Guestposting: Becca of The Dabblist

Today on the blog we have a little how-to action, something I rarely discuss because I am more of a “I will buy it from you if you make it, but I don’t want to actually make it” person. The difference is Becca makes it all so accessible! And I’ve heard whispers …. that Becca MAY be opening an Etsy store sometime soon. And if that happens you know her goodies are going to make their way on this blog again because they are too awesome and too holistic not to. Thank you for taking the time to post here Becca!

Becca Face

Hi Guys! I’m super honored to be here with you today so Lauren can enjoy her maternity leave. I have a blog called The Dabblist, where I am embracing the fact that I am a multi-passionate creature and that ain’t a bad thing.  I am reclaiming the meaning of the word “dabbler” by publicly declaring my pride for being curious about a lot of different things.  Ultimately, I want to take part in creating a happier, healthier world. And that means getting my hands a little dirty.

So, here’s a scenario. You decide to go on Pinterest one day. You see a really cool DIY craft project. You think, “hmm, maybe I can do that.” You go as far as repining it into your new DIY board. What happens next?  You probably pin 10 more decorating ideas for your future Dream Home and call it a day.  That project looked complicated and time consuming. And you probably don’t’ have the right supplies anyways.

I’m right there with you, sister. The world of Pinterest and Martha Stewart magazine and fancy DIY blogs overwhelms me at the thought of picking up a hot glue gun. So I’ve been taking things one project at a time – focusing on slowly building my DIY skills and empowering myself to create a happier and healthier environment in my home.  I’ve also started giving homemade gifts to friends, often without any particular reason other than I want to do it. The act of creating and then giving is so rewarding. I highly recommend it.

So today, I bring you a way to make your own peppermint lip balm. It takes just 4 ingredients (none of which are hard to pronounce or contain byproducts from the oil refining process, ick) and will only take 1 hour of your time at the very most.

 

Ingredients

  •  1 tsp shea butter
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp beeswax pastilles
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 1 wooden chopstick, for stirring
  • Container(s) for lip balm (I like to re-purpose mini candle tins or hollow out old lip balm containers that are near the end of their life)

 Over Heat

 Place a glass bowl on top of a saucepan of boiling water (like you would for melting chocolate) and combine the shea butter, olive oil, and beeswax pastilles. Stir frequently using a wooden chopstick until completely melted.  Remove the glass bowl from the hot water, and add in your peppermint essential oil. Mix again, breaking up any parts that may have hardened on the side, and pour into your container(s) to solidify. It will take about 20-30 mins for the mixture to solidify.

 Tin

Now, because I know the average grocery store does not sell ingredients like beeswax pastilles, I am anticipating you asking me where I got them along with the shea butter and essential oil. You can go to any natural foods store, but I’m a big fan of using the internet.

Pastilles

I purchased all these ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs – an organic supplier out of Eugene, Oregon run by really wonderful, caring people. Amazon.com is also an excellent resource for essential oils and other homeopathic, plant-based ingredients.

 Lip Balm

I hope you’ve realized by now that the ingredient in the essential oil makes the flavor of the lip balm. So get creative. I’ve made a lavender rose lip balm, and am planning on making a fresh scented lemon sage batch in the coming weeks!

Visiting Artist: Oliver, The Kickstarter Rockstar

If you, or someone you know would like to be featured in the Visiting Artists Series, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

On facebook one day a high school friend gave a shout out to her friend, Oliver, who was rounding the final stretch of his kickstarter campaign to make an awesome record. So, I checked it out, totally adored him and his brave campaign to finance his passion, and got in touch with him about speaking here.

These are the things I wish I was good at and am really really not:

  • in-line skating
  • snowboarding
  • singing
  • playing a rock n’roll instrument
  • art, the drawing/painting kind
  • running long distances

And it turns out that Oliver is pretty excellent at two of those things. Which means I immediately fell in love with him and wanted him to tell me all of his secrets. Would you like to get some insight into who and what and why an independent vocalist and guitarist is and does? The how of it all? Keep reading.

*

I was an instrumentalist long before I started singing. Part of me had always wanted to sing, but it didn’t really come naturally to me. Drums were my first instrument, beyond picking out one-handed melodies on the family piano when no one was around. I started when I was 11 years old and took lessons until age 14. I took to it fairly quickly, and in fact I think I was a notably skilled drummer for a middle-schooler. However, my school (Washington Middle School in Seattle) was blessed with a legendary music program and there were a couple of absolute drum prodigies, kids who had been playing since they were 4 years old and just sounded like absolute professionals. So I didn’t stand out as much as I might have at any other school, and it was hard to be second of third best because I was a prideful little guy, and the competition was not exactly gracious. They were the best and had no problem letting you know it.

