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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!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dozens of Dots

Teaching art to kids over the last five months has meant that I don’t blog as much as I once did. Hey—I only have twenty four hours in a day, just like everyone else. But I do like writing, and it’s fun to share stories of what my students are making. So here is my first blog post of 2018.

I teach students in Kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade, and in January they all created Aboriginal art. As you may know, the Aboriginal people used to record their history by drawing symbols on rock walls. They had no written language, so symbols were developed as a tool for communication. Eventually they used canvas and paper to create their art, and it is often characterized by the use of dots and shapes.

Some people believe that messages were hidden within dot filled Aboriginal art. Either way, this style of art is fascinating to look at, with all its texture and pattern. I’m obsessed with polka dots, so art involving lots of dots is up my alley.

My youngest students did a simplified version of the lesson, incorporating circles, pattern and dots. Lots of dots. I encouraged them to use earth tones, as the Aboriginal artists made “paint” from dirt, bark and charcoal—not sparkly pink paint from the local craft store. Of course, it’s challenging to convince girls in Kindergarten not to use pink and lavender. In some cases, I allowed a little bit of those accent colors but I emphasized that we were trying to do art in the style and color palette of Aboriginal artists.

The older students had a choice of making art with shapes or choosing an animal for the focal point of their art. They surrounded the animals with dots, circles, lines, symbols and shapes, just as the Aborigines did. With no further ado, here are some of the art pieces the students created over the last few weeks. 

One day I wore a polka dot dress to teach, and I was certain that my observant little students would notice my intentional wardrobe choice as a connection to the dots in their art work. They often comment on my clothes. I had almost two hundred students that day, and not one commented on the connection! Oh well…Just when you think you have figured out kids, they rewrite their code…

Teaching has become a little less tiring for me. Maybe I’ve built up some stamina. I really do see teaching as an endurance sport. Hey, if curling is an Olympic sport, I say that teaching should be, too. It takes strength, grit, dedication and lung power. Is it too late to get Teaching onto the docket for the Winter Olympics in a few weeks?

Until next time, this is Sarah the Art Teacher, sharing my final tip for the day. It applies to Aboriginal art, and to life itself: If in doubt, add more polka dots!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This and That

It’s Wednesday again, folks. Not Wacky Wednesday with costumes. It’s whirlwind Wednesday. It’s almost Christmas and once again, I’m not ready. Like everyone I know, I have tons to do this month. Which does not explain why I crafted an antenna ornament for my car instead of chiseling away at the To Do list.

But sometimes the To Do list is overwhelming and you choose to let it be for an hour or two. This is actually a good idea because crafting lowers the blood pressure whereas endless December To Do lists send the BP skyrocketing! Plus, an antenna ornament helps you locate your car in a parking lot, when you can’t remember where you parked.

My final blog post of the year is going to be a mishmash of thoughts. Sometimes we just need to laugh about our misadventures. Here are a few random things from this whirlwind that is my life…

On my final day of teaching art this calendar year, some of the students finished their projects early so I let them have “free draw.” And here we have the latest in an ongoing list of Gender Differences. Boys interpret free draw as “make paper airplanes” and girls take the opportunity to write me love notes, which was a sweet surprise. The boys were told specifically to draw, and not to make paper airplanes. While I’m not usually a fan of gender stereotypes, I’ve observed in my own kids that boys do like moving toys and girls do like to talk. Hence, paper airplanes and love notes.

Anybody else out there have Christmas (or Hanukkah) Card Drama? I’m organized enough to have the relatives’ addresses saved so that I can easily print them up each December. But the list has been rearranged a lot over the years and it’s now a strange hodgepodge. It’s not alphabetical. It’s not grouped into categories like European Relatives and Local Friends. So when I scour the list for how many stamps we need for Europe and Canada, I’m really hunting. I’m checking my list and counting it twice many times. Or in the case of last week’s card drama, counting to twenty three at least ten times in different ways. Where was the twenty-third envelope? I compared the list with the number of envelopes. Twenty. Recounted again: twenty two. And again: twenty one. Eventually I found the last envelope tucked inside another envelope’s flap. But not before I screeched to Hubby that I was “never doing these cards again!” “Until next year?” he asked. Er, yes.

