As I recounted in my last post, "Intuitively Yours" my art career has unfolded in unexpected ways. I never anticipated how my first simple still life, for instance, would stimulate my curiosity to see how I could represent the world in paint and how quickly this would transform my life: I no longer went to the market simply to buy food but subject matter—I’d never realized how many different kinds and colors of pears there were to paint! Imagine wanting to paint pears rather than eat them! (Actually, I figured out how to do both ...)
Eventually, I wanted to paint outdoors. When I found myself unexpectedly visiting northern Michigan in 2007, I declared to anyone who would listen, “I could paint here for the rest of my life.” I plunged in by relocating to the area in 2010 and, within a short time, attracted a modest following for my regional landscapes and, then, for my semi-abstracted barns. But then in 2016, again without any conscious intent, my approach abruptly changed—birds flew in to my canvas!
A handwritten poem, found on my doorstep last summer, acknowledged the transition that mystified many, including me:
The author, easily identified as a collector of my barn paintings, saw clearly how, by intuitively following the muse, the impulse to grow leads from one place to another. I surrendered to the birds that flew in with them because I sensed in these paintings a deep soulful authenticity. The less I held back, the more those bold dark calligraphic marks seemed to be my marks; the rich, beautiful colors were my colors. And those birds were my birds.
Soon, birds were flying in at a pace I could hardly contain. They threatened the borders of the art life I had claimed as my own. I could relate to the fear of those who felt migrants should be stopped from crossing the U.S. border from Mexico. Yet, I could also see how it would have been a mistake for for me to stop the flight of birds into my work; to deport or cage them would have done my soul a great disservice, a denial of my creativity. Instead, I continued to make room for immigrants by expanding the size of my canvases. At first this seemed an impractical move; but then I realized these paintings might be destined for something other than someone's living room wall.
The body of work I officially call "Birds Fly In" has become the basis for a much larger and more involved art project than I'd ever imagined creating.
Briefly, Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge aims to provide a dedicated space for people to connect via art and music with their own wisdom. World problems are rarely solved by political legislation; indeed, left unhealed, partisan bickering can easily escalate into war. But there are spiritual solutions available to humankind—IF we'll create the space and take the time to find them. The installation will invite people to heal by looking slowly at avian-themed art while listening deeply to music.
Many aspects of this international collaboration are well underway: an album of music composed by Mexican composer David Mendoza is almost complete; Wil Schley, a German architect who lives locally, is designing the art display/contemplation "room." I continue to paint while also performing a new role as music producer and design consultant. I am not bored!
One of the most exciting elements of this project came to light more recently when I invited 8 poets to a Birds Fly In slow looking/deep listening experience. The poets gathered in my home-based Studio & Gallery on a snowy day at the end of January. After I gave a brief history of the Project, each poet found a comfortable spot to contemplate one or more of the Birds Fly In paintings and, with David's recorded music in the background, commenced writing short poems for a little more than an hour.
One participant described her experience: In a lovely warm place where peace surrounded us, we were invited to respond to beautiful and multilayered paintings and complex, soul-stirring music and reflect upon the fragile others -- birds, animals, and humans -- who struggle to be noticed and loved in this difficult and misguided world. (G.B.)
Another poet wrote: Honestly, I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was.... I wrote a lot, but picked these [poems] that best captured what I felt as I wrote — a sort of leaping sadness and joy and hope.(K.K.)
And, another shared: As for my poems ..., my favorites are: "exquisite slow descent before the sun"; the whole haiku that starts "rainfall filtered dawn..."; and "And still they sing and still I hear them." ... All my poems take me places that show me something important happening in the world of birds. That's what your paintings and David's music gave me. (S. M. Mc.)
I never imagined my paintings would inspire poetry! And, yet .... I so look forward to see what creativity emerges once the public has access to Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge. Soon, you'll get to read the poems that were created on that cold day in January. Some will be printed on the liner notes for the upcoming Birds Fly In soundtrack album, and more as part of the installation Catalog as well as the installation itself.