I don’t begrudge them that at all, and in fact I think it was a blessing because when I found guitar there was no competition there at all. I just learned songs and riffs on my own at home, without a teacher telling me I was doing anything wrong, without someone better than me making me feel less than good enough when I was still in the formative phase with my instrument. So it was mine all mine, and I was much happier, and it turned out to be a much better instrument for me anyhow. Drums are great, but I think that I had a need for melodic and harmonic expression which they simply didn’t allow for. Drums quickly became secondary, and I spent a great deal of time and energy on becoming a good guitarist.

As I continued to develop as a musician, what I wanted most was to write my own music and to have it heard. This was more important to me than being really good at any instrument. I wanted to create structured sound that was both pleasing and challenging. Songwriting and composition became my main priority, and this is where my need to sing came to the fore. I never was very confident in my voice, but I wanted so badly to have my songs heard and no one else was going to play them for me! So I just started doing it. I’ve been taking voice lessons and I absolutely love it. Singing well gives me great joy. Conversely, now that it has become so important to me, on ‘bad vocal days’ when things just aren’t working right I have a hard time not getting down on myself. A lesson I have had to learn a million times is how to keep going; how to be firm with myself about my dedication to my craft without tearing myself down when things aren’t coming easily!

Either in spite of or because of its difficulty, singing well, and singing my own material well, has become an immense priority and a source of happiness for me. I still have a long way to go before I have the voice I want, but I know that I’ve made strides already and that the work is all worth it.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I’m a musician, that I write my own music, that I’ve been in a couple of mildly successful bands but am focusing on the solo thing for now. They invariably ask “What kind of music do you play?” I’m really bad at answering that question! I’m sure that someone other than myself could give a genre heading to what I do, but I like to think my music doesn’t have a box that fits it.

Practice, writing and performance are the three different branches of what I do, all satisfying in their own way, all mutually reliant on each other. Being an artist defines how I schedule my weeks and structure my days. I have to practice to feel good. If a few days go by and I haven’t practiced or written at all, I just don’t feel like myself. I have noticed in myself the tendency to be overly defensive of my time, sometimes to the point where I find that I’m deprioritizing time spent with friends. I always catch myself and things tend to balance out. It’s definitely a learning process.

Performance brings me a lot of happiness. I’ve only done about 7 solo performances since my former band broke up, but each one has been really fun for me. I have several hundred shows under my belt with former bands, but being alone onstage is still new and fresh and pleasantly intimidating!

Right now I am focused on preparing for this album, so writing has taken a back seat to practice, practice, writing emails, fundraising, and more practice. I look so forward to making the album, but will be equally happy to have this batch of songs satisfactorily recorded so that I can move into new territory! I have a bunch of unfinished tunes, and the thought of getting back to tending that garden is very exciting to me.

I made a decision a while ago that my music would be the central fact of my life, along with maintaining a sense of spiritual connectedness and a healthy relationship with the woman I love. Those are the pillars of my life and I’m happy about it. One day I’ll have a day job that’s in line with those things rather than auxiliary to them, but I feel that in the meantime as long as I remain committed to those three things the rest will play itself out.

Continue reading “Visiting Artist: Oliver, The Kickstarter Rockstar”

Visiting Artist: Caitlin and Sea Glass

In school I never liked group activities. I would do them, and get along with my group members and make the poster or the power point or the skit, but every time a group activity was announced I would groan and drag my feet. Film-making is a giant group activity. You need people to hold the camera and the lighting and the sound, you need actors and writers and set designers, and a bunch of other people just to add extra hands and eyes and know-how. I imagine that making a film to me feels like writing a novel to others (and to me, let’s be honest) – it’s overwhelming, it’s so large and has so many arms and legs how do you even start?

And that’s why I was stoked that reader, Laura, introduced me to Caitlin while she is right in the middle of making her film, Sea Glass. I want to know who she is, how she views her work, herself, her future. I want to know everything about the person who goes into making film, like you can just up and do such a thing, like it ain’t no thang, like duh. Because that person has to be pretty amazing.
***

(Caitlin’s the one with the camera)

I’m a filmmaker.  That word is so fabulously specific (like bricklayer) that I have no trouble owning it.  I make films, therefore, I am a filmmaker.  Easy math!  Because working on films or teaching about working on films is how I spend almost all of my time and energy, I actually almost never get asked what I do.  I do get asked “what’s your story?” quite a lot and this one is much harder for me to answer. It’s impossible to give a complete answer to this question.  It’s also impossible to give a complete answer to “what do you do?” but the pressure is there that you should.  Alas.

