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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pass the Tissues…

My daughter recently asked, “Mom, are you going to cry a lot this spring? You always cry at our events.” To which I replied, “Of course. It’s what I do.” This is both a humorous observation, and a serious one.

It’s true—I cry at the drop of a hat. We artists are emotional. Plus, in our house we are embarking on a season of change. Our firstborn is about to graduate from eighth grade. He’s been at the same school for nine years, and this chapter is about to end. Oh sure, graduations are beginnings, too, I know. But from an emotional mom’s perspective, it’s bittersweet and it takes time to digest it.

I remember my graduation from eighth grade. Although I was very excited to start high school, at my eighth grade graduation I did shed tears. I was going to miss my friends (none of whom were going to my high school). But I was so ready for the next chapter, too. Like a snake shedding her old skin, the teenaged me was ready for something bigger, something different. I think most teens look forward to a future filled with new opportunities. New adventures. New privileges. Finally being old enough to do x, y and z.

This is in stark contrast to my current stage. One of the few things I’m not yet old enough to do is collect Social Security! Time has taken on a completely different feel. Did this happen when I became a mom? Or does it feel that way once your teenager is taller than you are? We see our growing kids and we’re instantly transported back to when we were their age, walking across the graduation platform, leaving one stage and beginning a new chapter. Other transitions will be meaningful, too. But this one feels monumental to me. I think it is because more change happens in the first fourteen years than in any other fourteen year span. Teens will change over the four years in high school, yes, but not as much. The physical, emotional and mental growing these kids have done in the last nine years makes this graduation feel especially significant. 

Truthfully, I started crying about all of this last fall! I couldn’t help it. Changes were on the way. In December, seeing my kid singing in the holiday show for the last time just set the tears a-flowin’. All the teenagers suddenly looked grown up, and I felt emotional. Of course, since I started my crying last fall, maybe by June I’ll be all dried out. I doubt it, but who knows?

Watching your kid become a teen sure is fascinating. It happens fast, but not overnight. There’s time to marvel at the deepening voice, the hairs on his face, his having “teen” in his age. And yes, my daughter is right. I do cry a lot! And I’m not apologizing for it. It’s my way of processing the changes that are coming. Time is racing along, whether I’m ready or not. (And while I sometimes think I’m not ready, I usually find that we adjust pretty quickly to the next chapter. We are stronger than we think we are. Yes, transitions can be nerve-racking but we will make it…)

Recently I watched a mom hold her young baby, whose sock had fallen off, revealing a miniature foot that kicked and curled. These days my baby boy is a fourteen-year-old with hair on his feet. Oh, how I love babies. I’m not in the market for another, but I do love seeing them. I remember the days when we didn’t leave home without a bag stuffed to the gills with diapers, toys, wipes, snacks, a baby blanket and a change of clothes…While it was a relief to graduate from carting a closet around with me, seeing the young mom’s diaper bag sure brought me back. Parenting older kids is different from having a baby. Both stages involve challenge…and reward.

Actually, I think we still have the diaper bag tucked away somewhere. And while I no longer drag around diapers and baby toys, that bag sure can hold a lot. It probably could hold thousands of tissues. So if you see me at graduation with a bulging diaper bag, you’ll know why. And if you start getting teary, too, I’ll have plenty of tissues to share.

Monday, May 7, 2018

I Heart Art (Shows)

It feels like I just ran a one hundred mile ultramarathon, with a grand piano strapped to my back, while wearing pinecones instead of shoes. In other words, I’m tired. I’ve spent the last two weeks preparing for a big art show at the school where I teach--and I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that by the day of the show, my feet were killing me, despite wearing supportive clogs. Also, my brain was in knots from counting art, cross-checking names, sorting art, gluing art to background paper, labeling art and occasionally removing labels from art after determining that this art piece was not done by this Luciana, but by that Luciana. And there were blisters on three of my fingers. But the good news is that I put together my first art show as an elementary art teacher, and I lived to tell the tale! Not only did I survive, but I also felt very proud of the show.

There were more than 450 pieces of art at the show. Almost 400 were done in my classes, and the rest were done with homeroom teachers. They were displayed against neutral backdrops of black fabric and white tablecloths, which made the bright colors of the art pop. We had drawings, paintings and origami pieces. Not all of the projects completed this school year were in the show because I gave back the fall projects before I learned there would be a spring art show. But each student chose a piece in the show and there was variety.

