Saturday, September 29, 2007

Art show

My first solo art show is up! I have never had a solo exhibit before. I don't think I have ever had a body of work like this before. It showcases about a year's worth of art: 17 pieces. I wanted to try to crank out a few more pieces but I found that I couldn't paint under pressure. What I do is more about process than product. Now that the show is in place, I am sure the flow will return. The exhibit space at Moon Dancer winery is perfect for my first venture. The atmosphere is casual, and the gold walls make my artwork pop. My canvases are finished and look complete. I am sure the addition of frames would help the work seem more "done" but at this point it is an investment just in my time and materials. I am not sure frames would help to sell the work. Buyers tend to have pieces reframed anyway when they get them into their homes. I do miss having my paintings around me. It seems odd that they have a life outside this house.

Mark asked me what my goals are for the show. Certainly I hope to sell some of the pieces. Moon Dancer winery, like most exhibit spaces, is taking their cut of the sales. I'll have to get used to that fact. I also hope to make some contacts from having my work exhibited. The winery is allowing me to have a book signing in conjunction with my art opening, so drawing new readers to my book is a goal as well.

The show will be up for October. After that, I am taking my work around to gallery owners who have expressed interest. So far, the feedback has been good. I am happy that the work is being seen as mature. It isn't as if I haven't been doing artwork my whole life, but this venture is new. As far as the industry is concerned, I am a newbie. It is scary to put myself on the line again. It feels like I just did that with my book. But with both endeavors, I have been honest with what I wanted to do. I work for myself, first and foremost. And I am pleased with the result. The artist reception is in two weeks. It is something I am going to enjoy. Whatever else, I am making connections with the outside world.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spiral theory and practice

"My new Hypothesis: If we're built from Spirals while living in a giant Spiral, then is it possible that everything we put our hands to is infused with the Spiral?" -- Max Cohen in the motion picture Pi.

This weekend we watched the movie Pi: Faith in Chaos. It was about one mathematician's search for order out of chaos, such as finding code in the numbers of the NYSE. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the movie the main character referenced spirals, specifically the golden spiral which comes out of relationship with the golden rectangle, which, when a square section is removed, the remainder is another golden rectangle. The resultant and infinite removal of squares leads to the golden spiral.

I have long been fascinated with spirals. I believe that the first time I had a conscious encounter with them was a documentary I watched while a student at PA Governor's School of the Arts which showed patterns and shapes in nature and mathematics which were relevant to the worlds of art and music. I was 17 at the time. It was probably a few more years and encounters before I started to incorporate them into my artwork. I was an art history minor, so I began to see spirals in art from prehistoric to Renaissance and beyond. As a woman who has ventured into the meaning of the divine feminine mythology, I have found particular meaning in the triskele or triple spiral which can be interpreted as a representation of the triple aspect of the goddess: maiden, mother, crone; a representation of the nine month gestation of a human pregnancy; or a symbol of the goddess Brigid who is briefly referenced in my book Summers at Blue Lake. Brigid has been a touchstone for me because she is the goddess of writers, healers, and craftspeople--specifically metalsmiths (as I was in college, and as is my protagonist in Summers).

Another point along my spiraling path has been my interest in labyrinths. (A labyrinth is unicursal path which winds around. Unlike mazes which have many path options, labyrinths only have one way in and one way out.) Labyrinths have been used in countless cultures: storytelling in Greek Mythology (Theseus and Ariadne) and in cathedrals as part of worship (Chartres) are two examples. Some cathedral labyrinths form the shape of a rose which is the symbol for Mary, mother of Jesus. Labyrinths tell the story of a pilgrimage. They tell the story of birth. Letting go, entering center, filling up... as a cycle.