Lily Gladstone, the actor who plays Riley in Sea Glass, the film I’m working on right now, just asked me this the other night. We were on a high from a really good day of filming and I said something corny about how being on set can feel like being in love; like everyone you care about just came to your birthday party.  One of the things that makes Lily an amazing actor is that she suspends judgment and she didn’t laugh at me for being such a nerd.  But it is true.

The first time I was ever on a film set I was just job shadowing the locations managers.  It was a huge union shoot so I wasn’t allowed to touch anything.  I was clearly useless and surely in the way and everyone was so nice.  I asked the woman I was shadowing if this was just lucky that everyone got along so well.  She said it was a pretty good crew, but it was also just that everyone loves their job.  Having grown up in a family where work meant work, this blew my mind!  Of course everyone loves their job!  Of course!

Of course, about ten minutes later I saw a production assistant rush off bawling her eyes out.  It was an excellent microcosm of how intense filming can get and I haven’t wanted to do anything else since.

***
I asked Caitlin where the artist title fits in her life, if she’s comfortable with it, etc etc. This is a hard one for most people, even people who are big shot full time artist-types. We have so many hats, defining and understanding each individually can be a trick.
***
Sea Glass is actually about this question.  It seems to me that every artist has a period in his or her life when they struggle with this title.  But I don’t really think it’s the title that’s the problem. Owning the fact that you’re an artist is scary.  It can mean that you might never own a house, or even have a steady source of income.  It might mean you won’t settle down and have a family ever. You’re putting a lot on the line when you say you’re an artist.  You’re saying, “I’m going to chance it.  I’m going to literally bet my future on this.  This could end up being a huge failure and I’ll end up all alone.  I can’t even afford a dog!”  Seriously, I would really love to have a dog.  But you can’t have a dog and leave to shoot a movie for a month or two.

I think it’s especially hard to reconcile what an artist is and whether or not you are one if your art is solitary.  If you’re a painter or a sculptor, at what point does that become who you are rather than just a hobby?  If no one is there to back up your claim that you’re an artist, you just sound like an ass.  That’s the reason you asked me this question, right?  You’re asking if I believe in my work enough to believe people won’t think I sound like an ass when I say I’m an artist. (Lauren edit: Maybe, and maybe not.) It’s a good question.  And I’m lucky because to do my work I have to surround myself with incredibly talented artists.  Who the hell am I to make these people work long, exhausting days as I suck every ounce of creative energy out of them?  I would be ahuge ass if I didn’t consider myself an artist.  If I didn’t believe in the film, it would be an insult to the talent and effort of my cast and crew.  And I would definitely not have the gall to ask for their expertise if I didn’t stand behind what I’m doing.

To answer your question completely honestly, though, I do have surges of fear.  Everyone does, right?  (Right?!)  The crew and cast of Sea Glass, especially, are all so sweet and inherently hard-working that on my worst days I think maybe they’re all just working with me because they like me and want to be nice.  Not because they trust me or believe I have any sort of vision for the film. But, thankfully, that’s insane. I am just not that nice of a person.  Hopefully, it’s some combination.  I hope that people have fun on my sets and believe I can get the job done.

I’m in the wonderful spot right now of having a magnificent core group of people I like to collaborate with and we are constantly working.  But I’m in graduate school which is sadly and happily not permanent and this group will eventually disperse.  I hope we’ll all continue to work together as much as possible, but it will be a true test for me to expand this group and keep working at the same speed.

***
I understand this completely. Being in grad school was like being in the womb. I was surrounded by people all with the same goals, and in a very intense and demanding work environment. After leaving that world, it took me a solid year to feel like I was doing anything that all that was worth while. Grad school is lovely, but it is also a lie. A beautiful, idealistic lie.
***

Film-making fulfills two very different sides of my personality–It’s the perfect balance between my methodical solitary writer brain and my collaborative adrenaline-junky brain.  During the writing process, I spend a lot of sleepless nights at my computer with an old cup of tea and take a lot of zombie walks during the day where my head is in my research and plotting.  I sound and look like a crazy person because I’ll act out scenes as the characters and won’t realize I’m doing it.  I have a scene that takes place entirely in a women’s restroom and, judging by the look a woman gave me at the sink, I think I once worked out a piece of dialogue aloud while I was in the stall.

During shooting, an observer would be less creeped out.  Being on set is long, difficult, unglamorous work, which automatically filters out anyone who doesn’t love it.  And because I work with low-to-no budget, I get the luxury of only working with people who are insanely passionate about what they’re doing. We usually work 11 to 14-hour days which means tensions can run high and the humor gets really, really silly. There are times when I’m pretty sure we are fueled by nothing else but Red Vines and That’s What She Saids.

