I’ve been busy. With my gifted studio space I am making good use of it. There’s no wi-fi, so I tend to just work and not stop to make videos or write posts, etc. As a result I’ve been less visible than usual, which has been a good thing to do from time to time. Regroup, rethink, reprioritize, and in general concentrate on what I like, what I want and less on what I think I “should” be doing.
Painting has taken me back to beginner status. I’m just figuring things out, testing out the materials, seeing what would happen if I try this and then what about that?! It’s both anxiety producing, scary and fun all at the same time. The anxiety and fear is rooted in “other”. What I mean by that is it’s all about comparing or wanting to be farther along in the journey than I actually am. Learning a new medium takes time and determination and a willingness to make a mess and not have things turn out “well”. But that’s what learning is all about, process; the process of becoming familiar with the unfamiliar, the process of seeing what will happen if, the process of creating without a net, without expectation of an outcome, without needing things to be a certain way. Learning isn’t elegant, necessarily, but it can be a lot of fun if I can keep myself from leap frogging to an expectation, an end result. iSo that’s where I am right now. I’m learning.
And every now and then, something I was about to rip up and use for collage looks better than I initially thought, and so I keep it and make notes about what I like, what I don’t like, what could be improved upon. I might even annotate it in my sketch book, play with other ideas or just leave as is and move on to something else.
Right now I have two pieces I’m playing with. One is devoted to playing around with ink and seeing what I can do using different things and the other is devoted to putting down a collage layer and then painting on top and mark making. For some reason I’m drawn to charcoal and yet kind of dislike it at the same time. Not sure what that’s about, but I keep picking it up and using it and then not liking the results, so I’ll explore that a bit more and try to figure out what I like about it. I already know what I don’t like about it, but why do I keep going to it? That’s what I want to explore as I think there’s something there that’s worth investigating.
I tried to do some photo imaging and it was somewhat successful, but I’m going to refer to the interview I did with my friend Leslie Fry who showed me this process and I taped it, but need to rewatch to see what I’m doing wrong. I like the idea of photo transferring and have watched a bunch of Youtube videos on it, but I need to practice doing it more. I like what it evokes, I like that I can use images that are meaningful to me and then paint over them with just a little bit still peeking through. I like how personal the piece then becomes. The bigger point though is that I’m trying stuff out and seeing where it takes me, because after all the process is the whole point.
Yesterday I did the youtube video that I also posted in my Facebook group. You can watch it, below, if you feel like it. But it made me think about the importance of community and how powerful being a part of, is.
Afterward I posted a more detailed prompt for my Patrons and promised them I’d figure out how to include Discord into the mix so that those who wanted to take up the challenge could post photos there. I had to get my son to help me because I couldn’t remember how to access Discord within Patreon, but thankfully, he showed me and soon I was chatting with some of my patrons, to much hilarity. And I was reminded once more of the joy of being a part of, the joy of having a community.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep, as is the case now, it’s 4am, I’ve been up since 2, I go into the other room and watch YouTube videos. This morning I watched this:
Which again had me reflecting on community, and the power and exhilaration that comes with being a part of something far greater than ourselves.
There is nothing more moving, more emotionally impactful than art, whether that’s in the form of visual or music; art can move me to tears. There are key moments in my life that I remember to this day, such as when my parents took me to an exhibit of Diebenkorn at the Oakland museum and the thrill of being emotionally moved to tears by a painting or the first time I ever saw Wayne Thiebaud’s painting of a pair of black shoes. I was transfixed, mesmerized, and I couldn’t even work out exactly why or watching flamenco dancers at the Joyce Theater and realizing I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Art, music, dance… creative expression astounds, engages, entertains, and is a constant reminder that I’m not alone, that I’m one of many, that whatever I’m going through, others have too.
I’ve mentioned before that I am teaching a workshop beginning this coming Saturday that I am more excited about than anything I’ve taught previously. Finding Your Voice Through Exploration & Creativity is more personal to me than anything I’ve done before and I’m thrilled that it’s almost sold out. I have just 3 spots left in it. Finding your voice is all about finding yourself in your artistic expression and how to do that if you don’t know where to look. It’s about working through fear and recognizing that fear while creating can be debilitating, but there are things one can do to work around it and do the work anyway. Finding your voice is about claiming yourself and creating what only you can create. Finding your voice is about putting ourselves out in the world so that we can become part of a larger artistic community. Finding your voice is the single most exciting thing I’ve had the joy of experiencing.