My artwork, particularly my flower paintings, explores spirals and the meaning they have had for me. I suspect my writing does, too, in the way my stories tend to wind back onto themselves. On my nightstand, I have a small spiral shell that my daughter gave me. I am reminded every morning, that I am on, above all, my journey to find center.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Power of two

I always think that women sometimes have a disadvantage when it comes to business because most of us have been raised, as good girls, to be modest about our own accomplishments. (Maybe I am universalizing my own personal disadvantage, but it has held true for many of the women with whom I am in contact.) When you are trying to make a name for yourself in your given arena, it is hard to market yourself and still remain humble (that oh-so attractive feminine trait). I know that when I write any blurbs or press for myself, I need to write it in third person. I can do it, if I pretend to be someone other than the subject. So, what is a woman to do when she has to go out into the world and forge new territory?

I've found something that works for me and the natural inclination of women to network and nurture: the buddy system. Yesterday, I went to Moon Dancer Winery to scope out the place for my show. I took my friend with me. She is a faux painter. We talked with the owner of the winery and came to found out she wanted some rooms of her house painted. My friend stepped up to the plate and gave her contact information, but I was able to supply the kudos for all the gorgeous work my friend has done int he past. I'm not saying that she couldn't have been her own sales force, but sometimes it helps to have someone else carry your banner.

I know this has worked for me when I went gallery hopping in New Hope. Another friend of mine went with me and was able to give a gallery owner some bragging points about my writing and painting that I would have been too inhibited to reveal. As a result, I made a connection with a gallery owner that I would not ordinarily have made on my own.

And if that friend bit doesn't work for you--consider taking your mom with you on your next business meeting. If your mom can't brag about your good points, nobody can.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Words and wine

I started out the day by reading the first chapter of Astrid &Veronika by Linda Olsson. (I am reading a lot of first chapters now as I set out to begin a new book.) This first chapter struck me with its stark loveliness. It seemed solitary, like the act of reading itself. The character Veronika is a writer, renting a house in a remote place. (Doesn't every writer dream of being cut off from civilization in a sparely furnished house with a fireplace and nowhere to turn but inside to the words.) Anyway, I loved the line "It was time to find new words." I think I will write that in calligraphy and set it next to my computer. Has anything ever so succinctly described the writing life?

From words to wine. I am thinking of going to Moon Dancer Winery today to check out the space and prepare for my art show. It is going to be a beautiful day and the view from the winery is inspiring. I don't need the inspiration to put words or brushstrokes in my head, but I do feel the need to connect with the larger picture. Maybe from the mountain, I can look at my life with a bit more clarity. Or Claret! (A little wine humor.)

In case you were wondering, Moon Dancer Winery was on my list of places to contact by phone today. See--I would rather drive a total of an hour and a half than to make a phone call. Or maybe, I am just engaging in good old Sylvia Plath forms of avoidance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Phone phobia

I have a phone phobia. My friends joke about how I always try to scurry away during a phone conversation--sometimes cutting them off abruptly. At first I thought phone phobia was a funny little diagnosis that I had coined, but I have come to find out that it is real and sometimes linked to social anxiety disorder. I don't have any other manifestations of SAD. I'm not afraid of social situations or parties. I don't have a problem with public speaking. So what is this phone hang-up (excuse my pun)?

Looking at my background, there are a few clues besides the possibility that I may have been Amish in a past life. My mom has a hearing impairment and has worn hearing aids most of my life. She never liked talking on the phone, and my sister and at least one of my brothers have echoed this sentiment. As for bad experiences: once a collection agent called me and started threatening that they were going to send my husband to jail. Turns out they had the wrong guy. Same name, but different social security number. Over the years there have been a few weird calls like that. I'm not sure it explains the irrational fear that I have.

I could say that I am a visual person and take non-verbal cues from people as I talk to them. Another is that I am always afraid I am disturbing someone by calling them. Email is great. I can jot off a letter and people can answer at their leisure--or not at all. But a phone call feels like an imposition. I might be able to get away with this logic for personal calls, but I feel this way even when I call businesses for business purposes. I don't like to make salon appointments. I don't like to order things. I don't like to call to set up meetings for purposes of discussing my painting, my writing, or workshops. Talk about debilitating when you are trying to set yourself up as a working artist.