Film has to be my full time gig for me to be happy.  I’m generally a really happy person and I have a lot of different interests and pursuits that make me happy, but I know what trade-offs come with a career in film.  That said, have you ever talked with someone completely consumed by one subject?  BORING!  I’m inspired by the people I make films with very much, but I’m also inspired by the people in my life who think I’m crazy for loving film.  So I try to aim for balance.  I’ve started going to yoga, but I ditched out the other day because I had a scene to shoot.

***
Now, Sea Glass … how do you even begin such an endeavor? I wanted to know about the spark. The spark is always key, because it’s where you return back to when you’re stuck and feel like you’ve trapped yourself at a dead end.
***

Like Riley, in the film, I went through a breakup that became unsafe.  I was lucky to have friends who could whisk me away to the beach whenever I needed and I started spending a lot of time on the Oregon coast.  When someone is able to permeate every moment of your life, it can feel like a wide physical space is the only place to sort yourself out.  The ocean became a weird sort of security blanket for me, which I think is true for a lot of people.

I was in a glass shop in Cannon Beach on one of the first sunny days of spring.  The shop owners were taking advantage of the nice weather and replacing their windows.  Men and circular saws were running all over.  It was a construction site, but the shop was still open.  All the delicate glass art pieces were on display on their thin glass stands as the building rattled from the power tools.  At first I thought it was crazy.  I mean, swaddle those things in bubble wrap!  But then I realized, glass is glass, right?  Whether it’s a vase that looks like a tidal wave or an unassuming storm window.

I fell in love with the idea that glass is something so fragile that needs to be protected and something that protects us from the elements.  And glass is the only thing that when it breaks, it’s not something we just pitch, but it’s something to be reckoned with.  We jump up and scare little kids by carrying them out of the room.  We yell at people to put shoes on, be careful, there’s broken glass!  And then, eventually, broken thrown-out glass becomes something we hunt for and collect again because it’s unique and pretty.

Riley’s story runs the course of the glass you find on the beach.  She starts as something lovely and delicate; she breaks down and scares herself; and then she becomes something admittedly damaged, but real and beautiful and completely her own.

***
The thing I can’t get over while doing this series, is how unique everyone’s story is. They are also the same, but that is kind of to be expected. The uniqueness, the varying degrees of intensity, the different modes of artistry, the difference in voice each person has displayed here has been really awesome. While wrapping things up with Caitlin this week she mentioned one last thing to me, something I hadn’t even thought to ask because equality, and gender equality, is something that has a tendency to sneak up on you when you least expect it. But Caitlin said she is incredibly happy to report that,Our crew has been completely 50/50 split down the middle of men and women.  I think every woman on the crew has at one time been the only woman on a crew, which is not rare in the film world.  So it’s been a blast to have such an even set-up.

Like you needed another reason to support this project. Please keep posted by checking out the Sea Glass website for film screenings and ways to contribute.

*Photos by: Joe ‘Tuna’ Metesh, Jeri Rafter, and Katie Meade
If you, or someone you know would like to be featured here, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

Visiting Artist: Nicole and Her Voice

I am not at all a performing artist. I don’t like when people stare at me, and even though I will get up and talk in front of people (or read in front of people), I am usually running on pure adrenaline and about 2 seconds from passing out. So reading Nicole, of Truffle Honey‘s, description of what it is to sing and how she found her voice fascinates me. I think so many of us wander around, unsure of what to do or where to go next with no clue what our passion is. And that was Nicole. And then she found it and she’s been chasing it ever since. This is an absolute gem of a Visiting Artist and I am so excited to share it with you.

***

When people ask me what I do, I usually give them the simple version and tell them my occupation. I tell them that I work in Finance and then, if the conversation goes beyond that point, I’ll explain that I sing on the side and also have a food blog that I work on in my spare time, too. While I completely consider myself an artist when I self identify who I am in life, it’s difficult for me to define myself as an artist to others (besides close family and friends, of course), because people usually expect that if you “are” something, you’re getting paid to do it. I think that when and if I get paid to sing and start landing principal roles in operas as opposed to supporting ones, I will have an easier time sharing my artistry with others as a tangible part of my life.