I hope you'll join me in looking forward to the public launch of the installation somewhere in Michigan, summer of 2020. To learn more about the Project click here. And to support the fundraising effort that makes this art project possible, check out these affordable, colorful birds created just for this purpose. And, if you are a curator of a public venue such as a museum (or know one) who would like to host this special exhibit, please contact me now.
Now, I must go paint and see what flies in on yet another snowy day in northern Michigan!
For many years I served as spiritual leader of a Unity church I pioneered in Atlanta. As one of the primary guiding principles for this rather experimental spiritual community, I chose "Expect the Unexpected." I'd observed in my own life as well as others that the very instant I no longer identified with the results of my efforts, something better I could never have predicted would come along to take its place. In fact, before each Sunday service, I would pray to be released from attachment to particular outcomes. More often than not, Something More perfectly marvelous than anticipated would happen.
Up to a certain point, my entire life had been a testament to my stubborn refusal to allow anyone or anything to guide me. Then, at times kicking and screaming, I woke up and began to surrender my will to what many refer to as a Higher Power. I've always found it amusing that at the time of my profound calling to ministry I didn't believe in God—a term that confused me—and I hated church! Yet, by setting aside my notions of what clergy were supposed to be, I found a way to give spiritual service in the unique way for which I believe I was ordained.
When I eventually burned out on church ministry, I felt bereft. I had many beliefs about what an ordained person should do and quitting wasn't one of them; I grieved my resignation for years. I learned I had actually been quite attached to certain particular outcomes that had not come to pass—I felt I'd failed. But, then came the day (as I tell the story, I had very little interest in art-making and was convinced I had no talent), I heard a still small voice whisper "Do Art. Do ART. DO ART!"
While there's no formal ordination for artists, maybe there should be! For me, doing art seemed to further deepen my spirituality. The demands of art-making were certainly different from those of a church ministry and sometimes even tougher. Since 2003, my art has been another, more appropriate, and completely unexpected way to live out my spiritual calling.
In the beginning, I painted simple objects such as pears and pitchers. Later, I became skilled as a plein air landscape artist. Then, I began to explore painting less literally, and found I'd become adept at creating semi-abstracted barns. Eventually, the focus of my painting shifted from outer references to inner ones. It seems I've come full circle, back to where I was when I would stand before my congregation on Sunday morning, consulting my intuition for guidance as to what to say.
My intuitive approach to painting still follows a definite course: I make the first marks with bold, spontaneous gestures using black paint. Then, depending on what the black marks indicate, I mix and place colors where they seem to want to go. At some point, I may put down the brush and use my fingers or other tool to move that paint around. Later, I go back to the canvas to make random applications of white pigment. I might engage this process of layering paint several times until the something announces that my work is complete. Then, I restrain myself from doing anything more.
Painting intuitively resembles meditation. Whenever I become aware of a thought of how or where I should put paint, I aim to set that thought aside. By deliberately not-doing the thing I believe I should do, something else seems to happen that's far more creative than I could have conjured. I mix an unusual color; I deliberately make a mistake and see what happens. Serendipity rules the day! The more I do of this sort of painting, the easier it becomes to put my faith in a process that seems determined to use me to create the unique beauty of this growing body of work.
In my next blog post, I'll share what happened when I recently invited 8 local poets to my Studio to engage with the large intuitive bird canvases that are part of the Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge installation I'm working on.
This is a picture of the Angel Card I drew on New Year's Eve, 2017. I thought it auspicious the angel called Inspiration was painting a scene on her easel, but little did I realize what Inspiration had in store for me! So, I stuck it in the mirror in my bathroom and waited to see what would happen....
2018 kicked off with more than its share of intense, infuriating, frustrating moments in our country—so many that by the time I made a trip to Atlanta in mid-February, the entire world seemed on edge. Driving around the city that I'd called home for most of my life, everyone seemed particularly distressed. The traffic alone was enough to make anyone road rage-full!