A few years ago, my dad became a licenced hypnotherapist. Maybe I should get him to make up some tapes for me, so I can move beyond this.

When my book cam out, my friend Marsha got me a salon gift certificate. I have yet to call to make an appointment. I am going to go do it right now!

note added at 11:45-- I did it. Piece of cake. Perhaps this will give me the confidence to make the other business calls, I have to make--including to the place where I am hanging my artwork next month. I want to find out if it is okay if I bring books along to sell and sign. I have been putting it off for weeks. Perhaps this post will keep me accountable.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sylvia and The Lady in the Water

We watched two movies recently: Sylvia and Lady in the Water. Sylvia's a pretty hard movie to watch. It was as uncomfortable as Sylvia Plath's poetry, but I liked that feeling. It made my own discomfort about writing seem almost--well--comfortable. I did like seeing the scenes where Sylvia did a lot of baking in her effort to avoid writing. I have canned and frozen more food this year than I ever have. One could say I wasn't working this summer, so of course, I was paying more attention to the garden. But I think there might be the argument that there was avoidance in my bounty.
The other movie we watched was Lady In the Water, by M. Night Shyamalan. It was generally panned, but I got a lot out of it. Of course, I enjoyed watching the fate of the critic. I like that Shyamalan tries to move away from formula. Sometimes, he is more successful than other, but I appreciate the effort.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Book two

I am in brainstorming mode for my next book. Although I already have a follow-up book written, my agent and I are trying to decide if it is the book that should directly follow Summers at Blue Lake. So many factors are involved. It is hard to predict the industry. Number two book is almost more important than the first one, because that is the book that will set you firmly in the readers' minds. And it needs to take the momentum of the first book and carry it. It's about tone and drive. Is the book I have completed a good match? I don't know. I can only take the advice of the professionals with whom I have surrounded myself. Am I happy at the prospect of writing another book when I have one finished? Not really, but I want what is best for the long term heath of my career. The manuscript that is finished will come out eventually. In the interim, I am going to write another novel and hopefully move forward on this path.

It's times like these, I wish I were a songwriter instead of a novelist.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rainy day sunshine

It rained yesterday. The sky opened up and let us have it. I love the rain. For some reason it seems to recharge me. Must be the ions in the water or the fact that I'm a Pisces. Who am I to question such things? I had a great rainy day yesterday. I met with the owner of Radiance in Lancaster. We came up with a schedule for some deep journaling classes that I will facilitate this fall. (As soon as I finish this blog, I'll update the news section of my webpage.) From there, I walked in the rain to an art gallery on gallery row to talk with the manager. She loved my work--particularly my portraits. I've always loved them, too. They are what I enjoy doing because they are so personal to me. I thought that they might be too personal to have universal appeal, so I tried other subjects. Those, too, were well-received, but my portraits were the standout, for this gallery manager and others I have surveyed. I also got some guidelines on pricing, which will help me set up for my show at Moon Dancer Winery in October. I felt very good about my meeting. I guess I needed evidence that, although I think of myself as an artist, others take me seriously as well. I am hoping for a show in 2009 from the gallery I visited. This means I'll have to decide what I should do in the interim. What is my plan for 2008. HMM?

My final stop of the day was to the home of Sally Watkins, my 12th grade English teacher. Sally invited me to join her book club as my book was their featured selection for the month. (Thank you Linda Hilton for choosing the book.) I do have appearances scheduled at other book clubs, but this was my first. More than discussing the book, the women were interested in the writing process. I enjoyed sharing my insights and getting feedback. I've said it before: when you write a book, you are looking to engage others in a conversation. So for me, this was the biggest payoff. I've admired Sally as a teacher (you'll find her name in the acknowledgements), so it was a great privilege to be invited into the realm of her book club.