Here are a few thoughts and anecdotes from the last two weeks:

A few days before the show I had a brief spell of panic, while sorting art. I was in a fog after labeling hundreds of pieces of art, and maybe this led to self-doubt. Unfortunately, I started falling down the rabbit’s hole. I wondered if I could put together a good enough show. I questioned whether I had taught the kids something interesting this year. I began to fret and worry. Panic set in. But then…I yanked myself out of the rabbit’s hole and sternly said to myself, “Shut UP! SHUT UP!!!!” This was my way of halting the downward spiral of self-doubt. I simply didn’t have time to be derailed by doubt. There was a looming deadline and too much to do.

Soon after, I turned the corner with the preparations. The next day I felt more confident and I told Hubby about my stern talk with myself the day before. I am prone to self-doubt. I have very high expectations of myself and because of that doubt can creep in. And when you’re intimidated, a task can loom as large as Mt. Everest. I’ve learned something really valuable because of the busy schedule leading up to the show: simply refusing to succumb to doubt is a helpful response! This was the first time I’d ever told myself that we didn’t have time for doubt. Historically, I’ve let doubt set up camp, but this time I moved past the quicksand, and found that my fears were unfounded. I’m going to try to use this technique in the future, even if I don’t have a looming deadline. 

Kirigami flowers made by my seventh grade class. Kirigami is different from origami in that you cut paper.

Kindergarten Aboriginal art piece. Aboriginal art often incorporates circles and dots.

First grade Aboriginal art. 

First grade art: an introduction to perspective. I thought it was charming that this student decided to label each crop.

Second grade: Aboriginal art. In this type of art, there is a lot of pattern in the background. 

Third grade: Aboriginal art, including circles, geometric shapes and of course, dots.

Third grade art: Aboriginal designs in earth colors.

Fourth grade Aboriginal art: an animal is often the main focus of the art, with shapes in the background.

Fifth grade art: still life drawings of bird of paradise flower, lemon and three-dimensional container.

Fifth grade still life. This student's bold outline gives the piece a distinct look.

Another fifth grade still life. Lots of texture and added color in this one.

Fifth grade. Same subject matter. Completely different style.

Fifth grade still life. Lots of texture.

So much action and life in this fifth grader's still life.

More Aboriginal art, using a traditional earth tones color palette. Aboriginal artists made paint from clay, dirt, charcoal and other substances found in nature.

Fifth grade: an introduction to perspective drawing, in which all receding lines meet at the vanishing point on the horizon line.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art incorporating the use of symbols, which recorded major events.

Sixth grade: Aboriginal art including symbols commonly used.

Seventh grade: raccoon drawing. This project tied in with a book the students read, Where the Red Fern Grows. In the book the main character has coon hunting dogs.

Seventh grade: another raccoon, but with a completely different style.

Seventh grade: a curious raccoon...

Eighth grade: bird of paradise still life.

Eighth grade Aboriginal piece: dots for days...

Eighth grade still life: full of color.

The day before the show some students came into the library, where the art show was. The library looked quite different with its temporary fabric “walls” up. One first grader came in and said with confusion, “Is this the library?” So cute.

It’s been a full year. At the beginning of the school year I wasn’t sure I could teach. The hard parts of teaching were harder than I’d expected. Noise and behavior were big issues. But at some point, I turned a corner. I got savvier. The kids are still noisy but they have warmed up to me. The little ones hug me and the teenagers try to teach me dance moves and new slang. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m returning to do it next year.

I feel proud to be an art teacher. I’m new at it, but I think I’m doing a good job. No, I’m not curing cancer. But helping kids to learn something is important, too. Showing them that they can do art, that they can shade something to look 3-D and that they can draw--this helps them overcome their self-doubt. For the ones who are creative, it gives them pride to see their art displayed in a show. Some of the kids remind me of myself when I was a first grader. I was very shy, and I was as uncoordinated as a newborn octopus wearing roller skates. Sports scared me—but art was where I could shine. So I relate to the little artists in my class who may struggle with spelling or math or sports—but who love to draw. And for the ones who don't believe they are artists, when they try, they show themselves that they have potential far beyond what they imagined...

Friday, April 13, 2018

April Capers

Today’s blog post is a roundup of some of my doings in the last few weeks. 
My April Capers (kind of rhymes). (PS  Capers as in antics—not the pickled flower buds).