     Earlier this month I had a dream about my address. (What’s that? You’re nominating me for the (un)distinction of Most Boring Dream Ever? You have a point. But you don’t choose dreams the way you choose a tv show—they choose you.) Anyway, in my dream, I realized I’d been using the wrong address for our house—for more than fourteen years! I wondered how the post office knew to keep bringing us lots of junk mail—or any mail at all. And I could not believe I’d gotten my own address wrong for so long. How was this possible? I scanned the neighbor’s house numbers for clues. It was bewildering—wasn’t my address tattooed into my brain? Turns out it was tattooed in—wrong. Not sure what this means. Is it an Alice in Wonderland motif—where everything is not as it’s supposed to be? A metaphor for how unpredictable life is? Who knows. What a relief to wake up and see that my address matched what I thought it was.
     Funny comment from one of my second grade students. During class, the second graders often ask lots of questions. They’re very into getting my approval before doing things—even before sharpening their pencils—so I’m expecting a question about art or shading or paper. But the student comes up to me and says in a very serious tone, “Mrs. Sarah, how did baby Jesus get out of Mary’s stomach in the stable?” I pause. For longer than usual. How do I answer? I don’t want to teach anatomy to seven year olds. Eventually, I tell her that it’s a very good question, and that I like how curious she is, but that we need to focus on finishing her art because it’s our last session of the year. Thankfully, she accepts this (non) explanation and resumes drawing. 

     Feeling extra grateful for friends, family, neighbors and teachers right now…
     One recent morning I nearly fell off the toilet. Alcohol was not involved. But it was before seven a.m. and I wasn’t quite awake. Still, I’ve sat on that toilet for fourteen years-without falling off. I accused Hubby of sneaking into the bathroom at 3 a.m., during my deepest sleep cycle, and silently detaching the toilet from the floor and moving it one inch west. He admitted it and said that this is when he does all his secret work. Busted.

Folks, I told you it would be a mix of this and that—and I was not lying.

On that note, a happy, healthy new year to everyone out there…

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Making my own Flip Flops—by Accident

My shoe was breaking.

Naturally, I was all dressed up, at an upscale art gallery when it happened.

I wondered, what would Lady Gaga do? Rip the shoe in two, turn half into an earring and start a performance art piece.

I didn’t do that.

I wasn’t feeling like a badass right then. I felt like an idiot and I wanted to keep the moment a secret.

So how did I find myself with breaking shoes while in a fancy gallery? A reasonable question. Sometimes I think I attract crazy moments, like I collect jacaranda blossoms on the bottoms of my shoes each June.

Hubby and I were headed to the gallery because my artist friend had a piece in a show there. At home that evening I’d pawed through my closet and found a red dress to wear, and I threw it on. Immediately I ripped it off. (Perhaps I should have sensed this as foreshadowing of events to come.) The dress was not fitting as I’d hoped and I vowed I’d wear skunk-sprayed clothes to the gallery before leaving the house in the dress. (I’m pretty sure I was PMSing that weekend.) After more excavation of my closet I found an outfit more to my liking. I dug out some black dress shoes with a two-inch wedge heel and felt (reasonably) ready to head downtown.

This shoe debacle happened over a year ago. So why tell it now? (A) It’s never too late to share a crazy story. And (B) I recently felt the itch to write another funny blog post. I hadn’t blogged regularly in the last five months and while it felt good to take a break, I also missed writing about my kooky adventures. But was I ready to share this moment? At the time it felt too embarrassing--like proof that I never quite have it together. If anything, I wanted to hide my embarassment in a sealed box. At the back of the closet. For several decades. But I’ve decided that there’s catharsis in being real. The pressure to have it all together is too much. So I’m embracing the embarrassing because human moments bond us.

So there I was, in a nearly empty gallery, with no one to hide behind. The gallery was about to close, but they let me in for a few minutes while Hubby circled the block, looking for parking. (Apparently, I was using 1999 as my reference point for the ability to park in downtown San Diego on a Friday night. In 2016 there was zero parking within a one-mile radius of the Gaslamp district. Hence, Hubby was circling the block while I looked at art and tried to keep my shoe on.)

Right before entering the gallery I realized that the sole was separating from my shoe. Earlier, I’d had an inkling that it was slightly loose. I’d glued it, and felt confident that it would hold together. But there, in the empty gallery, under the bright lights, the sole and my shoe were parting ways. The toe and the sole were still attached, but the heel was headed for the border. An empty, brightly-lit gallery is not the ideal setting when you’re having a wardrobe malfunction. I had the undivided attention of the lady at the front desk. And so I did what any half-shoed art lover would do: I ground my heel into the floor and subtly dragged my foot along as I walked so that she wouldn’t notice my sole flapping against the polished floors. Step, slide. Step, slide. Subtlety at its finest. Perhaps she wondered why a 40+ white lady was doing a bad imitation of a gangsta swagger, but this felt like a better alternative than having my shoe flap along under me. (Seriously--sometimes we have to make split-second decisions.) Shoe dragging felt like the equivalent of when a dog pulls its itchy butt along the ground: it temporarily solves a problem--but it’s not cute.

