rejection: stings, but not a buzz kill

This week I got two rejections: MCBA's Prints Now in 3-D! and 23 Sandy's Book Power! exhibitions will not include my work. The rejection emails I received couldn't have been kinder, coming from artist curators who know the sting of being told no. It still sucks.

My initial reaction was to take it lightly and move on - after all, I'm still riding high from a string of recent acceptances and big steps related to my art. But then it hit me - ouch. Tiny panicky doubts popped this all just a fluke? beginner's luck? am I not as grounded in my art as it feels? with time, will I be revealed as not a "real" artist?

                                                                                                                                                                                        This morning I woke up and didn't believe any of those things. I did, however, realize that I need to get my hands on my work and create. To keep moving. To stop stalling on some pieces that feel a little intimidating to me right now (a feeling I've come to recognize as: you're on to something).

I also did a little exploring to see how more seasoned artists navigate the necessary evil of rejection. One of the most thoughtful and comprehensive pieces I've found is by Joanne Mattera, an encaustics artist who also writes a terrific blog about navigating life as an artist.

designing a life

I received great news yesterday: I've juried in as a studio artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. This is something I've dreamed of for awhile, but in no way whatsoever did I think it would happen so quickly. I was told that nobody juries-in on their first attempt, and I certainly didn't see myself as a "real" artist ("I'm still very new at this," I say to people). Be that as it may, I got in...and my self-perception has just been flipped on its head.

Over the past 24 hours, all kinds of explanations have run through my head. Anything from, "there must have been little competition," to "artists are disappearing in this economy - they must be hard-up for fresh blood." Whew, I can be harsh on myself.

However, today at the Torpedo Factory, I felt like Cinderella. Not only did people gush about my work, they seemed genuinely excited to welcome me to the fold. I'll be learning a lot over the next few weeks about what's involved - apparently there's a fairly well-honed mentoring process for new "associate artists" that's intended to set us up for success, not launch us in over our heads too quickly.

Next week, there's an exhibition of the juried-in class of 2010's work at Target Gallery, with a reception to meet the art center's artists for possible sub-lease matches (feels a little like a sorority rush!). Of course since I didn't expect to be participating in any of this, I scheduled my knee surgery for next week. I am, however, determined to not miss a thing, crutches and all. What a nice high to carry me through what may otherwise be a tough week!

The original motivation for starting this blog a mere two years ago was to explore, integrate and share what it means to consciously live my life. I can't believe that was only 24 months ago, because, boy, when you put your intentions out there in the world, stuff happens.

doing things that scare me

I've been working my way through a list of things that scare me. I didn't realize I was doing it until recently, but I am. On that list are things like...

  • submit my work to an exhibit juried by the legendary Hedi Kyle (I did, and both pieces got in)
  • apply for a summer residency (will find out next week)
  • take my first crack at "jurying in" as a studio artist at the Torpedo Factory (will find out tomorrow)
  • have surgery next week to fix the ruptured ACL in my left knee (steady as I go, nerves in check and looking forward to putting this behind me)
  • tell my husband what I really want (to transition my career - and income - to artist and put an addition on our house).

So there. I've not perished by doing any of this. In fact, I feel darned solid. On a bit of a roll. And my guess is that when something doesn't work out the way I hope, I'll still be fine. Now what I find really interesting about all of this are the themes that are emerging: renovation, repair, rebuilding, new "additions." Sounds like a new artist book in the making.

art of the edition: one day at a time

As I re-engage slowly after a long, restorative break from too much of a good thing late last year, it's tempting to let overwhelm kick in and chase me back into hibernation. A recovering workaholic from my day job, it's safe to say I'd unwittingly found another substance (my book art) to take its place. 

At 15 books and 10 clamshell boxes into an edition of 50, the end does not feel anywhere in sight. But I don't have to let that rattle me from what I'm re-learning: take it one day at at time. Quite literally, my intention (and actions, so far) is to get my hands on the edition once a day. Some days it's for ten minutes, others it's for an hour or two...but every day, I make a little progress.

This is not a new idea. I've used it in the past, taking it down to one hour at a time in the worst of times. Talented classmate and friend Leslie Patterson-Marx inspired its application to art last summer during our artist book workshop with Susan King. In her altered book, One Day at a Time, Leslie carved one mark into the book each day for thirty days - a meditational performance piece of sorts - the fruits of her effort only clear after she steadily showed up every day to do as she had committed.