Alternate title ideas for this post:

·         * Nothing Rhymes with April
·         * Wake me when it’s mid-June

My three kids had spring breaks on different weeks (again), which is fine by me. This means I had half as much school juggling each of those two weeks, and I could feel the difference. Spring break came not a second too soon. The kids were exhausted and so was I. By the time the last week of March limped into view, we were seven months into the nine-month sprint that is the school year. I’m worn out! We’ll make it to June, but I won’t be running any marathons the day after graduation. I’ll be taking naps.

And so here are the joys and a few surprises that made up our spring break:

…Relaxing at home, reading good books…

…A few local outings (a hike, a picnic, playing at the park with school friends)…

…Dental surgery for me. (I said accusingly to the dentist, “How come there’s no good dental news after 40?!” He laughed, and agreed…)

…Noticing a zillion flowers in bloom…

…Dying eggs with my daughters…

…Decorating Easter eggs with origami and tissue paper…

…Digging a painting out of the pile and working on it for the first time in ten plus years. (Yes, I know it’s crazy not to have finished it years ago but hey, I’ve been a little busy…)

…Crafternoons, crafter-mornings and art projects I’ve been wanting to do for months…For instance, in case you have dozens of caps from dried out permanent markers, you can upcycle them into a necklace and sunglasses.

…My accidentally spilling hundreds of grains of sugar into the silverware drawer because there weren’t nearly enough messes already…

…Listening to happy laughter as my teen aged son chats with his friend…

…Noticing that the weeds are quadrupling in size overnight—whereas my flower bulbs seem to be on a glacially slow schedule for budding…

…My youngest daughter looking in the mirror a few days ago, and saying, “Wow—I’m really growing up!”

…Becoming accidental bee keepers last weekend when hundreds of bees swarmed in our back yard. Eventually they congregated on the fabric cover over our grill. The next day only a few remained and so we thought they had found another permanent home far away. But on the third day Hubby opened the grill and saw that they were actually inside the lid! We decided to keep the lid open so they would feel like it wasn’t private enough, and would move on. But by day four, they had made three rows of flat honeycombs. As of today, there are not many bees around so they may have found a new home (with a closed door). It’s been pretty cool to watch the busiest workers around and their live nature show.

…And maybe best of all during those two (half) break weeks: not having to rush rush RUSH as much as usual.

Until next time: I hope you’re enjoying the start of spring as much as I am. Talk to you soon…

Friday, March 16, 2018

Ready, Set, Draw!

Many of my blog posts are about my crazy misadventures. I don’t write a blog to brag about an allegedly perfect life, complete with airbrushed photos. Nope, I try to keep it real here.

That having been said, I hope this won’t seem like a brag fest, but I’m excited to share the news that I am a runner-up in a local art contest. Allow me to share the back story, because I always find the back story just as interesting as the result.   

Here is my cover. I didn't cover all the white space, but I like the contrast between white and the bright colors.

If you live in San Diego, Readers will be available for another day or so. I'm on page 15!

Twenty years ago, in my early days as a struggling artist, I picked up the San Diego Reader magazine every Thursday. I’d scan the alphabetical classified ads for art jobs. Every once in a while there was an ad posted for artists, but oftentimes there was nothing between Aquarium and Assistant. This was before I had a home computer, before Craigslist came to San Diego, and before social media helped artists to show their work. So the Reader was a way to look for work and to read about exhibits of other artists’ work. It was also FREE, and did I mention that I was a struggling artist? When you are a struggling artist and every single dollar counts, free magazines are appreciated.

Although I don’t search for art jobs in the Reader anymore, it’s still a magazine I look at for the local human interest stories and news about events in San Diego. It’s the offbeat cousin to the more upscale local magazines, and I love that it doesn’t cater to a privileged crowd. The Reader keeps it real.

A month ago the cover of the Reader was blank—literally an empty canvas, announcing a contest for creating the cover. As you know, I don’t do things half way, so I did not one cover but ten. I kept all ten to a color scheme of turquoise, red and yellow, because I envisioned all ten working together. At night, I’d work on my covers for a few minutes, and it was therapeutic. It helped me unwind. And I decided that whether my cover was picked or not, it was worth my time and effort because the contest prompted me to create something unusual and imaginative, and that’s always a good thing. I ended up submitting five designs. Most were abstract. The one they chose had a mix of designs, influenced by the Moroccan arches I love, and by Mexican tile design—with a dash of this and that thrown in.