I turned up my charm a notch as I chatted about art with the gallery lady. Anything to distract from my shoe-turned-flip-flop. In truth, she might have been a down-to-earth person who wouldn’t have judged me if I’d confessed that my shoe was breaking. But because the shoe separation caught me off guard, and I was PMSing and not at my most confident, I felt too embarrassed. And why do these moments never happen at home—only in public?

Was it the end of the world? Of course not. But I rarely dress up, and my ego was bruised. It felt especially frustrating to have my cute look undermined by a broken shoe when I’d put in the extra effort to look good.

After leaving the gallery (step, slide, step, slide), I hobbled out of sight and then ripped the offending shoe off my foot. As Hubby returned, I was partly laughing, but mostly cringing, as I showed him the remains of my shoe. He tried to reassure me, but we both know that these moments seem to happen around me. A lot.

The next day, I tried something new to repair the shoe: Shoe Goo. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. It is designed for durability, because shoes flex and need a stronger glue.

So that’s the story of my broken sole and my damaged ego. A year later, the shoes are gone. I upgraded to a pair that probably will last a century. My ego has recovered. And there’s something healing about sharing an embarrassing moment (after waiting at least a year). We all have embarrassing moments. Sometimes the instinct is to hide them. But sharing them reminds me that it really is okay to be human. Shoes will break but the spirit is actually quite resilient…


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Progress Report

I am shaking my hand bell in a vigorous attempt to get the attention of thirty-eight wiggly kids. The bell is shrill—and I’m glad it is—because while I am naturally loud, my voice can’t compete with thirty-eight chatty kiddos. The first five weeks of teaching I simply raised my voice a lot to be heard (and became hoarse). Not today. My three dollar thrift store bell was a wise investment, if I may say so.
It’s been over a month since I last blogged, but I anticipated that gap. It’s been super busy. As of today I’ve taught art for seven Wednesdays and I felt it was time to update my readers about how it’s going.
First, let me begin by giving a shout-out to every teacher on the planet. I knew teaching would be challenging—and it’s even more challenging than I’d expected. I’ve always appreciated teachers for all they do—but even more so now that I’m the one trying to communicate with kids each week.
If you read my last blog post you know that I am teaching art to kids at an elementary school. It’s one day a week, but for a newbie like me, that’s enough for now. It takes a lot of energy. The kids range from Kindergarten through eighth grade, so there’s a big span in terms of ages, personalities, fine motor control and art experience. I see each grade every other week. There are 310 students. Some kids like art. Some don’t. Some kids listen. Some don’t. Does it get to me--the ones who don’t listen? Of course! I’m human, and I’m busting my butt to teach them. But I won’t dwell on that right now. I’d rather share a few stories about the kids who are glad to be in my art class—or funny anecdotes from my first seven weeks of teaching. Here are a few recent conversations in the art room:
Fourth grader: Mrs. Sarah, Alex says I don’t have a leg muscle. (Boy flexes his calf and I do see a smallish muscle contract.) Is he right?
Me: Of course you have muscle! I can see it right there. But this isn’t a body-building competition so let’s take a seat and flex our creative muscles instead.
Kindergartener: (Crying as he shows me his box of watercolor paints.) My yellow paint is ruined forever.
Me: Don’t worry kiddo, your green just got confused and mixed itself with the yellow a little. After all, they are neighbors in the box. We’ll just clean it off with a paper towel. See? Good as new.
Fourth Grader: Why are we doing scribble-scrabble with crayons? Are we back in preschool again?
Me: No, not at all. But we’re working in the style of the artist Eric Carle, who layered color and had a very loose style, so you’re making a lot of free-flowing lines on your paper. It’ll look awesome!
First grader: Mrs. Sarah, I missed you SOOOOOOOO much!
Me: (heart feeling happy) Thanks, kiddo! How sweet. Good to see you, too.
Seventh grader:  Can we make slime this year in art?
Me: It sounds fun, but I don’t think I’d get approval from the office for that. But we’re going to use air dry clay, and we’ll paint and draw and do lots of different projects. You’ll have to make slime at home.
For the older students our current projects are still life drawings. The younger kids are making animals in the style of Eric Carle, author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and many other books.


By Wednesday night I’m exhausted but slowly I am increasing my teaching stamina. Many of the kids are having fun and learning new techniques, and that means a lot to me. Every week I learn a little more about teaching, and while it’s hard for me to stumble, at least I’m learning. Yep, it’s official: I’m a teacher and definitely a student, too…