children create!

monotype9.jpg
monotype8.jpg
monotype4.jpg


The Seeker

I live my life in ever widening circles,

each superseding all the previous ones.

Perhaps I never shall succeed in reaching

the final circle, but attempt I will.


I circle around God, the ancient tower,

and have been circling for a thousand years,

and still I do not know: am I a falcon,

a storm, or a continuing great song?

—poem by Rainer Maria Rilke,

translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Here is the bulletin board full of monotypes, a small sampling of what was created.

Here is the bulletin board full of monotypes, a small sampling of what was created.

Secrets to Happiness: Journal After Italy (part 2)

“Art that is deeply felt and valued is the energy source for all art-making.”

Peggy Campbell, friend and poet

Sequel to Journal After Italy (part1)

Oct. 3, 2017

I wish I could lose sight of myself, my ego, my fears, and just paint, explore, take risks…

“let it grow on it's own…” as Nancy Bossert suggested when I interviewed her for the Irregular.

Well, it will happen. I’ll have days like today. I just need to honor my studio hours and trust that good things will follow.

Oct. 10

So today I painted for 3 hours and I don’t feel satisfied with what I made. But, that’s ok. I mean, painting is learning. I’m not always going to crank out shining pieces of art that people are eager to buy. What I keep stumbling up against is this realization that the chiaroscuro work feels boring to me. I can’t seem to accept it, and I keep choosing to do it rather than other things, because it “feels safe.” But I can’t shake this feeling that it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing.

I know I’m afraid of messing up and making bad art, but that’s OK.

New goal: Make some bad art while growing and exploring!

“ Morning Alone”  painted paper collage, 4x6 inches

Morning Alone” painted paper collage, 4x6 inches

Oct. 19

3:30 pm, waiting in the sun for the schoolbus. It’s warm and it smells good: warm autumn smells. I’m looking forward to seeing the kids again, loving them! Hugging them! Listening to them chatter. I love them so much!

The trees across the street wave so gracefully in the warm breeze, so gently, their beautiful greens are so interesting. I think about how I might mix those greens. Tomorrow I’m going to paint outdoors…

I feel like I’m settling into a good autumn rhythm, finding space in each day for all the important things.

my family, reading (see    Storytime Sketches   )

my family, reading (see Storytime Sketches)

Oct. 20

“Art that is deeply felt and valued is the energy source for all art-making.”

Peggy Campbell, friend and poet

“Depth takes time.” —- ibid

Oct. 21

I feel so miserable. I cry at red-lights. I’m so sad. Will I always be sad? My heart hurts so much.

Oct. 22

Utterly overcome by sorrow.

I can’t really fight these emotions. I just have to be gentle with myself.

Later…

[I modeled for an art class at Lafayette College, taught by Ed Kerns.]

Ed Kerns, the professor, had a brief yet stimulating chat with me before class. He had some good observations about me as an artist.

“You’re authentic,” he said. “You’re physical. You want it. But you have not stepped up to your next level of mentor. You want the painting to be so friggin’ good, and it can be, but you gotta be physical with it. You gotta go bigger.” He advised me to get a canvas size closer to gesture size. He also told me to look up the artist Ying Li (whom he could connect me with, if I wished.) She is a juicy painter, driven by natural processes rather than a subject. Her drawings are searching, her art is hard-won (like mine.) A lot of physical scraping and moving, Ed explained.

I was so moved and inspired by my short conversation with Ed. How can he know me so well? The things he said were like bursts of light illuminating the darkness within me…

Where St. Francis Walked (by      Ying Li     )   2006, oil/canvas, 30x40"

Where St. Francis Walked (by Ying Li)
2006, oil/canvas, 30x40"


I miss Italy. I wish I could be there again, walking the hot streets, looking at lemon and cypress trees growing in people’s yards, and all that good food…

Lemon tree in someone’s yard in Civita Castellana, Italy…

Lemon tree in someone’s yard in Civita Castellana, Italy…

Oct. 26, 2017

Secrets to Happiness:

Everyday:

  1. go on a long walk outside

  2. Make Art

  3. Rest

  4. Spend time with family and friends

Nov. 1st, 2017…

At noon I walked to the college art building and Ed Kerns met me. We talked a bit. Then he GAVE me two large canvases! (30x40 inches)

“Make good paintings,” he said.