My sister-in-law sent this to me this morning and I was so moved by it, particularly given all that is happening in our world, especially here in the United States, that I thought I’d share it with all of you.
I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I start our day reading from the The Daily Stoic. Often it’s a quote from Marcus Aurelius or Seneca or Epictetus, but it’s always thought provoking and interesting. We then discuss, each taking turns to share our thoughts and intentions for the coming day. It’s a really beautiful way to connect and begin the day.
The thing is I’m an early riser so I am often up several hours earlier than him and that’s when I practice my french, do a workout (yes, I’m still working out on my FitOn App, which I love and now do anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes of strength training, cardio and whatever else I can manage! I even have dumb bells that I use! Gasp! I know, I know, but at my age I really cannot let this slide…)
So when I went to answer emails this morning, while waiting for my husband to arise, I loved seeing this link to Peace Train. I teared up within the first few seconds, it is so beautiful. And I kept thinking about something we read the other day from The Daily Stoic about how it’s just as easy to be kind as it is to not be and takes just as little time. Added plus, kindness is a gift to everyone who receives it, regardless if they’re able to return it. The return isn’t the point. It’s the practice of it, the commitment to it, the act of doing it on a daily basis, that’s really the point. At least that’s the case for me.
Yesterday I did a livestream over on Patreon for my patrons, celebrating my 1st goal met, 100 Patrons! How amazing is that? I live-streamed from my summer studio. It was a lot of fun. During that livestream, I had the idea that I might start doing a prompt in my Facebook group: Ariane Zurcher Stitching Circle And then, as I was saying that, I thought it would be really fun to make an even more detailed prompt for all my Patrons over on Patreon. So I’m going to be thinking about that today and seeing what I come up with. But I already have some ideas that I think could be really fun.
There are 5 spots left in my upcoming Finding Your Voice Workshop. I did a short video explaining how that workshop came into being, a very short pictorial history of some of my other work when I was a fashion designer and jewelry designer and then came to stitching and how improvisational stitching was a major turning point and then going to the artist’s residency in France this spring was the next major turning point and what the workshop is all about. You can watch it, if you like, below.
I’ve been taking Louise Fletcher’s free Find Your Joy taster class and it’s been SO wonderful. First of all Louise is lovely and humble and very, very talented, but also it’s exactly what I needed to encourage me to try painting again.
My first painting after many, many years…
When I was young I wanted to be a fine artist, but the adults in my life (not just my parents) encouraged me to be more responsible (aka get a REAL job.). So I went into fashion design, hated it, then jewelry design, loved it, but ultimately found it not exactly the right fit for me, then found hand stitching, and finally Improvisational Stitching, which has been so wonderful and freeing. I love improvisational stitching, but I also know this isn’t where everything ends. All of this I will be talking about in much more detail in my upcoming workshop: Finding Your Voice Through Exploration and Creativity. I will be sharing my experience with art, design, and evolution as an artist; how I came to improvisational stitching, the things I continue to do, look for and try. The workshop is all about encouraging and helping people find their unique voice. What motivates, what awes and inspires and how to take those things and incorporate them into your art. The workshop is personal and is the culmination of many things that I’ve done over the course of my life. We’re going to have a wonderful, wonderful time of soul searching in a safe environment, cheered on and encouraged to try things we might not otherwise try and we will talk about that inner critic. The one who is sometimes so loud we have a hard time concentrating. Each day is filled with exercises to help us see what’s blocking us, how to work through and around those blocks (and inner critic) and move towards what we love. There are still spots open! So sign up.
I’m a seeker, a life long learner. I got that from my mother. I love stretching and trying new things. I get bored pretty quickly, so improv stitching has been fantastic as the options are infinite. I can incorporate lots of different things into it.
When I was awarded the Artist’s Residency in France this spring, I had a studio and realized how much I needed that so I could work bigger and add paint to my pieces. My husband early into my 2-week residency said to me, while talking on the phone one evening, “So I guess you’re not going to be able to come back from this…”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Having a studio,” he said.
“Yup. Definitely going to be needing a real studio when I get home.”