Opera fell into my life so randomly. I’ve always been a musician (I started piano when I was 5 and violin when I was 8) and throughout college, I was a 1st violinist in my university’s orchestra and also played at a local church in my home town on Sundays. The organist at that church was also a retired opera singer and voice teacher (with whom I studied for 2 years after beginning to sing) and she recruited me to sing in their annual Christmas concert a few years in a row just to have extra bodies and voices in the choir. Singing became something I absolutely loved and was completely different from anything else I had done in my life, musically. After downloading a few Mozart operas from the library and watching them on DVD, I became instantly obsessed. I decided, a month shy of graduating college with a BA in Economics, that I didn’t want to do finance at all, and that I needed to continue fostering my musical talent by singing because it was something I was meant to do. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason behind the decision and no clear explanation for it; one day it simply struck me, hard, as I was standing on Wall Street after a dreadful Finance interview. I started singing then, at 22, and have only been at the game for 3 1/2 years (much less than others my age), but it is now a part of my life that has made me see the world completely differently.

***

This gives me ridiculous chills. First, that she would have the guts to acknowledge she need to chase another dream at the tender age of 22!! And second, because a similar incident happened to me – where I was chugging chugging chugging along in one direction and suddenly realized NO! I don’t want to go down this path, and switched it up at the last minute during my last semester of college. Amazing.

***

Being an artist fits into my life in random every day ways that are often internal. The most poignant aspect of artistry in life is the way it helps me identify with other artists. I fit so well with creative people and we’re able to understand each other in a truly deep, real way. I feel the most comfortable when I’m in “artist mode” because that role is the most natural for me and is where I’m truly able to express myself without fear of condemnation or judgement. When I’m at a rehearsal or surrounded by other artists, I feel like I’m more myself. The quirks come out, I can have a little fun,  and I trust people more.

Living the identity of an artist is something that’s not always easy because while it’s fulfilling, it requires sacrifice. Being an artist is a bit about who we are and what we live for each day, and it’s also part focus and working towards honing our craft and delving deeper into what we’re passionate about. Some days it’s hard to be an artist when everything else points toward more lucrative and practical professions. After working all day and trying to live a well rounded and social life, there isn’t always time or energy for the art. But finding the motivation to move on, to practice, to schlep to voice lessons or rehearsal or send out audition materials and devote ourselves to art even when it isn’t convenient, is a huge part of the battle.

***

This clarity is amazing. I wish I had the ability to say this out loud without going arrgghh! WHY IS IT SO HARD! BLAAH!! And stomp my feet and slam doors. Nicole! You’re a ridiculous inspiration. Reading things makes me realize I just need to accept the plight of the artist, that it’s hard work and that sometimes I just need to grit my teeth and do it and stop raging against it. You are amazing.

***

Learning music is a creative and highly technical process. As a singer, singing songs or arias isn’t the main goal when you’re young, like me, and are still working on getting the voice out of your body. Developing a solid technique is the goal. When I practice, which is usually an hour at a time as many days a week as possible, I begin by stretching out my back and doing breathing exercises to help center myself. Then I start by doing simple, 5 note scales on different vowels, and then continue with more complex scales. While I sing scales, I think about solid breath support, breath control as I release each phrase, avoiding tension in my throat and jaw, and placing the tone in a resonant spot in the mask (front of my face) while lifting my soft palate and keeping my phrasing in line. When I practice, I’m thinking about all of these ideas at once and I’m always trying to improve and remain aware of what my vocal mechanism is doing. After I sing scales, I start singing music. Learning a new song is first about the notes, second about the phrase, and third about getting the song into my body. It has to come naturally and be a song I can sing when I’m feeling good or bad or tired or pissed or whatever. Translating the language (Italian, French or German, most often), learning what the words mean, pronouncing everything correctly, and making the song come to life in the context of the larger story are all parts of daily practice. When the technique and the emotion strike balance, there’s a feeling of complete euphoria and truth that is so incredible to experience. This doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s very exciting.

Translating the practice to an audition or to a rehearsal is another aspect of what I do. I haven’t performed a major role yet, but I’ve done concerts and have sung some small roles and ensemble things over the past 3 1/2 years, and the process of creating characters and situations on stage is something I love. Reacting and feeling with the other people on stage, creating scenarios and bringing words and notes to life within a story is all part of performing and singing an opera on stage.

As a musician and artist, I hope that my future is full of music. I hope to develop my voice to its full potential, sing complete roles, and sing as often and as widely as possible. My goal is to sing even if I don’t get paid to do it. I want to meet more singers, participate in singing programs and young artist programs, which train young singers as they emerge into professionalism, and to learn as much as I can about what I do. I want to work with other singers and musicians to find truth within our music, and perform as honestly and passionately on stage as possible. I always want music and singing to be a part of my life, even if it never becomes my full time profession, because I can’t imagine living without it.

If you, or someone you know would like to be featured here, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.