All in all, it was a great day for the ego. As an artist, you really need to soak these day into your being. Being an artist is a struggle. Being a writer is a struggle. It isn't about the angst like people suspect. At least not for me. I don't have days of torture-- thinking deep thoughts about the origins of creativity. But I do struggle with self-doubt. I struggle with the feeling that I work ten times as hard for one/tenth the payoff. You have to really love what you are doing. So rainy days--days filled with ego gratification--are gifts from the heavens.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Over the weekend, our friend Jeff competed in a triathlon. He's done them before, but this was the first at this length (mile swim, 20 mile ride, 10K run). And he did well, too. I could never do a triathlon. First of all, I don't swim. My sister-in-law and I ran in the Chicago marathon 4 years ago. That was a once and done thing. As women who gave birth sans drugs, we didn't feel the need to use the marathon experience as a springboard for other forms of physical torture. So no triathlons in my future.

But I am thinking of Jeff as I begin my day. This morning, I am going to meet with a woman who owns a business in Lancaster about giving journaling workshops in her store. (Workshops--event 1) Then I am taking my paintings to a gallery manager to have a frank discussion about my work and the business of selling fine art. (Painting--event 2). Then for the final event of the evening, I am attending a book club in the capacity of the author of the club selection. This book club happens to be hosted by my 12th grade honors English teacher, whom I haven't seen in 20 years. (Writing--event 3).
So, here I am, my triple-threat self (HA!). Trying to decide if cross-training is a good thing, something greater than the sum of the parts, or if I am spreading myself too thin. I'll probably be able to better answer that riddle tomorrow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Back in the groove

I cannot tell you what a revitalizing effect that painting and writing has for me. A real difference exists for me on the days when I get work done and days that I don't. On Friday, I was doing a little happy dance. Words and paint strokes were flowing in tandem for the first time since the kids went back to school. I was just disappointed that it was the weekend, because I wanted to keep the streak alive. I tried to write on Saturday while my husband and close friends were yelling wildly at the Big Ten Network. (Darn that DirectTV!) But it is Monday, and I am once again in the flow. I finished another painting and am well into the writing of a novel which I am not really supposed to be writing, but I am. (If my agent is reading this--we'll talk soon, I promise!)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Fear factor

I am painting again, but for the first time ever, I am doing it with a sense of urgency. Get it done before my show. Make it something saleable. I have to hang my show at Moon Dancer Winery later this month.

On Tuesday, I am going to speak with a gallery manager about my work. She will help me price it and hopefully give me insights into the local scene. I am nervous. I have accepted that my writing is finding a place in the world, but I don't know how comfortable I am putting my art out there as well. Am I crazy? What made me think I could launch a solo exhibition two months after a book release? And why would I want to? Am I really ready for the good opinions of others? It has been over 17 years since my senior thesis show at the University of Delaware. And to be honest, that was something I threw together at the last moment to satisfy my degree requirements.

I got the postcards for my October exhibit in the mail yesterday. I think they look great. I guess I need to take a breath and jump in. It will be a new learning experience for me. I just have to trust that I can handle what comes my way. And really, what is the worst thing that can happen? I am showing my paintings at my favorite winery in Pennsylvania. Crisis in the presence of a glass of Moon Dancer Meritage, a slice of Gouda, and live jazz? All life should be so difficult.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Machine