My own stress seemed related to the unrelenting rapidity of news cycles, and I could only imagine how this was compounded by the pressure of high-speed and/orb congested driving and other demands of urban life. I was so glad I'd moved to Michigan—away from that horrible traffic—ten years earlier. Ensconced in my Studio & Gallery, in tiny Frankfort, on the corner of 4th and Forest, I'd found that doing my art gave me the ability to cope with situations that before might have destroyed me. And, since the 2016 elections, my art had become increasingly filled with birds—I felt certain those intuitive messengers of hope and healing did not arrive by accident.
I hadn't visited Atlanta for a while, but now had enough good reasons to make it worth my while: I wanted, of course, to visit friends—old friends as well as new ones I'd met in Michigan who, it turns out, live in my old stomping grounds. I had a list of old fave restaurants where I wanted to eat. I also had in mind to meet Faith, a woman who'd purchased one of my favorite bird paintings online a few months earlier. My main agenda, however, was to find an art gallery to represent my work.
All of these things occurred. I met up with Gail, a friend I'd met in Frankfort who lives in Atlanta. First stop was an art store on Peachtree Street and, around the corner we stopped into the Academy of Medicine, where the church I'd pioneered as a minister met for 10 years. What fun to share a bit of my old life with a new friend! After a nostalgia lunch at Mary Mac's, I wanted to show Gail my friend Timothy's elegant Tew Galleries. To get there we drove past the David Nielsen Gallery, the first place I ever showed work; I'd just pointed this out to Gail, when we pulled into the parking lot at Timothy's and David Nielsen himself was pulling out. After more than ten years, I marveled, what were the odds ....?!
After leaving Tew Galleries, Gail and I visited 5 or 6 other art emporia. However, the more I looked around, the less inclined I felt to consign my paintings to hang in one of these attractive but cool—too cool—spaces. I realized how much I love showing my work in my Frankfort Studio & Gallery. I love that its very personal here and not at all cool. Gail seemed to agree. We'd spent a lovely day together (she drove, thank God!); and, while I did eventually find a place in Atlanta to show my work, in the end I decided a distant gallery simply wasn't for me.
While I hadn't come to Atlanta as a savior, one morning driving on the expressway to Marietta, my old hometown, I became aware of a burning desire to help relieve the stress I observed all around me. Churches used to offer sanctuary, a place of respite; but in this new world, religion was being co-opted for partisan ends. Plus, I'd already done my bit with church .... Perhaps now art could better offer people a refuge from the craziness of the world.
As I let my mind wander, I began to imagine a space, filled with paintings to which a person could withdraw to contemplate and connect with intuitive wisdom. As birds had spontaneously flown into my art, enlightened ideas might fly into anyone's mind who made space for them. And, those ideas might translate into spiritual solutions for political and other problems. Thus I was inspired to create the art installation project now called "Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge." (And, yes, I also ate at my favorite Thai and Mexican restaurants, and connected with Faith....)
Since last February, inspiration has been a constant companion. For example, at dinner one night while I was still in Atlanta, my friend Sherry suggested a soundtrack for "Birds Fly In." What a wonderful idea! In April, when I first heard David Mendoza playing violin in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, he reminded me of a bird. I knew immediately there was kinship between my art and his soul-filled music. A few months later, I intuitively knew it was his music that I wanted as the soundtrack for the installation. When I first showed David some images of the paintings I'd been making for "Birds Fly In," he exclaimed that this is what he sees when he closes his eyes while playing violin. Now I paint to music my birds have inspired David to create. Inspiration guides us unfailingly!
Inspiration is also a taskmaster. I never imagined myself as a music producer, but now having commissioned an album of David's composing, I am learning how to be one. I've also started collaborating with an architect on a design for the "Birds Fly In" installation, am writing a catalog to accompany the installation, enrolling poets, and learning how to use a camera to shoot hi-res photos of my paintings that are suitable for publishing. And, I'm sure there's more to do as I cooperate ever more fully with the idea behind this project. This is what is meant by good stress, for sure!
Immersed as I have been in "Birds Fly In," I remain ever mindful of other very tangible good that has come my way in 2018. For instance, I'm very grateful to the patrons who chose to purchase "Dune Dream" for the permanent collection at Grand Valley State University, as well as to each other one of my collectors who found value and inspiration in my art. My art life requires and appreciates your generous support. I pray assured that whatever good comes my way is multiplied and shared with you!
