On travel, creating/not creating, paying attention, and experiments with panels

Ugh, I had the best of intentions when I made this new site to write here more often. I have perpetual grandiose plans to write often and explore ideas about artmaking and life and all kinds of stuff, and it never seems to actually happen. I think it's the usual problem about feeling like I have to wait to be "inspired" or to feel like there is something I want to write about or to be in the mood for it. But I suspect that, like many things in life, writing is something that you just have to make a habit of and sit down and do it even if you don't really "feel like it." I often don't "feel like" doing art every day, but I've found it extremely useful to make a disciplined practice of just doing it. Often the act of just sitting down and making something gets me interested and I want to keep going.

I think the difficulty with writing in particular is that it feels very vulnerable, very public ("what if someone reads it and thinks X?!) and also, perversely, fraught with fear of lack of attention or effect ("what if nobody reads it at all?!). I do not consider myself a writer, but I enjoy writing and once in a while I guess something I write turns out ok. I feel the same about photography. People sometimes mistake me for a photographer because I have a fairly nice camera that looks impressive. But I would never actually call myself a photographer. I guess I'm an artist who sometimes uses photography? Or an artist who sometimes writes? It would certainly be better to write a smaller post once a week than to do this massive freaking brain dump every few months (which is, honestly, just asking for "nobody reading it at all").

Anyway, I guess I can blame some of the lack of updates here since August on the fact that I spent a lot of that month planing an epic 10-day driving/camping trip around Iceland's Ring Road. 


I always want to write about upcoming travel, but I never do because it seems pretty stupid to basically announce to the world that you won't be home for a couple of weeks. I know the likelihood of someone actually reading this ("what if nobody reads it at all?!") and figuring out where I live (it's probably not that difficult actually) and breaking into my house and stealing...what...my 8-year old plasma TV? My "super fancy" jewelry (hint: I have no actual valuable jewelry) is pretty unlikely. But it still seems idiotic to broadcast one's absence. 

Anyway, we rented a big 4x4 truck with a camper on the back and drove around everywhere and hiked and looked at waterfalls and went in hot baths and it was amazing. I have almost 6,000 photos which I'm still in the process of sorting through. 


Iceland is...just lovely. Everywhere you look has a stark beauty to it that really, really resonated with me. The landscape changes so much- you can drive for an hour and see three or four completely different kinds of topography. I didn't bring any art supplies with me because we're pretty intense travelers and it wasn't unusual for us to be on the go from 8 am to 8 pm. I guess I could have done some drawing or painting on the days I wasn't driving, but I honestly just enjoyed staring out the window and taking photos. 

I've made such a habit out of at least trying to create something every day that it's weird for me to not be creating. Yes, I guess you could say photography is a kind of creation, but for me it's more of a passive thing, just a way of actually preserving whatever I'm soaking up. (A lot of the photos I took are actually pretty bad photos in themselves, but they will be amazing fodder for digital collages.) There were a few points during the trip when I was almost thinking "I can't wait to get home and start making art with these amazing photos!" But I do think that it's helpful and valuable for me to take kind of an enforced break from making stuff and to just sit and absorb and take things in. Fill the well. 

Of course when I got home I felt somewhat off-kilter and it's taken me a little while to get back into a good creative flow. I stopped doing my Art Journal for the whole month of September, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it up on the road. We returned on the 20th but I still didn't start it again until October 1. I started one digital collage based on an Iceland photo, which I'm pretty happy with so far. I think my brain is still processing all the amazing sights.


I think something nice happens when traveling, where I'm just focused on wandering around and looking and stuff and enjoying it. I'm not worrying about the future and what's going on with my career and what's happening next month. It's an opportunity to live very much in the present. I try to not even worry about what the next day will bring. This time I realized that part of what contributes to that mindset is a deliberate choice to not pay attention to the news. We had a little Wi-Fi thing so we had internet access everywhere except in one of the more remote towns we stayed in. I popped into Facebook occasionally and checked email but didn't really read anything, and certainly did not look at any news sites. It was nice. 

And now that I'm back to reality, I've attempted to keep that going. It's not that I'm sticking my head in the sand. I want to be engaged with the world and to be informed. I'm just trying to figure out how to do it in a way that doesn't make me crazy. I used to spend a lot more time reading articles that people shared on Facebook or that I found on my own, and I also used to listen to NPR pretty much any time I was in the kitchen. I turned on NPR once since we got back and they were talking about how screwed up Venezuela is. I turned it off pretty quickly. It's not that I don't care about Venezuela. It's that there is nothing I can do about Venezuela while driving my car. There is not much value in making myself sad and anxious about stuff that is going on in the world that I have no control over. I know it sounds callous, but it isn't. It's perhaps an overabundance of empathy that is my problem, where I can't hear things without really, really caring about it. And really caring about things you can't control is kind of exhausting. I don't know where the balance is. I feel like it's basically being a bad person to just keep your head in the sand and tend your own garden, but also I really doubt the utility value of constantly "being informed" if all you can do is fret and bitch on Facebook. I literally do not need to fill my limited headspace with whatever brain-diarrhea Donald Trump is tweetingtoday.


So for now I've settled on checking the headlines once a day on a news app on my phone, and that's it. Instead of listening to NPR while cooking, I've been listening to podcasts. And honestly, even the silliest of them feels like a better use of my time. I feel so much calmer, and maybe even a little more positive about the world. As is my habit, I started hunting around online for articles that would help me not feel like a shitty person for disengaging from the constant onslaught of news, and I found this article ("Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News", which I really like. I can definitely say that those five things have been true for me! 

Back to the studio, I'm trying to get some things finished for the Delaware County Studio Tour. I've been feeling a bit frustrated with my mixed-media work lately, particularly when it came to actually finishing anything. Usually when I feel frustrated in my art process, it means it's time to try something new. So I'm experimenting with using wooden panels as a support for my mixed-media pieces. I spent this evening mounting some finished and some unfinished pieces to panels, and I'm pretty happy about it. 


In art school, I mostly worked on canvas, just because that's what you're supposed to do. But I never liked the texture of it, and soon moved to paper. Which I love, but it can be flimsy and bendy and there's the perpetual problem of what to do with it when a piece is finished. You can't just hang a piece of paper on a wall, so you have to frame it. And frames are ridiculously expensive and a pain in the ass to transport. Get one little scratch on it and you can't sell it. For a while I've settled on a compromise solution for selling at art shows- putting paper pieces in a mat and a clear plastic bag and calling it a day. Let the buyer figure out framing. But there are disadvantages to that too. So we'll see how these panels work in the real world. So far I'm thrilled with how these look and I'm wondering why it took me so long to figure out that this might be an option!