My labor day weekend was spent--in labor. I was working on the old marketing machine. I designed postcards for my upcoming art show, business cards for my studio partner, and last but not least, a fall newsletter to send as a mass email. As per the suggestion of another author friend of mine, I found a site from which to compose, send, and manage mass emails. It has been my goal to put out a quarterly newsletter--not so often that I am annoying, but often enough that I manage to keep my brand of writing/art on everybody's mind.
My first effort seems to have failed miserably. I had finished the newsletter design on Monday, but decided to wait and send it out until I looked it over one more time. Kids left for school on Tuesday, and I planned to write for the entire day--after taking 5 minutes to upload my newsletter and send it out. No problem. Wrong! I spent the entire rest of the day trying to reformat the mailing to work with the website. When my first efforts failed, I decided to go back and redesign the thing as a webpage. The distribution site had a place to just insert a URL. There's the ticket, I thought. I am not a natural web designer. The whole process is counter-intuitive to me. I worked for 15 years as a CAD designer, but the HTML and CSS is baffling. Still, I persevered and got it done--only to discover that the site doesn't accept CSS (or any other kind of formatting, apparently). But no CSS? That's the way the textbook taught me. I don't even know another way to design. I considered just plugging my information into the site's pre-programmed newsletters, but I find their formats too limiting. So after 8 hours of fruitlessness, I surrendered to a bubble bath. I wished I would have had cucumbers to put over my eyes, because they were bugging out.
Today, I have vowed to write and paint and forget about the newsletter. It will get out later. Maybe. I don't know why I am pushing myself so hard in this way. I guess I just want to know that I did everything in my power to launch my book, my art show, and my workshops. I want to do what I need to do to ensure that I will have success in my chosen path so I can do what I love more of the time. I just wish I knew where to put my time and marketing money for the most effect. Here's a link for those of you who would like to see the newsletter.

Monday, September 3, 2007


I am trying to prepare a fall newsletter to keep my book on everyone's mind. My publishing company does some in the way of marketing, but in many ways, I am my own publicist. Anyway, while trying to figure out Mail Merge, I inadvertently sent a test email out to 58 people who are on my contact list. The email had one line on it--Hello. While I feel a little stupid about the error, I do have to laugh. I have been getting emails all morning long from people. Hello to you, too!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Have you hugged an artist today?

Tonight I watched The Sketches of Frank Gehry (directed by Sydney Pollack) with my family. I particularly liked the way that the documentary portrayed the architect's creative process. The fact that, in his early career, Frank Gehry aligned himself with painters and still holds painters in esteem was a revelation. I love to see the interconnection between various disciplines in the arts.

Perhaps, what was most poignant to me was Gehry's thoughts on his critics. He says he tries his critics' remarks on like a coat and walks around in them. I like that visual image. Criticism as a coat seems small in comparison to the huge buildings of Frank Gehry. I imagine the coat to be a little tight around the shoulders of the architect. And it should be. The time, effort, and expense that goes into Gehry's buildings defy my ability to comprehend such enormities. I happen to admire his architecture, as many do. His sculptural interpretations of landscape have transformed what we think of as "building." But a completed building is a vision realized in its fullest glory, and the critic cuts it down with one printed word: ugly. Pollack interviewed one of these critics who said something to the effect that it was his responsibility to look out for the consumer.

I have received negative reviews with the good ones. Some reviewers give me both the nod and the shake in the same column. I am a bit surprised by negative press--not because I think my book is the greatest piece of prose ever written, but because my work comes from such a pure place. I am in the zone when I write, and I feel as though I am receiving dictation from my characters--characters who are very real to me. I can handle the criticism in the editorial process. As a fabric designer, I was used to receiving input and using it to make a better product. But after I have taken six years and made 50 passes through my novel, I feel that the work needs to be respected as creation. I am not sure that respect for the process and the artist's path is inherent when critics do their part as community watchdogs/consumer advocates.

Gehry said that ours is not a "culture of affirmation" or a "culture of embrace." How I wish that as a society we were more gentle with our artists; they get buffeted around enough as it is. I am not saying that I need each person who reads my work to be a yes person. I write from joy and will continue to do so. As for my book in the world--I have two wishes: I hope that my book will bring me necessary abundance to continue on my artistic quest and that it will bring me into conversation with readers and writers alike. Criticism is part of that conversation. In a world where anyone with a computer can offer opinion (I am aware of the irony) and in a society where American Idol rules the phone lines, I guess I'm just looking for a little more Paula and a little less Simon.

Have you affirmed an artist today?