So guess what? I was gifted part of a studio for the summer and painting was the first thing I wanted to do. And this is where Louise’s free class comes in. It’s all about painting and I figured I’d get some prompts and encouragement to paint again, and that’s exactly what I got and so much more!
2nd attempt at painting again…
I did six of these and had so much fun!
And then I hit a snag. I had one of those days where the voice in my head told me everything I was doing was awful. So I did what I’ve learned to do over decades of dealing with this voice. I kept going anyway, though I must admit there was little pleasure to be had… and when the voice became too insistent I went back to doing some hand stitching on La Bête, which is soothing and lovely.
Gimp French Knots, Added Wool with Ribbon Roses, Feather Stitch
And the next morning I woke up and went into the studio and began working on the piece that had me down and feeling like this whole painting idea was a bad one. And do you know what happened? I decided I rather liked it after all.
And then I decided that I wanted to try doing something I’d never attempted before. Doing an abstract piece using a photograph as inspiration.
I tested this idea out in my sketch book first.
And then I tried to recreate this on proper paper, but the size is off and I actually like the one in my sketch book best, so that was interesting!
It became too elongated. I like the square shape that I did in my sketch book. I may try this again with a square piece of paper.
I also played with some black paper using only black, white and red paint.
Anyway, the whole experience has been nothing short of amazing and so, so informative and just beyond wonderful. I’m loving my time in the studio where I go from painting to stitching and then back to painting and now can incorporate both in my work, which feels even more amazing. I love that as I learn new things my work changes. I love that just because I enjoy something I don’t have to stick with just that and do nothing else. I love that I continue to explore and grow and the work shows that as well.
I’ve tested positive. It was bound to happen, and yet, somehow it still caught me off guard. Even with two vaccinations and the follow up booster the virus managed to worm its way into my system. Blinding headache, but I’ve been getting migraines for over a year now, so thought this was some new horrible post menopausal progression that was the new normal. Took migraine meds. Nothing. Doubled the dose and finally had some relief. People who have chronic migraines talk about being in so much pain they’re nauseous and even vomit. I stopped just short of that. The feeling of exhaustion I attributed to my mother’s memorial service, losing her, missing her or some combination of all of the above.
But in the end, I’m a New Yorker. We’ve been through some pretty horrendous times when it comes to covid so when there’s any sign of fatigue, sniffle, anything out of the ordinary, get tested.
Negative. Whew. Dodged the bullet. Again.
Then the feeling of being chilled, even though it was a beautiful spring day. Sunny, in the 70’s. We haven’t started using our air-conditioning yet. I check the thermostat. 75 degrees inside. I’m happiest when it’s 70 or maybe 71, so this was odd as normally I’d be warm. Decide to test myself again, just to be safe. And there they were, those dreaded two lines. Grab a mask, start texting everyone I’ve come in contact with, cancel any appointments that can be postponed.
Instinctively reach for my husband’s hand, sense his reluctance and draw back. Right. I’m a walking viral infected vessel for the foreseeable future.
Still I was able to conduct my Patron’s Ask Me Anything Zoom meeting. I did a demonstration of how, with photos, and in real time, I evaluate a piece, the things I look for to help me decide what my next step might be by looking at value, composition, mark making, etc to give me ideas and direction. I use lots of photographs and annotate them. I even have one piece that isn’t quite right yet, this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
Afterwards another call, immediately after my Patron’s Zoom, but I’m still well enough and the distraction is nice. Besides it’s always great to see other’s work evolve and take shape.
New meds, Paxlovid, are delivered, the young man delivering this new medication door to door is maskless. I restrain myself from scolding him. He’s a grown man, after all, surely he knows the risks. He’s delivering medication to people with covid…. it’s impossible for me to understand the thinking. Everything’s political now, taking precedence over common sense and our collective well being. Still I worry about him. I fall asleep at 7:30 with his face in my mind.
It’s morning now, I’ve taken my 2nd dose of Paxlovid. Am I any better? Is it working? Did I wait too long to start the medication? Who knows. I think I’m feeling a little better, maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
I go to gratitude. Because this life is so fleeting and then we’re gone. Laughter, kindness, random acts of care and thoughtfulness is always the way to go. There’s so much pain and suffering out there, am I part of the problem or part of the solution? These are my go-to thoughts, especially when I don’t feel great.
My brutal, brutal migraines are Covid and not the new norm. Yay!