This is very satisfying. It keeps extreme thinking and behaviors at bay, and grounds me in the present. This promises to be an extraordinary year, glimmers of opportunity to come already on my radar. As things ramp up - and they are, for sure - I'll serve myself and others well by taking it one day at a time.

new decade, different intentions

Moira McCauley's 2010 letterpress calendarMy, what a difference a decade makes. On January 1, 2000 my life could not have been more different. I was completely lost on all fronts of my life and floundering. Worst of all, I'd lost myself and wasn't ready to admit it. I spent the first decade of the new millennium digging myself out of a huge hole. 

In retrospect, I feel no shame - this was a necessary passage, part of designing an intentional and authentic life. The gift for me in 2009 was that I uncovered my compassion. For myself and for others, particularly for people with whom I've struggled or who have hurt me. At the risk of sounding like a cliche or new-age self-help book: they've been my greatest teachers.

I spent much of the last decade doing. In the words of my friend and gifted writer Joanne Lozar Glenn, I was more of a human doing than a human being, going out with a bang at the end of 2009 by over-doing too much of a good thing. This distinction comes to mind as I contemplate a new year, a new decade.

And I turn back to a still older friend, Simple Abundance. This book was a lifeline in the early 2000s, given to me twice (I really needed it, but ignored it the first time) by my BFF Mandy. I recently pulled it out again as a touchstone after the dust settled this December from my whirlwind fall. Abundance, yes - but not at all simple. Time to go back to the basics that I know work for me. Once I got past my "I'm over this" and "boy, this is corny" resistance, I'm finding the daily meditations refreshing and packed with new meaning at this point in my life.

This morning's journaling revealed a slightly different twist on New Year's intentions: instead of diving into the yummy pile of exhibition calls and residency applications I've been saving for this very day, I'm intentionally setting them aside for today. Instead, I'm pondering what simple abundance might look like for me in 2010.

  • one thing at at time
  • belief in a generous universe that won't be stingy with opportunities and joy (therefore, no need to grab, rush and do)
  • owning my artist self and let her shine through an original and authentic voice
  • listening deeply to myself and others
  • not having an agenda
  • doing things in service of what's good and what will make a difference
  • living generously (with myself and others)
  • saying no appropriately and early on

Happy New Decade, to you, too!

going with the flow

My acupuncturist, Pilar - a true healer, had her hands full with me yesterday. Apparently, I was still in overdrive from this fall's over committed pace. An unrelenting surge of creativity and productive energy wouldn't be such a problem much of the year, but this time of "water" in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is supposed to be a period of deep rest and recovery. 

Everything has a natural cycle: birth, growth, harvest, decline. Every 24 hours. Every 12 months. Every life. For me, TCM offers a natural and intuitive way to gauge my wellbeing. In the three years since working with Pilar, I've become increasingly aware of these cycles and try to honor them. This fall, I knew that I was pushing it, contradicting what nature asked in the season of "metal:" eliminate, let go, slow down.

Like an over-revved engine, I couldn't stand down, possibly explaining my first-ever migraine, churning thoughts, and reluctance to do as little as possible, while feeling generally worn out despite plenty of sleep.

So Pilar put me into "water," with instructions to lie reasonably low until mid-February. Do what I must to keep life on track, but no new major projects. To burst forth with fresh, abundant creative energy come Spring, I've got to let things run their natural course.

law of attraction in action

Whew, be careful what you ask for. I intended to attract more meaningful book art to my plate, more opportunity for fruitful collaboration with other artists, and more engaging day-job client work. What happens when you get it all - at the same time? I thought there was no such thing as too much abundance. Or that all of these things couldn't possibly come true. I was so wrong.

I told someone the other day that I feel like I embody the seemingly inherent tension between art and commerce, between feeding my soul and making a decent living. Literally, I feel the tug-of-war in my body. On the one hand, I'm not interested in being a poor artist or finding myself in a position where I can't live with some level of financial serenity. On the other, I simply cannot do without pursuing my art. It would be like deciding to cut off my oxygen.

I've spent the last two years searching for "the answer" on how (if?) other artists strike this delicate balance. So far, I'm finding there is no magic answer, no perfect formula. Of course not. In the airport van on the way to Penland this summer, I sat next to one of the instructors, Fawn Potash. Her first question to me was, "So what's your formula?" It was her experience that all artists have to pursue a blend of income streams.