Visiting Artist Series: Helen and Lindi, And a Tale of “DIY Till I Die” Teamwork

I am loving this series because it is on the self-indulgent side. I get to chat up all of these amazing people who do things I wish I could and who have brains that work in ways I don’t always understand, but greatly appreciate. I do not make… things. I do not have a hot glue gun, I do not knit, and I don’t paint (walls, furniture, canvas, you name it). When I want something my first inclination is not to make it, it’s to run out and purchase it or suffer without. I believe this comes from some sort of lazy gene passed down from my mother who also doesn’t make shit but who wields a Nordstrom card like a ninja.

But Helen and Lindi are of the magical set who actually consider making things… like face scrub… or wedding invitations. And then they… do. They make things from A-Z, they sell things (Visit their etsy shop), they are photographers (Check out their website), they are partners in life and in art (and in crime). They are an inspiration to people like me to finally get off our buts and do something about all of the awesome ideas we have floating around in our head before we decide to just up and take a nap.

***

Helen: I think that art is whatever you make it. Lindi and I do photography together, make jewelry and such to sell on Etsy, and embark on lots of fun artsy projects for ourselves (Card making! Metal stamping! Chair painting!). I think making art (and enjoying it) is a pretty integral part of who I am, and actually, who we are together. Our artistic endeavors are one of the things we do for fun, and working together on projects brings us closer together as a team.

Lindi: I used to have a really hard time owning the word ‘artist’ or even ‘photographer’. I think we often get hung up on these words because we feel like we have to be producing a certain quality of work before we can call ourselves an artist, but that just isn’t the case. By creating something, we are artists and that’s pretty amazing. I love that this is something that Helen and I can do together and creating art with someone, any kind of art, is always kind of a moving experience. It’s enjoyable to see what sorts of things we draw from it as a team and to see how we take something shared and make it our own. Plus, the instant gratification of having her feedback is sort of awesome.

Helen: I agree with what Lindi said about judging our worthiness as artists based on the perceived quality of our work. I think it’s partly on how we judge the work ourselves, especially in comparison to others’ work, and also how much others value it.

***

Yes!!! This is an amazing point, and I agree 100%. It’s a difficult thing to shake, the need to have other people tell you the value of your work in order to give it any value at all. I think it’s part of capitalism. Everything has a price and the higher the price the more valued it is. How do you value creation and art in a world obsessed with numbers and the bottom line?

***

Helen: Growing up with a sister who is an absolutely amazing visual artist and a mother who went to college for art and teaches high school art in my hometown, I never really felt like I was an artist at all. Even though I did artistic things- I’ve been taking photos and working with paper since I was much younger- to me, the definition of an ‘artist’ was someone who painted, drew, etc. I did/do none of those things, and frankly, am pretty terrible at them. Over the course of my life, I’ve found myself saying things like, ‘Oh, I’m the non-artistic one in the family; I just _________” (scrapbook, take photos, etc.) As I’ve gotten older, I can definitely see how my definition of the title ‘artist’ has changed. Now, I see that the work Lindi and I do together is definitely art, even if I’m not doing it with watercolors or charcoal.

Lindi: I think that I’ve finally just begun to accept this title, because I, like Helen, come from a pretty creative family. My mom was quite the artist growing up and one of my sisters was always very involved in visual arts. I liked drawing and painting, but I never considered it anything more than a passing hobby. I certainly wasn’t passionate about it the way they were. I didn’t have extensive portfolios and I mostly only did it to pass the time. When I was much younger and started taking photos, my family sort of indulged me and started buying me film for my grandmother’s point and shoot. It was a fun hobby, but I still did not consider it art at the time. As my eye developed and people started valuing my work, I had to step back and see that I was creating something really worthwhile. It’s funny that that was sort of a shocking revelation, but it definitely was.

Helen: We started doing artsy things together basically from the day we met. We were friends, then more, and now we’re married (eee!) and we’ve been collaborating on projects the whole way. I can definitely see how the relationship between us and the arts evolved, though. When we met, I did photography on my own and would model for Lindi quite often, but we didn’t do photography together very much– and now we have our own photography business where we work together all the time. (It helps that we have two cameras now…) We have done hundreds of crafty/artsy projects together, and it’s always so much fun. I definitely feel more motivated and excited about taking on new things, now that I have someone to share it with.