With much love, gratitude and wishes for a New Year filled with inspired stress,
I know some of you may be feeling pressure to produce a holiday gift for your significant other. If like so many, you're not anxious to accumulate more STUFF, consider that Art is NOT STUFF. I'm biased, of course. I not only get to paint my art, but I also get to live surrounded by paintings that please me on a daily basis. That's why I'm always glad when a last minute shopper finally settles on an art purchase. I know they'll be giving something that will be enjoyed long after the Tree comes down!
Check out the paintings pictured here and other Smaller Works in my website Portfolio. (The smaller paintings are often ones I've painted on site outdoors ....) If you act soon, we can still ship in time for Christmas! And, in the case of Very Last Minute Deliberations, I can also create either a Gift Certificate or a Gift Card with an image of the painting you select.
Please let me know if I can help ....
With warm wishes,
Ellie (aka Christmas Elfie)
P.S. It's not too late to order items from my Holiday Gift page either!
I am by nature a Luddite. I'm the kind of person who reads Thoreau's Walden and can't stop saying "Amen." I like things simple. Yet, my creative ambitions repeatedly draw me deeper into the tech-complexity that characterizes contemporary life. And since I am currently in the process of composing a catalog of recent works for the Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge art installation project, and high quality printing requires high-res images, I've realized my iPhone simply won't do the job. A new camera is in order!
A bit of history: I obtained my first camera by collecting my parent's empty cigarette packs (forcing them to smoke Marlboros instead of Old Gold for several weeks) and redeeming them for an easy-to-use Instamatic. All you had to do was plop a film cartridge in the back of the camera, and then point and shoot. Easy-peasy! A ten year old could do it and I did!
It's been downhill from there. From a more sophisticated SLR requiring hand-threading of film spools to cameras with memory cards, I've always been challenged to learn from a confusing manual how to use the camera. Truly, one reason I don't sell prints of my works is that, for me, it's much easier to paint a picture than to photograph one. As you can see from the equipment stacked on my studio coffee table, I'm about to embark on a task I'd much rather avoid.
Typically, I'd rely on my tech supportive husband, but he has a lot on his plate at the moment and I'm eager to get on with it. I've decided, then, to let Roo off the hook and take on the beast myself and see what I can do. I love Roethke's lines: "I wake from sleep and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I need to go." When it comes to technology, you can hear me snoring from a mile away; I am, however, willing to walk as far as I can to master this new machine.
My first step has been to write my intention on a list in my journal this morning. The bullet point reads: "Study camera." Step Two was to open the box and take everything out. (Putting hands on everything is my way of making friends with the different parts. Seeing the thick user's manual took my breath away, so I stuffed it where I couldn't see it for a few minutes; opening it now I see it's written in several languages, so it's not really as thick as I thought.) Step Three is to use my cell phone to take a picture of the mess of stuff and, well, to procrastinate by writing a blog instead of reading that manual .... You get the idea! Eventually, I will tire of this and, remembering my commitment to Birds Fly In (see image below), begin to master the task at hand by actually opening up all those boxes. I'm so glad I wrote it down! And, I'll keep you posted.
Last night the Birds Fly In music collaborator, David Mendoza, sent me the title for a piece he's working on called "Flying Free to Love." I used his words as a sort of mantra as I drifted off to sleep. I woke up feeling in love with life. Now, if you'll look closely at my pile of camera stuff, you'll see a small card. Whenever I need to bolster my inner support system, I reach into the box of Angel Cards I keep close at hand. The one I pulled at random this morning reads "Love." I'm guessing that, indeed, Love will once again, guide me through my resistance to learning something new, Something More. Glory be!
Thanks for reading and helping me be accountable to my project! May your resistance always be futile, resolve sooner rather than later, and, always, in the fullness of Time!
I'm getting ready to drive with Roo to spend Thanksgiving with my family on Cape Cod. Spotty is staying home to keep our neighbors busy, but I'll be closing my Frankfort Studio & Gallery until November 30, but my online gallery is open 24/7. I'm hoping for warmer weather (it's been in the 20s here, with snow, for a week now!) .....