I nodded like an idiot.

When I got home I practiced the piano. I’m learning two Tchaikovsky pieces, and I let my mind clear. When I’m playing music, and also at times when I’m painting, I have that wonderful freeing sensation of forgetting myself.

I’m so scared to paint large. But…. I have done other scary things. Like…

  1. Giving Birth (twice!)

  2. travelling alone to Italy

  3. calling myself an artist

So, I can do hard, brave things.

Journal After Italy (part 1)

I have been reading A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf, which is an invaluable guide for creative people. Inspired by that, I started re-reading some of my own diaries, starting with my return from Italy in August, 2017. (Casa Bella Città Bella) I decided to publish some excerpts on my blog (my diaries are much too lengthy and private to publish unabridged.) Even so, what follows is Part One of many parts to come.

Going through these journals has been helpful to me , allowing me to reflect on my life and see my art journey with more clarity. Perhaps they will be helpful to others, too!

sunset over Florence, July 2017

sunset over Florence, July 2017

Aug. 23, 2017

I can’t believe my time in Italy is over. It feels like a dream. I worked on my poems today. I think they are ready…

Aug. 30

I’m so unhappy… I’m terribly, terribly sad. I cry all the time.…Wretched is the perfect way to describe myself. Just. So. Wretched. I want to throw up, I’m so unhappy…

my sketchbook, a detail of a fresco in the    Uffizi   , in Florence, Italy

my sketchbook, a detail of a fresco in the Uffizi, in Florence, Italy

Sept. 7th

Intentional Loitering.

There is a different kind of work that will arise from working this way.

So, here I am in my studio. All I did was organize it today, and putter around. But that’s important too. Just like when I was in Italy. I have to stop being so hard on myself. This resistance, this puttering, is part of my process…

I was walking around town doing some errands, it was a lovely sunny day, and I felt keenly aware that any moment some inspiration might strike me, something that wished to be a painting, or a poem, or a story. Deep breaths. Being in the moment. I don’t want to be so scattered as I used to be.

I just know I will thrive in a schedule. A schedule supports my practice. It is not rigid, but supportive and dependable. So I’m trying my best to do the studio 10 am- 3 pm each day. So many other things to juggle (exercise, housework, cooking, family time, friend time, business side of work) but I have got to keep the studio sacred.

I have to have the grace to forgive myself. To work with life. It’s like I’m weaving such a complicated tapestry, and I have so many threads in my hands, it can be quite confusing.

Even though I didn’t paint today, I feel very happy in the studio. I feel happy about getting it perfectly organized so that everything is how I want it to be. It’s my space

set up in my studio, beginning a self-portrait

set up in my studio, beginning a self-portrait

Sept. 8

Ok. Time to get to work. I will lay out my colors. My tantalizing, beloved colors…

Sept. 17

I feel peaceful inside. I feel as though I am on the edge of many worlds. Each world is Art…it’s more like a peaceful opening of doors. A hallways of doors, opening one by one.

“Self Portrait” 14x11 inches, oil on canvas

“Self Portrait” 14x11 inches, oil on canvas

Sept. 27

Today I went for a bike ride with Ian (dreamy) and then painted for 4 hours. I felt like I was in a jungle, some unknown territory of painting, because I couldn’t bear to do another small still life in the chiaroscuro style, with all that damn blending.

But I don’t know how to proceed: I’m flailing about with a palette knife. I did a self portrait of myself at the easel with a blue shirt and some flowers. I scraped away a lot. I don’t know if it’s good. It’s not. But I feel like I had to do it.

Later At [my son’s] soccer practice. Just turned on my laptop and wrote my novel for an hour. It’s slowly coming along. I asked Morgan if it would be weird for him if I set up my easel and painted during practice. He said yes. It would be weird. Oh well.

children playing soccer (sketchbook)

children playing soccer (sketchbook)

Sept. 30

Getting ready to go dancing. My orange-patterned skirt doesn’t fit me; I have gained weight. I’m feeling unattractive. I’m breaking out and notice signs of aging. It’s hard to keep exercise and healthy-eating a priority.