I was able to get this new medicine quickly from our GP (who also has Covid). We compared notes on symptoms and next course of action.
My husband, who is recovering from surgery is testing negative. So far so good.
My children are both negative.
I’m upright and able to type this and even maybe have put a few coherent sentences together.
It could be so much worse.
Thinking of all of you and hoping you are safe and well.
This weekend we flew to Aspen for my mother’s “Celebration of Life.” I forgot to take photographs at the Celebration, but I did take a couple when we arrived or I should say, barely arrived. We were the last flight to get in. When we landed one of the guys unloading the bags said to me, “you are SO lucky!” I thought he was referring to our bags and said, “Really? You mean our bags almost didn’t make the flight?”
“No! Ten more minutes and the plane would have had to turn around and go back.”
Evidently the visibility was deteriorating by the minute. So yeah.
Arriving in Aspen
Herbert Bayer Sculpture outside the Aspen Institute
Surrounded by family and good friends, the Celebration of Life was a beautiful tribute to my mother with an outpouring of love, memories, laughter and sadness. But mostly joy. Joy that I am fortunate enough to have such a big, wonderful family, with lots of siblings, and extended family, all of whom I love and am close to. I was able to spend time with one of my nieces that I haven’t seen in ages, and spend time with cousins, distant cousins, extended family and many, many friends. And then, dancing around the edges of all of that was my mother. My beautiful, smart, complicated, funny mother.
Mom in her 30’s
Prior to flying out west I was feeling a bit grumbly about the whole thing. It’s not easy flying out, it’s expensive, I didn’t want to go, but lurking under all of that grumbling was the feeling that this was the final goodbye. By coming out to where she lived and having this very public “ceremony” we were closing a chapter. And that… that felt far too painful to contemplate, much less really feel and be acutely in touch with. That we also arrived in a snow storm, with flight delays and everything else that comes with traveling with four other people, it seemed to confirm my feelings that all of this should have been done via Zoom. And then something bizarre happened. On the final leg of our trip getting there, I was seated next to a young man who was going through a really, really difficult, as in life transformative, time. He kept apologizing to me for spilling his “guts” and reassured me that he never does this. He poured out his troubles during our 45 minute flight and told me what was going on with him and it made me realize how important rituals are. How ceremonies aren’t for any one person, but more for the collective group, the family, the community and in our recognition and attendance we heal individually, but also together.
My mother dressed in a Tweety Bird Costume during one of her many costume parties that we had up at the ranch.
Mom deadpanning while wearing her polar bear hat one Christmas on the ranch.
As it turned out, one of my brothers was quarantined in Brussels with Covid and so couldn’t get out and another of my brothers was unable to come, but attended via Zoom, as did a number of other people.
We started the ceremony with a pianist playing Mozart and ended with Ragtime, one of her favorite genres. Everyone who spoke, spoke eloquently about my mother and there was laughter and memories and sadness and connection. The following day I fell apart. It was as though I’d been holding things together up until that point, but then couldn’t keep it up. I felt exhausted and completely and utterly overwhelmed with feelings: grief, sadness, love, gratitude and everything in between. Thankfully I was with family. Family my mother was once the matriarch of. She is gone now and yet she resides in all of us. I can just hear her adding, “a dubious distinction…” I’m so, so grateful to her, and to all that she left behind.
During this bizarre time of Covid any gathering has the potential to be a superspreader event and while I am keeping my fingers crossed that this was not one of those events, I have already heard that 6 people who attended have now tested positive. My immediate family has not, at least not yet, but we will continue to monitor ourselves.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re traveling, time seems to move differently? The days go by both faster and slower, and once home, it can feel as though you never left. Yet simultaneously seem like you were gone for months?
That’s where I am right now. My trip to France seems like a dream, while also remains deeply embedded in my mind. It’s both real and unreal. The piece I created while at the artist’s residency, a physical reminder of my time there.
La Bete turned vertically!
Isn’t it interesting how a piece can change, often quite radically by turning it. This was done by pure accident because I needed to clear the desk it had been resting on horizontally and the only way to prop it up was to turn it vertically. I didn’t think much of it, but then my husband called to me and said, “Look!”
We both decided that we liked it better this way, so this is how it will now be! A little like time, everything shifts when you change things up and view from a different perspective.