To make your holiday shopping easier, I now have a Holiday Gift Section on my website! I've applied my painting images to some handy items including coasters and lined notebooks, as well as my handy desk calendars. Initially designed to give as gifts to my family, I am now making them available to you for yours! Special orders are available if you order in time: you can choose one of my paintings and I'll apply it to one of these nifty gifties, including pillow covers and tablecloths. Send me an email if you'd like to place a special order.
And, of course, if now's the time to surprise your favorite art collector with an original painting, be sure and let me know in time so we can ship it to you before Christmas. I'll never forget the 11 p.m. call I received one Christmas Eve from a last minute shopper! I created an e-card with the image of the painting he'd decided to purchase and put it in his wife's stocking. And if you're not sure which painting is the best one for your beloved, a gift certificate is always welcome. (Everything I send out over the holidays a seasonal touch!)
So, order early if you can, but don't despair if you don't! I hope you enjoy a warm and festive Thanksgiving wherever you are, but especially in your heart.
When the fortune from my cookie read "Traveling to the south will bring unexpected happiness," I couldn't resist arranging a solo trip to San Miguel de Allende, MX. For the past two years or more, I've been contemplating a new project. I've not known whether it was a book I would write, or some other art-related endeavor; in fact, most days I would write in my journal about the utter frustration of my not-knowing. I decided, then, to use the 3 weeks of my Mexico time to encourage the new undertaking to reveal itself. I wouldn't take my oil painting gear; I'd only take my laptop and ... my expectation of unexpected happiness.
I arrived on a Friday evening. The shuttle driver who brought me from the airport unloaded my stuff on the street outside my rental, but the property manager wasn't there as promised. Once I located the manager's name, Saul, the driver, took things in hand. It turned out he knew Luis and had his number in his cell. A confusion with missing keys, apparently, and within an hour I was inside. But I'd already tasted the kindness I find so prevalent in Mexico. How would it have been if Saul had just left me to my own devices? Was this my unexpected happiness? I wondered.
The next evening, as it was getting dark, I locked myself out of mi casa. Apparently, I'd left the key in the inside lock, making it impossible to open from the outside. I felt silly, though in my defense, I was not familiar with that sort of lock. Again, amused neighbors allowed the manager access to a rooftop terrace where he was able to do some acrobatics to gain entry. More unexpected happiness? Or, simply more kindness?
By the time Monday rolled around, I was determined to open my laptop and write something. So, unsure where to begin, I did. I started writing a narrative about how an idea for an art installation project had come to me in February of this year when I spent a week in Atlanta. The idea had been gestating for months. I knew it had something to do with my most recent large bird paintings making themselves useful to humans who were struggling with The World We Live In: A sanctuary where humans could seek relief and inspiration from the birds, those intuitive messengers of hope and healing that had flown onto my canvas after the November, 2016 election. When I thought of what to call it, "Birds Fly In: A Human Refuge" came to mind.
When I had initially described my vision to a good friend, she had suggested that my human refuge could use a soundtrack of birdsong. I loved the idea of adding sound, actual birds and, perhaps, music inspired by birds. But, not being a musician, I couldn't do it myself. I had done some collaborating with the Manitou Winds; however, with their first album on the horizon, it seemed they were on a different flight path. So, while music was a nice idea, like so much of what I'd thought about this project, it was not clear what it could be. I wrote about all of this.
For some social connection, I reached out to one of the few people I knew in San Miguel. With shared connections in San Miguel and Atlanta, it felt like Carol and I were old friends (though we've hardly spend any time together). Carol introduced me to several other Atlanta-based acquaintances, including one who, as it turns out, is friends with a couple of my Frankfort friends who live in Marietta, my old home town! Carol also took me to a wonderful yoga class in the lovely Hotel Aldea, an historic former convent. Attending class every other day, I established a routine for my days in San Miguel. Then, I'd come home to write in the afternoon and, in the evenings, go out to find some good music. As I kept to this simple schedule, I kept meeting new people and sharing with them my ideas about the project. Perhaps this was the unexpected happiness I'd been awaiting ....