My informal research has consisted of asking anyone I can for the past two years a similar question. So far, the following themes are emerging: some anchor themselves in academia, others cobble together studio work and teaching, a fortunate few work fulltime for non-profit art centers, still others support or sell products and services to artists with their own art in the mix. Many - myself included as of now - work what amounts to two fulltime jobs: day job + art. Eric Maisel's A Life in the Arts has validated much of what I'm learning anecdotally, as well.

So back to the law of attraction. If I've managed to attract a bunch of great opportunities, why couldn't this be true for the money on the art side of my currently over-committed life? I believe that I will, actually, and that it's just a matter of time. In the meantime, drinking from a fire hose of abundance is not going to get me there any faster.

How about a nice steady stream, an even flow? Yup, that's more like it. When I come up for air later this December, I'm going to have a nice long talk with myself about this. Until then, I'm too busy to do much about it.

gaining focus

Art on the Avenue, photographed by Jen SalvoLast weekend's Art on the Avenue craft fair experience was a good one. It turned out to be a great day and I love knowing that my work is out there in the world, making people happy, with custom orders for more. Got a nice voice mail from one buyer saying she's putting her new leather journal to good use. And check out Jen Salvo's pics, nicely capturing the essence of the day (and thanks, Jen, for including my booth in your montage!).

Could not have done this without massive help from my hubby Ian, and long-time friend Elizabeth, who came up from her busy life in Charlottesville to be involved in all aspects of the day: set up, merchandising, sales, moral support, booth break down, and margaritas at the end of an exhausting day.

The experience drove several lessons home for me, as well. Preparing for the event was hugely time-consuming. I spent every weekend and many evenings since late August creating enough work to sell. While I loved it, this came at a cost, taking precious time away from people I love and my main art-related focus right now, Moving Parts. It left me feeling scattered and over-stretched, distracted from what I really want to do: build a body of work that consists of fewer, high-quality works of art or projects...not many pieces that I sell at craft fairs or on Etsy.

Don't get me wrong - there's nothing wrong with craft fairs and Etsy! But building a "business" with my art this way is not the path I see for me. Not now, at least. So it's good to learn this now, and to stop investing in things that distract from what I really want. I'm in this for the long haul, and gaining focus will give me the stamina and grounding I've worked hard to create in all areas of my life. I want to treat my art with equal respect, care and attention.

walking a tightrope

Am walking a bit of a tightrope right now, balancing time in the studio with minding my day job. It would be soooo easy to let the day job work slowly fade away, if there weren't financial repercussions. I keep telling myself that the client work underwrites the art. For now. Recently finished Lewis Hyde's The Gift and, although I found much of it tedious, I mined a few gems. Namely, some of the thinking/rationale behind protecting the arts from the marketplace. It's resonated for me and cooled my heels on wanting to figure out a "business model" for my art.

We're about 2/3 finished with the inside trays on the CityDance boxes...

Pyramid-Atlantic summer intern Nora Simon

...and I'm starting to get a little pickier on craftsmanship, now that we've got some rapport going with the interns and volunteers. Designed a companion booklet that will rest on top of the books and will post pics once I have something more concrete. Looks like we'll gold stamp the box lid, which I've never done before, so that'll be fun to learn. We're nowhere near that step, just trying to think ahead on cover board prep options.

Made a little progress this weekend on my own edition for the project. Actually, it's been very meditative coating digital ground on both sides of 150 sheets of handmade paper. It's a time-consuming step, but I like the crispness of the text I get using the ground vs. uncoated on my pigment printer. A couple of hours into it, I realized it could be much easier if I used Susan King's paint roller trick - so I got me a 6" foam roller, paint tray and am cookin' along:

Created a nice rhythm on Sunday: coat some paper, hang it on the line in my studio to dry, do a load of laundry, work on a proposal for a client, plant some hostas, rinse and repeat.

moving parts boxes on the move

We kicked off the edition of 50 custom clam shell boxes for the CityDance/Pyramid Atlantic Moving Parts project last week. After what felt like a slow start with a grouchy board sheer and an inexperienced team (myself included!), I spent much of last weekend wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

This week we're making more progress than I could have imagined. After setting up nine work stations using innovative found jigs like empty drawers and bricks, we turned out 18 "inside trays" in a few hours.