I’ve been so tired lately. I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m doing too much, again. It’s nearly impossible not to. I’d love to curl up with a good book and read all day long under a blanket. Art is hard. Painting is hard. There are these sneaky, unsettling questions at the back of my mind that threaten to bring the whole facade down. Stuff like:

  • “You have nothing to say.”

  • “You’re not good.”

  • “This is all ridiculous.”

I’m trying to set aside my anxieties about money, and my emotional troubles, and just feel grateful for the everyday moments. I’m looking forward to a quiet family day tomorrow, and a cozy evening with Ian, to reconnect with a glass of wine and some time together…

“Vino Rosso” 7x5 inches, oil on board

“Vino Rosso” 7x5 inches, oil on board

Toddler Encountering a Puddle

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

— WIlliam Blake

folds

“…the remains from the process of mining memories…”

—Ellyn Siftar, artist

thumbnail (1).jpg

My good friend Ellyn Siftar is a senior at Moravian College, where she will graduate this spring with a major in Philosophy and minors in Art and Biology. It has been a joy to watch Ellyn grow and blossom as an artist over the past few years. I’m constantly inspired by her honesty, passion, and courage! Ellyn is a true artist.

Ellyn will have her first solo show at Moravian College this Friday night, March 22nd, 6-8 pm, in Studio 105, the Student Gallery, South Hall, First Floor, South Campus. “Folds” is third in a series of weekly exhibitions by students in the Senior Studio Thesis course. Exhibition will also be on dispaly for Art Club meeting on March 20th at lunch. I hope to see you there!

Here is Ellyn’s artist statement:

“Folds,” an artist statement by Ellyn Siftar

“Folds”, a solo exhibition in Space 105, includes a series of sculptural artifacts; the remains from the process of mining memories. The work is informed by personal experience, notions of the uncanny, as well as Robert Corrington’s concept of sacred folds which project the semiotic material valuable for the process of “selving”.  Further inspiration for my daily studio practice, choice of materials, and ideas for installation came from a query into the artworks and practices of Louise Bourgeois, Janine Antoni, Robert Gober, and David Ireland. By revisiting the past I was able to reimagine and recreate it in empowered and novel ways.  This process of recollection and manipulation provide a way forward that is life-giving and full of promise rather than static and anchored in a past time and space. 

 

“Submit”,  a small sculpture of sand, syrup, and soapstone, sits immediately upon entry, at the threshold of the gallery. A small pile of sand fanning out and into space, the soapstone carved into a diamond-shaped receptacle, collects syrup, impressions in the sand from a kneeling figure having hovered over the form. It is a work made for the grandmother I have never known. She gave birth to eleven children and was constantly on her knees:  cleaning floors, planting in the garden, tying and buttoning children’s clothing, and praying.   


“Alluvial Fan” utilizes my father’s military parachute.  It’s a relic of war games but has also functioned as a gauzy fort for children.  It’s both necessary for survival when serving in its military sense but the threads that once kept it airborne are now cut and braided by the hands of two generations of children.  It gathers up and accrues.


“A Song for Malcolm” excavates memories of loss and grief. An ovoid soapstone carving lies underwater at the bottom of a copper wash tub, submerged and burdensome.  After the death of twenty friends in eighteen months, I am in uncharted territory and I am drowning. There is promise in the sky.


“Stone Fruit”, a golden nest cradles a soapstone peach and rests on the chair’s cracking leather seat.  The chair was a gift from my mother before she moved to the west: a solid place to rest. The peach is a poem for her.

Other guest blog posts by Ellyn Siftar: Flirting with the Sky and Mary Magdalene as Melancholy

“Folds” will be at Space 105, at Moravian College in Bethlehem. Space 105: Space 105 is a gallery on campus at Moravian College dedicated solely to student exhibitions.