As the 28th anniversary of the opening of the small church I'd pioneered in Atlanta, I realized I was now speaking about the bird project in much the same way as I had about Unity-Midtown in the days before it was formed. Back in 1990, I'd had a dream about the possibility for a new kind of church for the 21st Century. I began researching the topic and talking to folks about my ideas and, very soon, I was on course to start a church. (You can read about that 10-year creative adventure in my first book Where Two or More Are Gathered: A New Church for the 21st Century.) How odd, it seemed, that I was having this new conversation with folks from Atlanta too! And, that in the same way, a vague project idea was rapidly forming itself into an actual Project.
I'm not going to spill all the beans about the Project in this blog, but I will say I do believe the "unexpected happiness" of traveling to the south was finally revealed when I made contact with David Mendoza, the soulful musician I'd met last April in San Miguel. (See the blog post "Stalking the Muse in San Miguel de Allende.") Having heard him on this trip play violin in a couple of different situations, I woke up one morning realized it was David's music I wanted as the soundtrack for "Birds Fly In."
I sent him an email that outlined what I knew so far about the Project—that, at least in part, it had to do themes related to unlocking the migration issues at the Mexican/US border; and how birds as metaphors (and paintings) might intuitively lead everyone affected to transcend fear-based division and lead us to freedom. I had no idea if he would consider my request to collaborate. But, after he agreed to meet, I realized he was clearly on board with what he called "the beautiful idea." Having first encountered David through his music, I already knew of his capacity for the deeper soul expressions I sensed the Project soundtrack wants; then, in conversation (with the aid of Google Translate), I was more than pleased to realize we are also kindred artist-spirits, crazy to work at our art, drawn together to collaborate on many levels at once.
Now that I'm back in northern Michigan, the Project continues to unfold. David is already hard at work composing and other people keep turning up to support and encourage. Needless to say, the Project's mission—the spiritual healing of political issues the world so longs for—is HUGE. I expect exploring it will bring about a lot more unexpected happiness for me and, I hope, for others.
Please stay tuned! There's an illustrated book/catalog in the works, as well as a CD album with original compositions by David Mendoza. Then there will be the actual art installation coming, I hope, to a venue near you! Next time I blog, I'll tell you more around the installation and other aspects of the Project. And, I'll look forward to your comments and further inspiration! If you'd like to help, I'd love to know.
In gratitude for your love and support!
P.S. There are going to be expenses to bring the Project to life. I'm funding the initial investment in creating and producing the music CD, and inviting others to supplement by offering hand-painted colorful bird paintings (6" x 8," gouache/paper, unframed, $125; or 4" x 6," $75). Check out my new website collection hereand perhaps you'd consider collecting one of each color for the cause of "Birds Fly In." Or, give them as a gift! Or, just get one for that spot that needs a pop of color!
I've been creating my handy dandy Desk Calendars since 2006. The first one featured my oil paintings from Vieques, PR. In 2010 I started publishing the Up North Desk Calendar. Over the past two years I've focused on the Up North version, although I do have a Vieques design available by special order. (This features paintings from my archives.)
This year's Up North calendar features the image of "Beauty & the Beach" (48" x 60" oil/canvas, available). If you're an Up North visitor, I think you'll recognize which beach the painting refers to. Perhaps you'll even recognize the pooch, whose owner is doing a good job (so far) of obeying the town beach dog ordinance!
I place my Up North Desk Calendar in several spots around my home. (I spend so much time in my Studio, it's easy to lose track of what day it is in the rest of the world!) The convenient size means they can sit on a bookshelf or desk without taking up much space. And, they've got 12 different Up North-inspired pictures to boot. I use them as hostess gifts and you'll never go wrong stuffing one in your loved one's Christmas stocking. What's not to love?! If you're sold, order one or more now by clicking here.