Helen & Lindi

Lindi: Helen actually really changed the game for me. I was pretty crafty before I met her, but I hadn’t really started working as a photographer yet. Helen would model for me in ridiculous dresses, in rivers, in the snow. She was a really good sport. I think it was with her encouragement that I started finally letting people pay me for things. I think the most wonderful thing about doing something creative with your partner is that you have a cheerleader, someone who supports you and lifts you up, but isn’t afraid to tell you what they really think either. I can’t really imagine not having that sort of support in my life. I know it’s made me a better artist. I’ll admit that I can sometimes be really terrible at completing projects. Before working together with Helen,I would often start things and then forget about them. Now I have someone who can tap me on the shoulder and say: ‘Hey, are you ever going to finish that?’

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Visiting Artist: Catherine, All Hands On

Catherine, of onelittlestar, emailed me very soon after I announced the Visiting Artist Series about wanting to be part of it and I was stoked. I mean, she’s like… a real artist who makes things that aren’t just words on a page. I’m always impressed by these people. I can’t draw worth shit, and I certainly can’t make 3D objects that are worth anything. The best I can do is some play-dough snakes. But Catherine makes some seriously beautiful jewelery (you should check out at her etsy shop) and some super vibrant paintings. I especially like the “Today I…” series where she paints and sketches self portraits. I freaking love self portraits. And her attitude about being an artist and her love of what she creates is so incredibly deep, reading her words makes me want to work harder, push further, continue learning my craft. Bottom line, Catherine makes me want to do better. 

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I am an artist because I make art.  I like to be creative, I like to make things.  I make jewelry, I paint, I draw, I take photos,  I use fiber and textiles.   I love making all kinds of things and I always want to try new mediums.  I think the things I make are art, and that makes me an artist.

Today It Rained Again

I have always felt like an artist in some way.  I was always told I was an artist ever since I was little, so I guess I always believed it.

The artist title fits into my free time; when I am home from work and on weekends.  I always say I am an artist for fun.  I need a creative outlet. I say it is for fun because I don’t feel like I can say it is “what I do” because it doesn’t support me financially. It is not my profession, but it is much more who I am than my day job.  As a result I feel the need to excuse my occupation to some extent when someone asks me what I do, so I say I am a Mutual Fund Accountant, but I like to make art. I am not at all interested in talking about what is technically my job – I do not feel passionate about it.  I do want to talk about making art, my jewelry and my etsy shop and what I am creating.

I think it is something I am still working on reconciling.

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I think this is something everyone struggles with, artists are not the only ones to have a crisis of identity. What we do at our day jobs is rarely who we are on the inside, is never all we are, yet is always assumed to be meaningful. “Oh, what do you do?” is an easy question that answers some things, but never enough things, about people.

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I am living the identity of an artist by constantly creating.  I am mostly working on my silver jewelry these days but I also draw, paint, take photos and recently have been very into Japanese braiding.  I try to do some kind of art everyday.  Even if I am exhausted after work I try to do a little something….which once I get started can turn into a lot of something.  Once I get going on a project I like to keep working on it.  My husband sometimes has to force me to stop working because it is 1 in the morning and I have to work the next day.  When I am on a roll I really like to stay with it.

My art feels very personal.  I put a lot into it; a lot of time, a lot of thought and a lot of work.  I feel like I am putting myself into my work throughout the process; coming up with an idea for a piece, sketching it out, deciding on the design, carving the wax, getting it cast, filing the metal, finishing the piece. Everything I make is important to me as a result of all that time, effort and thought and I feel very attached to my pieces.

I love coming up with ideas, and carving them into wax.  I am always excited to get my pieces back from casting and see how they have turned out.  I have given a lot of my jewelry as gifts and it makes me really happy to see people wearing things I have made. When people tell me that they like my pieces, that they wear them all the time, or when I see them wearing something I made them in their Christmas card it makes me feel very proud.  It feels really good to make something that people enjoy and that is a part of their lives.

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Visiting Artists: Lizzie and Isaiah, Dynamic Duo

When I first began thinking about a visiting artist series, Lizzie and Isaiah were some of the first people I thought of. Mostly because I am fascinated by their dynamic and completely in awe of how creative and – from my view way over here on the couch – very successful at what they do and making what they are good at/what they love work for them (vs being a slave to the industry. Oh ennui!). What I see in them is a strength few couples have – the ability to feed each other creatively and in doing so make each other better artists (and better people, as all good relationships do). In my pretend world I would like Kamel and I to function like these two. But I don’t think it will ever be just so.

Lizzie and Isaiah share their adventures, stories, and amazing work over at Love Your Way (which is on the verge of being renamed to BadSmith). And sometimes I have to squint one eye when reading over there because of how good it is. If I look at it sideways sometimes I can prevent the the self-doubt-by-comparison that seeps in. But usually it’s no use. They are that good. Damn them.