Moravian College

344 Main Street (near Foy Hall )
Bethlehem, PA 18018

Campus Map

thumbnail.jpg

Light of the Firefly

“…only light and wind before us…”

more poems and paintings by John David Wissler

“Near the Beginning” oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches

“Near the Beginning” oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches

Light of the Firefly

cloud, broken, gray, blue, purple.... hint of orange,

red sky, green against cadmium orange, Naples yellow...

sun descending,

descending, revealing its size

brightening the sky

touching the clouds, its color moving towards me through haze,

atmosphere brightening, filling space with color,

earth darkening,

masses merging, shadow passed and enveloping

dampness rising...filling my nostrils with moisture and smell

bare feet touching the now wet grass

time without comprehending, only feeling,

light now dim, star, cloud,

birds sing there ending, jubilant (my eyes close)

light of the firefly...... rising...lofty..holy...

“Until Tomorrow” oil on panel 12 x 16 inches

“Until Tomorrow” oil on panel 12 x 16 inches


The Brilliant Light of Dusk

facing toward the brilliant light of dusk

wind, cold, crisp, clear

seeing, as if the first time, into our future

knowing what has been

cherishing what is

relishing the future (with trepidation)

loving friend, there by our side

loving family, there with us

loved ones there, on our left ...our right..only light and wind before us.

God is there, not just light and wind!

faith tested, strong, by our side

friend, family, steady the coarse

you, there for me,

I, there for you,

not knowing, but there, always…

“A Shared Ending” oil on panel 12 x 12 inches

“A Shared Ending” oil on panel 12 x 12 inches

Chill in the Morning Air

chill in the morning air,

sun begins its trip as I wander through the field behind my studio

looking for the beauty of things

light...color...tree...earth...green...

turning, I see the edge of my studio, red in the clump of pine

painting...collecting

empty, this morning I am empty

empty can be good...for it can be filled...this morning

just

empty.

I stop walking, knowing I must soon get my coffee and ride to Lancaster,

working at the gallery...while my head is out here

walking in the field

looking...wandering

just want to keep walking,

days like this...you know!

just keep looking, wandering, collecting what I see

filling myself...my mind,

not sure of it all,

wandering...wondering...looking ...painting…

life is empty today, and so am I,

no paint...no marks... (in the studio paintings turn to mud)

there is beauty in the chill of this air

the sun raking through the pine hitting the red studio wall

I will enjoy the coffee... seeing the folks at the gallery

I begin to fill…

“Beyond the Cove” oil on panel, 12 x 24 inches. This painting will be part of my show, opening in April ( 4-5 ) , at  Lancaster Galleries .

“Beyond the Cove” oil on panel, 12 x 24 inches. This painting will be part of my show, opening in April ( 4-5 ) , at Lancaster Galleries.

Pierced By Stars


darkness, pierced by stars

ink, alive and moving

night, pierced by stars

brush, scraping and flowing

my day .... fulfilled…

fulfilled in darkness,

fulfilled in ink,

alive and moving…

“Eyes Wide Open” oil on paper 4.5 x 4.125 inches

“Eyes Wide Open” oil on paper 4.5 x 4.125 inches

Additional blog posts containing poems and art by JD Wissler.

Edge

Stars Make Their Own Space

Piano Memories

“..they both looked shyly toward the piano…”

—Rainer Maria Rilke, “A Childhood Memory”

A Childhood Memory

Advancing darkness lent a richness to the room

in which the boy sat hiding, waiting silently.

And as the mother entered, dreamlike, suddenly

a glass kept trembling in the silent cabinet.

She sensed the room’s betrayal of her presence

and saw her son and kissed him: Are you here?…

Then both looked shyly toward the piano,

where many an evening she had played a song

that strangely moved and touched him deep inside.

He sat quite still. His wide gaze never leaving

the hands that seemed quite bent down by her rings.