In Other News .... A New Book! I've just made reservations for a trip to San Miguel de Allende, MX. After a season of much hard work and inspired by my own marketing for the 2019 Art Retreat for Women, I decided to treat myself to a 3-week getaway in early October. While I'll also be taking painting gear, my main aim is to write a book that's been trying to emerge for several years now. Having already made several false starts on The Work of Art (working title), I hesitate to state outright what this will be; I will say, however, that I'm curious to learn what all I have to say about the subject. So, for now, I simply want to say thanks in advance to those of you who, for a long time, have been gently nudging me in this direction. And, please, feel free to crank the nudging up a notch or two.
2018 Art Retreat for Women Followup. Since I've already mentioned the Art Retreat for Women in San Miguel, I realize that, in the business of the season that ensued, I've not reported fully on the inaugural experience that took place this past April. But rather than me telling you how wonderful I thought it was, I want to quote feedback I received from several participants. If, after reading these reports you find yourself longing for a week in sunny Mexico with art-minded women, you can click on this link to find out more about the2019 Art Retreat for Women ("Painting for Pleasure"). Please let me know if you're interested as soon as possible—only 5 spots remain!
"Our accommodations at Casa de la Noche were beyond wonderful. Magical, really. I loved my apartment, the Terrazo suite, with an iron gated terrace. Morning breakfasts in the lavender scented patio were a delicious start to days that were loosely ours to inhabit. The structure of the week allowed personal and group time to flow. It takes a special leader to gather and weave the individual threads each group member brings to form a substantive framework that is both containing and yet porous. Your bravery and example of honest and truthful 'showing up' opened the week with permission for all of us to do just that. The truly touching closing ritual and festive last night meal and laughter at a long dining table was ample evidence of how quickly we had all connected to form a whole. A whole lot of ‘birds’ chattering and laughing away before flying off to distant nests." —MM
"I’m not a gambler at heart, but I took the risk of doing something completely foreign by signing up for Ellie’s workshop. I took her at her word that “novice painters” would be welcome. When she announced she was not teaching techniques however I felt like I had not understood the advertisement and was disappointed. When instead, she used the word “improvisational” I felt comfortable, with that I thought I could find the personal benefit I was looking for in my art medium. We spent a lot of time bonding with participants, and sharing feelings which typically go unspoken. I don’t know how beneficial that was to each of our art, or whether we will continue to look inside and express more "heart", but I will keep my paintings as a wonderful visual reminder of the risk I took and what I learned about friends and family. I know when I came home I was energized and motivated to make art, and I’m doing it, and that is good." —DS
"I had expected to be able to travel on my own (a bigger step than one would think) and just be and do art. My experience was more than I expected as I listened to others and realized the pain that art can solve. I'll remember most the heartfelt feelings of the group of women. I loved our evening dinner in the thunderstorm with the soulful music—it filled my soul! It was a great week and experience that warms my heart." —JM
"I enjoyed the workshop. It was good for me. It was different than I expected. In a good way. Learned about new tools to use in painting and painted on very large canvases for the first time. At times I felt as though I had no ideas for my work. At other times I felt like I did have ideas. When I look back I realize I learned I have a relationship with art. I’m a beginner and felt like rubber hit the road for me, that I was not ready to “break up” my relationship with art after a few months of not painting much. I liked the accommodations. I loved the gatherings at breakfast and the breakfasts themselves to start the day. The highlight of the experience was being able to paint on a large canvas. Having group talks and support. Eating wonderful food. Feeling welcome as an American and a feeling of sharing the continent with Mexico. I appreciated the other women for their willingness to be open and their brilliance. It was a special group of women. I could relate very well to them with the life experiences of being female, experiencing loss and retirement. I felt accepted and respected." —CW