I always start off this project asking them how they define themselves as artist. I love this question because it is tricky for everyone, including me. It’s like once you say it you better have proof! I worry it comes off arrogant, like it’s a title only other people are allowed to assign to you. But really, I think it’s important to claim it. So hearing how other artists are traversing the rocky mountains of being an Artist with a capital A seems like insight into a very personal struggle.

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Lizzie and Isaiah say:

We’ve had a tough go of defining ourselves. That’s basically what our whole blog is about – finding our way and figuring out what we want to be “when we grow up.” Isaiah has always wanted to be a graphic designer and fine artist, so I would say he is the one constant and the only artist of the two of us at all. I wouldn’t call myself an artist, exactly. (Lauren edit: Yes you are.)

I will say that we’ve redefined figuring out “what we want to be” for ourselves to include many things and it’s an idea that remains very malleable for us because of it. We’ve just narrowed it down to this: whatever you can create from scratch, that’s what you should do. When I do design work, it’s all very play-doughy. I can move things around, play with typography and come up with new ideas to say old things, but Isaiah – Isaiah can create from scratch something new and awe-worthy. He can paint a blank canvas to be something extraordinary while I never ventured from paint-by-numbers. Words are the thing I can give life to. It’s hard when your “art” isn’t visual, per se, to define yourself as an artist, though.

Lizzie: I have a tough time accepting the descriptors and identifiers that go along with “artist.” I don’t often feel creative. I don’t feel unique. But the things you do that seem so simple can seem inspiring to others, it seems. I’m also a learning machine, so I have taught myself a lot of things that are considered creative – but I don’t know that I have the visual-artist-vein like Isaiah does. I don’t think a lot of value is given to words unless they’re bound up in a tangible book with a New York Times sticker on the front. Otherwise, they often go unnoticed and undervalued.

Isaiah: I believe the term “artist” is relative. Sometimes, I feel like I’m on to something unique – but more often, I find that what I’m working on is a reproduction of something I have filed away in the back of my memory at some point. But that’s the aim – to be original and unique. We’re taught in school and reminded every day that nothing is new anymore. Everything is recycled and re-imagined. So I suppose the goal is to be the best reimanigator that exists.

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Visiting Artist: Allison Renner, Jack of all Trades

There are so many people out there (me included) that are more than just dabbling in the arts, but really trying to make a go at it. Trying to figure out where we fit in the big scheme of things, how to make money and do what we’re good at, what we love. But it’s easy to forget that we’re not alone in the journey. Being an artist can be isolating, which is one reason why I wanted to start this series. Working and living in/with/around/for the arts can also seem glamorous or crazy or impossible. Sometimes it is all of those things, sometimes all at once, and sometimes not at all, not even a little. Sometimes it’s just work, and a lot of the time you’re fighting your own insecurities and uncertainties trying to get that work done.

I think you’ll really be able to connect with Allison Renner (who I mentioned a little over a month ago). She’s got her hand in multiple pots. And, like so many very talented people I know, is a jack of all trades – which may be the hardest artistic identity to wrangle.

It’s hard to define myself as an artist because I’m not sure I have a certain style. People have told me my fiction, even with stories dissimilar in subject matter and style, has a certain something that lets the reader know each story is mine – but I honestly have no clue what that is.

My photography: I don’t think it has anything cohesive about it that makes it “mine.” I’m not sure that’s a bad thing with photography though – I like seeing things my way and documenting it, then letting the viewer interpret it their own way. That’s my favorite thing about visual arts – making up my own story.

For my design work, I have a kind of silly style. Not necessarily whimsical and cutesy, but I like to think my personality comes across in a lot of what I produce. I try to tone it down when doing custom freelance work, because the customer knows what they want. That’s when I just let my personality come out in my interactions to make them feel like they can ask me anything and suggest different ideas and shoot me down if what I produce isn’t what they wanted. But I feel like my personal designs are all pretty fun and lighthearted – simple linework drawings, photographs, and text.

I think I feel more comfortable calling myself an artist since I have a graphic design background – I worked as an artist for four years. In terms of meeting someone now and calling myself an artist… I can’t do it. If I do, I immediately qualify it with “Well, I’m a graphic artist,” or “I’m freelancing,” or shrugging it off and explaining that I’m experimenting, trying to find my place. Despite hearing so many people say you need to do what makes you happy, I don’t think too many people actually believe you can make it happen, so I always feel like I need to explain why I’m trying to make it as an artist. I’m definitely still trying to feel comfortable with it and not justifying it just to make people think they understand me. I need to simply state that I’m an artist and leave it at that.

When I asked Allison where she felt she was heading as an artist, she said some things I find incredibly brave. Especially to say out loud.

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