As if they were through heavy snowdrifts ploughing

while traversing the whiteness of the keys.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “A Childhood Memory”

“A Childhood Memory (2)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (2)” monotype, 5x5 inches

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Rilke’s poem, “A Childhood Memory.” The images from this poem have been lingering at the edges of my consciousness for quite awhile. It’s almost as if they have an actual presence, like they are people longing to become visible to me. And yet, if I turn to face them, they hide, obscured by shadows that shift and change. So, rather than forcing the creative process, I’ve been courting these images in a playful way by making monotypes. My belief is that these monotypes will lead me to something new and surprising, possibly even a series of paintings. Here are some of the results of my explorations so far:

“A Childhood Memory (3)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (3)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (4)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (4)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (5)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (5)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (6)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (6)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (7)” monotype, 5x5 inches

“A Childhood Memory (7)” monotype, 5x5 inches

* 100% of the proceeds from “A Childhood Memory (1)” will go to help buy new sheet music for the students at Ridge Street Elementary School, a public school in a high-need community in Newark, NJ. My sister Karen is a music teacher at this school (K-8). Please consider contributing to this good cause which helps bring music to children!

Stars Make Their Own Space

more poems and walnut ink sketches by John David Wissler

The Light of Evening

the light of evening catching my eye

dancing through a row of trees

I turn to see where you are

familiar but not the same

time as light passing

dancing

shining through that which is

through that which was

shining , yes , still shining

familiar and somehow new

you are

we are

those we love, family

those who gave us life, loved ones

those who give....and never ask

I focus now

the light changes

sun, below the ridge

below the row of trees

majestic, solid, no.... ethereal

together we are in this life

friend, family, sister, brother, Father , Mother

always the same

never the same

color... radiant, known and unknown

love... full shining

surrounding , no, enveloping who we are

together , all of us touched by the other

stars beginning to emerge

I turn to see where you are

be strong my friend... I am there to hold you up....

52637209_2320942954582418_4737115569029906432_o.jpg

Holding My Breath

holding my breath....alive in the moment

seeing the moon through a vale of dappled cloud

color...is...light

light ...is ...color

stars make their own space

shining through the vale like precious stone

light bathes the earth

hitting faces turned upward

Sun Descending

sun descending

descending , reveling its size

brightening the sky

touching the clouds, its color moving towards me through haze

atmosphere, brightening, filling space with color

earth darkening

masses merging, shadow passed and enveloping

dampness rising... filling my nostrils with moisture and smell

bare feet touching the now wet grass

time without comprehending, only feeling

light now dim, star, cloud,

birds sing there ending, jubilant (my eyes close)

light of the firefly......rising...lofty..holy...

53239496_2320943017915745_1170590643580305408_o.jpg

Smith College Art Museum

“Color directly influences the soul, color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer,

the soul is the piano with many strings.”

—Kandinsky

“Autumn Impression” by Kandinsky

“Autumn Impression” by Kandinsky

Over Presidents’ Day weekend, my husband and kids and I took a road trip up to Easthampton, Massachusetts to visit with friends. We had a really great time sharing meals, stories, playing games, and going on walks together.

One very special thing we did was a day trip to the Smith College Art Museum in Northampton.

Here are a few of my favorite paintings. Please forgive any shortcomings in my phone-photos.

Enjoy!

“Surf Fisherman” by Milton Avery

“Surf Fisherman” by Milton Avery

“The Seine at Bougival, Evening” Monet

“The Seine at Bougival, Evening” Monet

close-up detail of the treeline in previous painting, “The Seine at Bougival, Evening” by Monet

close-up detail of the treeline in previous painting, “The Seine at Bougival, Evening” by Monet

“The First Leaves” by Dwight William Tryon

“The First Leaves” by Dwight William Tryon

“Trees by the River Gein” by Piet Mondrian

“Trees by the River Gein” by Piet Mondrian

“Rooftops” by Bonnard

“Rooftops” by Bonnard

Related Post (Art Museums):

Mother-Daughter Trip to the Met

Solitude’s Trespass: a poetic response to the Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun exhibit in 2016 at the Met

A Childhood Memory

“…where many an evening she had played a song/ that strangely moved and touched him deep inside.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke, “A Childhood Memory”

sketch for a painting, 4x6” gouache on envelope

sketch for a painting, 4x6” gouache on envelope

This month I am working on a painting inspired by a Rilke poem, “A Childhood Memory.” I’ve done bunch of sketches for it, and I plan to do some monotypes next week. (This week isn’t working out because school keeps getting cancelled due to weather, and I’ve been distracted with kids.)