"The accommodations could not have been better. I loved having a room to myself, not to mention having the whole Casa to ourselves! Wonderful to be able to leave our work out. It was the perfect setting. You paced each day just right, giving us time to paint and time to explore the city. The area has lots to offer and I always felt safe out by myself or in small groups. I think what I’ll remember most...outside seeing you again and meeting Roo and that amazing hot air balloon ride...was how hard it was /is to just paint for the sake of painting. Looking deeper, I have always had a goal in mind and to paint without having it represent anything is hard...should be simple, but I found that I don’t have much of an imagination! It was wonderful to meet and get to know all of the women and I hope that we will all continue to stay in touch. Thank you again for offering this escape." —KS
"The retreat was just what I needed after a long Michigan winter. I signed at the last minute because I just could not take the cold and grey any longer. The altitude and lack of humidity worked to reduce my inflammation and I was pain free while I was in San Miguel. I was looking forward to being in a group as opposed to being on my own and trying to figure everything out myself. I think the sharing circle was good as an daily event. We got to know each other and could travel around the city together. I also liked the presentations that you did at night and the general discussion about art. The accommodations were wonderful. Except for food, we could have stayed there all the time. The staff was so accommodating and friendly. The breakfast was good. I had delicious and healthy meals throughout the City. The colors of the buildings were phenomenal and the Casa de la Noche courtyards and balconies were delightful and cozy. I saw something even more beautiful every time I walked through the site. I will remember its beauty. I appreciate the attention you paid to the details of our stay. Renting the whole site added to the cohesiveness of our group. The sharing circle was safe and gave us room to explore why we had come to Mexico. It was a very personal experience." —HS
2019 Art Retreat for Women April 6 -13. This retreat could be for you! If you want to kick start your art-making, or simply want to get away from a cold, gray winter, please consider joining me and 11 others for a unique art/life adventure April 6-13. If it doesn't seem quite right for you but you know someone else who would benefit from this, please pass on this information. Click here to learn more!
“What a fun painting!” says one appreciative viewer. “It looks like you’re really having fun with that one!” says another. Or, simply, “So much fun!"
Responding enthusiastically, I might say, “Oh, yes, I really enjoy what I do!” But rarely do I give voice to the part of me that grumbles, “Really, is that all you have to say about my artwork?”
I know my sour reaction to what are obviously intended as compliments is small-minded. Why can’t I simply accept that someone is experiencing pleasure looking at my paintings? Why do I insist to myself that my work isn’t fun? Time and time again, I’ve questioned myself along these lines. What’s wrong with me?
It’s not that I believe fun is a bad thing. It’s simply that calling my paintings “fun”seems to lump my efforts in a category with stuff it doesn’t really belong with. Eating ice cream, going to the beach, watching thrillers, and playing golf are lots of fun. But while these enjoyable time-fillers may be diverting, exciting or amusing, it’s never my intention that a painting of mine should do any of these things.
Recently a visitor to my Studio & Gallery acknowledged my work in a particularly poignant manner. She and her husband spent a fair amount of time quietly viewing my paintings before I checked to see if they had any questions for me. I noticed that while her husband was saying something, the woman had gone very quiet; in fact, she’d started sobbing. When I asked what was moving her, she tearfully explained that she was being affected by the feeling of freedom my paintings seemed to express, and vaguely how this related to a situation in her life. It didn’t matter to me if she could articulate precisely what she was experiencing—I could tell she’d connected with the real purpose for which I make my art. High praise, indeed!
I have a profound sense that my art wants to do more than entertain; and that, as colorful and delightful as they may be, my paintings have a job to do. Their work, it seems to me, is to transform, liberate, uplift and enliven. That’s why I insist the efforts I make on behalf of my art are not merely a fun pastime, but a disciplined practice, or work. And, that’s why I (and others) call those paintings works of art! Most sincere artists I know claim to work—not play—at their art. For us, work is not a dirty word, or something to eventually retire from; indeed, it’s hard for most of us to imagine a life without our art-making. We may be playful in our work, but it’s still work, not play.
On this Labor Day weekend, while I’m also having some fun, I’m acutely aware of the value of my work. Art work is truly a labor of love and I’m grateful for the privilege of having committed to this employment. I wish everyone could have work as satisfying as I have had in my various careers and, particularly, in the present one. For as Khalil Gibran suggests, work can be a beautiful way to get the love that’s inside us a way out—and, there, it can make a difference in the world.
Happy Labor Day! May you enjoy doing the work that’s yours to do today!