Yesterday's progress revealed more to me, and not so much in terms of "numbers of things done," but in the smiles as people built their first tray, the way they made it their own once they got into a rhythm, and enthusiastic volunteers that are getting involved after the interns go back to school in August.

A conversation with Gretchen (my Pyramid colleague who's co-leading this project) helped put things in perspective, too - that this is doable, that we'll take our time and do it well, that teaching/empowering others to do this is so worth the time. We solved several design problems, too. I'm starting to see that the production phase is as much a string of problems to solve as it is "producing" - and that's a good thing, if I remember to sit with the discomfort of not knowing until the answer reveals itself. That, and remembering to keep asking for help.

Am coming to believe that just moving steadily through a project like this for the first time will put a lot of these anxieties to bed as I/we learn how to handle each step. I have no context - so part of me is excited about what each stage reveals, part of me wants to know, damn it, so I can stop worrying about if we can pull it off or not. But what does that mean? What happens, happens and we'll move through it.

Am also noticing that editioning and production may not be my cup of tea. Too soon to tell, but it feels vastly different from the rich conceptual/creative stage I just left in Susan King's workshop. I find I get cranky if I don't get to do a little of that (and Morning Pages) every day to balance out the other stuff.

back to basics with paper

I've noticed a trend in TV ads lately: paper. It caught my attention maybe six months ago with ads from CTI, Comcast and Microsoft. Beautiful paper butterflies unfurling on flowering paper trees, hand-drawn animated collages, flat-looking paper doll cut-outs. Just now, I witnessed back-to-back UPS and AT&T ads use the same "paper" treatment.

I'm sure that I'm not only one to notice this trend, but I can't find anything specifically about it online. As a book artist, it's sure caught my attention! My guess is that it's art directors' attempts to reflect a back-to-basics mood of the American consumer. While unemployment soars, we have no stomach for glitz and slickness. Maybe we can handle beautiful, tactile, simple paper.

For a taste of what I'm noticing, check out these short clips:

starting to dance again

Wow, what a difference a few months makes. I was recently encouraged to apply for an emerging artist residency at Pyramid Atlantic. My first reaction what shock, then secret pleasure at even being included on the list of others invited to do so. I then moved to "dare I?" and to "well, I won't get it, but let me go through the exercise just to get my feet wet." Today, as I send in my application...I want this!

I see this as progress: from not considering myself an "emerging artist," to someone who really is. I walked away from a dance career nearly 25 years ago, and haven't starting forgiving myself for this until recently. "Dancing again" feels like forgiveness...and a reclamation of my artist self.


learning to dance again

Very motivated by a couple of book art projects, am devouring several texts by Keith Smith:

Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue

Bookbinding for Book Artists

Structure of the Visual Book

I remember as a young dancer, how I only really danced once I didn't have to consciously think about technique. There came a time when I just flowed and lost myself in expression and doing something beautiful. Now, as much as I yearn to be free from the concerns of technique in my book art, I'm reminded not to wish this time of wonder away.

why i journal

Someone recently asked why I blog. Actually, I'd rather offer why I journal, inspired by something I read this morning in A Trail Through Leaves: the journal as a path to place:

The act of recording a life, in healthy solitude and active connection to loved terrain, is also the act of creating a life...The journal has become a necessary extension of my thinking, feeling self...a place to decant the stuff of life; reassuringly, none of it wasted.

lessons in change

As I fumed into the phone last night at the woman from East-West Logistics who shipped our Buddha statues from China, I paused to note the irony of it all. It occured to me that I was way too attached to the outcome of whether or not we'll pay extra fees to extract our treasures from the Port of Baltimore.

My attachment to outcomes seems to be showing up a lot these days. Whether it's my controlling insistance that all other living creatures in the household live up to my standards of homekeeping, or my temptation to do an end-run around my husband's reasonable resistance to me dropping everything to pursue a career in the arts...detachment and patience are elusive friends.

The I Ching tells me I should not act out of frustration, anxiety, despair, or desire to escape the situation. Instead, I'm to still myself and look for the lesson hidden inside the difficulty. I'm to correct my attitude until it is open, detached, and unstructured...abandon my goals and stay on the path, where I'm to proceed step by step.

For a girl who likes to plan and get on with it, this is going to be quite the challenge.