Here is my cover, partly completed.

Yesterday I received an email that I’d been awarded a prize as a runner up. Today I picked up a copy of The Reader and I was delighted and surprised to see my art and name in print. (I wasn’t sure that the runners up would be printed.) If I counted right, there were more than 170 submissions. I’m okay with not winning the contest. It honestly feels awesome to be in the top five!

This is one of the covers I submitted. It includes nine of my ten designs, working together as a whole.

Will this change my career, or my life in general? No. Prizes aren't my motivation. But at the same time, I am feeling happy that my art has been recognized. It isn’t easy trying to forge a career in the arts. It’s hard to deal with the rejection when you put so much heart and soul into what you do. For me, there is no separation between what I make and who I am, so rejection feels personal. I’ve applied for many art related jobs over the years, submitted proposals for public art, and entered art shows and contests, and usually my art was not accepted. Being passed by when I’d done my best has hurt my ego—I won’t lie. Finding a way to make a living in the arts has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. So on a day like this, seeing my art in print, it feels good.

I hope this post hasn’t been too boastful. Believe me, future posts will revert to my usual subject matter of crazy moments and embarrassing tales. But I don’t think it’s wrong to share the triumphant moments once in a while. Life isn’t easy, and I think it’s good to grab hold of the happy moments and to squeeze as much joy from them as we can. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Pique Assiette Garden Wall (DIY)

Let’s start our French lesson for today, oui? We will be discussing pique assiette. This is the fancy French term for mosaic art made from lots of different things. For many years I’ve used a mix of this and that in my art, and it’s great fun.

Today I decided to look up the definition for pique assiette, and it’s not very flattering. It means “scrounger.” It brings to mind someone cobbling together a dinner from dumpster castoffs. But let’s step away from the literal translation. At its heart pique assiette means the combining of varied pieces, including broken ceramics. I love repurposing, and mixing and matching. Not following a formula. You don’t need expensive materials to make art. There’s beauty in everyday objects, too. 

My latest DIY project is in our back yard. It combines two things I love: mosaic and gardening. For me, it’s extra satisfying to create something unique without spending a lot. This forces you to be extra creative, which is a good thing. I’m delighted that I made this garden wall for less than $80.

Here is my cost breakdown:

Latex paint, plants, misc items   (already had them)         $       0
Marbles and ceramic plates                                              $   8.80
Cement blocks, paving stones, tile adhesive                    $ 62.04         
Mortar                                                                                $   4.90
Acrylic paint                                                                       $   3.02

Total                                                                                   $ 78.76

My goal for this wall was a bohemian, funky, unique conversation piece. It incorporates items from different places and from various years of my life. I see costume jewelry I had in high school. I see metal buttons I bought from a fashion designer who was cleaning out his storage unit. There are tiles I got from a resale store, quirky items found at garage sales, old family keys, and plastic buttons from my artist friend Sam. This garden wall is like a photo album of my life—one that holds plants. 

If you’re considering making your own concrete block planter, it’s not hard. It was satisfying to dream up an idea and then make it happen.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’m going to pat myself on my back. I lifted each of these twenty six blocks myself (multiple times)—and each is twenty five pounds, so it’s a great arm workout! This was my first ever attempt at mixing concrete and trowling it onto concrete blocks to make a wall. Hubby gave me a few verbal tips but I did every inch of this twelve foot wall myself. (I am woman! Hear me roar!) By no stretch of the imagination is my first attempt at cement professional caliber/perfect (I hate that word—too much pressure). But I’m proud that I gave it a try and that I’m not holding myself to standards a newbie can’t reach. I want to do more things that challenge me out of my comfort zone. Perfection isn’t the goal. Stretching myself is.

Art is therapeutic for me. Making this planter gave me a boost every time I selected a marble or a piece of broken plate, and set it in place. When I felt stressed, I turned to the broken plates and the mishmash of found objects, and putting together a unique combination was a balm on my frustration. Creative projects don’t eliminate our stresses, but they help us cope with them. Scientists have found that creative projects boost our moods and lower our heart rate. And if we get a planter out of the experience, that’s a cool perk, too…

Or as the famous French phrase goes: don’t cry over broken plates. Make mosaic. Tres bien!