I’m haunted by the image of a boy’s wide eyes in the shadows, and a woman, also in shadows, playing the piano at night, the piano keys gleaming white, like the moonlight.

Here’s the poem:

poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Albert Ernest Flemming

poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Albert Ernest Flemming

Here is one of the pencil sketches I did in preparation for the painting:

“A Childhood Memory” pencil sketch

“A Childhood Memory” pencil sketch

So, this post is just a little glimpse into my process. Hopefully it will be interesting and/or useful to someone! It’s all I have time to do today. Now I’ve got to take my kids outside to burn off some energy! The sun is shining, and it’s a good day for a walk to the library.

Further Reading: Piano Memories

"Edge," and other poems by JD Wissler

“I often find myself there…”

ink wash by JD Wissler (sketchbook)

ink wash by JD Wissler (sketchbook)

Edge

edge

standing there looking 
toward the horizon
toward that which holds you...keeps you from moving
keeps you looking

edge
edges
perceived...painted, drawn , remembered
edges

I often find myself there ( or is it here?)
standing and looking
painting , squinting , remembering
edges.....life

edge
being there is life 
distant and vital , at the same time
holding, and moving , at the same time

I often find my self there.......

monotype by JD Wissler

monotype by JD Wissler

There, in the Meadow

there, in the meadow 
sound, moving
wind steadily louder

shutters begin to tap on the bricks
I glance out the window, into the dark
I look at mom saying, just stepping out to feel

feel the chill
wind, enlivening the skin on my face
my hair moving

my eyes turn to the night sky
between the clouds.... stars
between the clouds.... moon

wind every where
surrounding moving 
sounding through the bare branches

I suddenly know the cold (no coat on )
I smile thinking of friends together painting...looking at the night sky
turning toward the porch...toward the door

now in the warm
the wind still sounding outside
reminding me how lucky I am

Lucky to have feeling
to have time to see
to experience

there...wind in the meadow......

Emily

artist Emily Nelligan (1924-2018)

Her quiet soul fills the island air 
hand moving over paper 
as tide rises and falls

spirit touching each stone
again ...and ...again
light , dark, horizon, sea

she is the island 
the island is she
kindred, kind soul

whisper in the darkness
Emily.
emily........

drawing by Emily Nelligan

drawing by Emily Nelligan

Stay Present

“Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving.”

—Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Morgan reading comic books.  charcoal, 18x24 inches

Morgan reading comic books. charcoal, 18x24 inches

It’s Wednesday and I’m having a hard time building up momentum in the studio. On Monday, my son was feeling sick, so he stayed home from school. He sat in my studio and read comic books while I sketched him.

Morgan reading “Wings of Fire, Book 6” pencil on paper, 18x24 inches

Morgan reading “Wings of Fire, Book 6” pencil on paper, 18x24 inches

He perked up and did some painting of his own while I set up a still life for myself. (not shown)

Volcano in process.

Volcano in process.

Yesterday there was no school (snow day!) and I did ZERO art. We went to the park and played in the snow.

Today is ANOTHER snow-day…

We shall see what happens!

Persephone

“If only we are willing to give right names to things, this is no harm that has been done, but only love …”

—Ovid (Metamorphoses)

“‘No regrets,’ she said.” 11x14 inches, oil on canvas, now hanging at the  Baum School of Art  until February 7th.

“‘No regrets,’ she said.” 11x14 inches, oil on canvas, now hanging at the Baum School of Art until February 7th.

"No regrets,” she said…

I’ve been asked many times to explain the title of this painting. First, I have to tell you about one of my favorite Greek myths, the story of Persephone. In the version I know best, Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, who was the harvest goddess. When Hades, the god of the underworld, saw Persephone picking flowers in the springtime, he immediately desired her for his queen, and he kidnapped her. Demeter had a fit and finally she convinced the king of the gods, Zeus, to intervene and bring Persephone back to the land of the living.

However, Persephone had already eaten six pomegranate seeds, and because of this, she had to remain in the underworld six months out of the year. She could return to her mother and the warmth and sunshine during the other six months, thus explaining the changing of the seasons.

Hades offering his kidnapped bride a pomegranate , pen and gouache sketch, 8x10”

Hades offering his kidnapped bride a pomegranate, pen and gouache sketch, 8x10”

“If only we are willing to give right names to things, this is no harm that has been done, but only love … But if you so greatly desire to separate them, Persephone shall return to heaven, but on one condition only: if in the lower-world no food has as yet touched her lips. For so have the MOERAE decreed." (Zeus to Demeter. Ovid, Metamorphoses)

“Temptation” oil on canvas, 5x7 inches, January 2016

“Temptation” oil on canvas, 5x7 inches, January 2016

This myth could be interpreted in two extremely different ways. On the one hand, it could be a story of regrets and shame, and of a woman giving into temptation, making a poor decision which condemns her to a life of misery and darkness, and even shame, like Eve.

OR…

On the other hand, it could be a story about a woman claiming her power and her full self. The Underworld needn’t be a hateful, hellish place. Rather, it could be seen as one’s unconscious, or creative inner-world, the dark side which we all have, which is a part of us. This could be a story about a woman claiming both sides of herself; light and shadow, and literally becoming a Goddess.

And so she says to herself, “No regrets,” either because it is true, or because she wishes it to be true. She knows it is pointless to harbor regrets and shame, because the fruit needed to be eaten. The seasons needed to change.

She was ready for this change.

And, perhaps she truly loved him…

“ Eve ” 14x11 inches, oil on canvas.

Eve” 14x11 inches, oil on canvas.

Further Reading:

Eve: the concept of felix culpa (blessed fault), and the portrait of my friend Heather (above)

Poems about Painting: Part 4 (comparing Eve and Persephone)

Persephone: an interesting website I found

Hades Welcomes His Bride: a poem by A.E. Stallings

Persephone Writes a Letter to Her Mother: a poem by A.E. Stallings

(both poems are from the book Archaic Smile)

Ellen Sapienza

“…draw on everyday life for inspiration, and look for the interesting and the unexpected

in the flow of mundane or routine experience.” —John Schmidtberger

Ellen Sapienza “Cluttered Table” 32x28 inches framed, $900

Ellen Sapienza “Cluttered Table” 32x28 inches framed, $900

On Sunday afternoon, I gave my first “Artist Talk” ever at Schmidtberger Fine Art Gallery. Ellen Sapienza also spoke with me. Sapienza is my fellow artist and partner in the current two-person show, “Here in This World.” During the talk, I was struck by some of the things Sapienza had to say about her process, so I thought I would write them down here to keep them with me.

Ellen Sapienza “Flowers on the Mantle” Oil on Canvas 26″x30″ SOLD

Ellen Sapienza “Flowers on the Mantle” Oil on Canvas 26″x30″ SOLD

  1. Sapienza paints large, on un-stretched canvases attached directly to the wall. She often paints several at a time, moving between them as she chooses.

  2. Because her paintings are not stretched, she can decide later where she wants her edges to be, which gives her more freedom with the composition.

  3. There is no rush to finish a painting. Ellen sometimes waits 15 years before returning to something unfinished, and completing it. It’s not a race.

“Interior, Green Table” oil on canvas by Ellen Sapienza. 24”x30” $650

“Interior, Green Table” oil on canvas by Ellen Sapienza. 24”x30” $650

4. Ellen starts with observation and response to a subject, but later, memory plays a role in her creative process.

“Still Life in the Studio” oil on canvas by Ellen Sapienza. 40”x30” $1100

“Still Life in the Studio” oil on canvas by Ellen Sapienza. 40”x30” $1100

John Schmidtberger, the gallery owner, said that both Sapienza and myself “draw on everyday life for inspiration, and look for the interesting and the unexpected in the flow of mundane or routine experience.” I’m so pleased by the comparison, and also I’m excited to expand my own creative practice, but taking my time and going slower on my paintings, and being brave enough to try my hand at some bigger work.

So, thank you Ellen Sapienza, for showing your work with me, and for inspiring me to try new things!