And in the middle of teaching a workshop this week, but thought I’d grab these few free minutes that I have to write a post. First off, if you haven’t seen my other videos and posts about my artist’s residency, it was AMAZING! Truly beyond anything I had imagined. Being immersed in art, living with a group of artists for two weeks was just incredible. I had no distractions other than self imposed deadlines, and the occasional load of laundry, but otherwise I was free to explore, create, learn and be inspired by everything and everyone around me. It was magical. And added plus, in a group of 16 artists, there wasn’t a single prima donna! Not a one. Everyone was beyond lovely.
I’ve been home now for just over a week and already it’s all beginning to fade into the background. In many ways it feels as though I was just there, as in yesterday, and in other ways it feels as though it was all a dream and never happened at all or if it did, it was years ago. Time is strange like that. Still I have both Paris and Orquevaux on my weather app, so everyday I look to see what the weather is like over there. It’s a tenuous thread that still attaches me to that magical place and time. One of these days I’ll remove them both, but for now, it’s a bit like listening to an old phone message from my mother. I know she’s gone, but I can’t bare to delete it.
The piece I created while at the residency is pinned precariously to a large foam board and propped up on a desk until I can put together a more permanent solution for it. I started referring to it as The Beast until someone suggested I use the french word for beast, which is La Bête, and they’re right it does sound better, a bit less jarring, a little softer. Still, there’s something about the forcefulness of “The Beast” that I rather like, so I alternate between the two depending on my mood. My friends in Paris suggested I call it Genesis, particularly since I’m doing a series. I’ve bookmarked that idea for now.
Once this workshop that I’m teaching is over, I’ll get back to it, but for now, it waits for me patiently.
While at the artist’s residency I interviewed a few of the other artists and then ran out of time and so was only able to interview six of them. If you’d like to see what some of the other artists were doing while at the residency, you can watch those interviews on my youtube channel. They are all under the Interviews! playlist.
I also had time to create a number of videos on the process or more accurately my process. Here are a couple of those videos:
It’s hard to believe that this artist’s residency is coming to a close. I have just four more days here before returning to Paris. So I thought I’d do a pictorial recap of my time here so far. It’s been beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for. Just amazing.
Gare de l’est
On the train heading toward Orquevaux!
My Studio! I can’t believe it!!
Some of the art work in the Chateau left by other artists in residence
And so it begins… getting the work up on the wall.
but now I have all of this space… I can go much bigger!
The view from my studio
Taking a morning walk with fellow artist in residence, Kevin Ford
Throwing some paint around
Working and adding
Playing with shapes, getting in the blues…
Lichen always inspires
Taking a walk to clear my head and get some perspective on the challenges I’m seeing in the piece now that I’ve doubled its size.
The sheer beauty and magnitude of this place…
The boat house
The blue alien is now an ever present “issue” that I work hard to resolve…
Deciding that I have to stitch stuff down anyway…
Boldly stitching the blue insect/alien even though I have misgivings… maybe it’ll look better once it’s stitched down.
Nope it doesn’t. Annotating the work, before adding more blue, because if the blue bits are the problem, let’s throw more on there and see what happens.
The blue rabbit hole continues. I’m so deep in it I can’t see my way out.
Still I can appreciate the fabulous art all around me that covers the walls of this amazing place.
Raclette night and the fabulous Beulah van Rensburg: artistic director
The. blue continues to prove problematic.
But I’m determined…
and when all else fails, start another piece…
Fellow artists put on a puppet show for all of us, to great hilarity and fun!
and then I return to my studio to finish my little study inspired by the lichen I’ve seen on my many walks.
And on it goes… the creative process continues.
The big take away from all of this is that the process of creating is often bumpy, but if you don’t give into despair and just meet it head on matter-of-factly, the process is actually very instructive and can be wonderfully fun. It so mirrors life. Some of the things I tell myself: Don’t take it personally. You got this. It’s a momentary hiccup, what can you learn? This feels uncomfortable, but it’s okay. I’ve been here before and gotten through, I’ll get through this too. Breathe. Be patient and honor the process.
The ups and downs, the unexpected road blocks, the work arounds, it’s all there, just as in life, but making the decision to find the joy, to be present, even when I’d rather not be, that’s the trick. Right now I still haven’t resolved some of the issues I have with this piece, but I know I’ll get there eventually. It’s all part of creating and creating is always wonderful! Hard, but wonderful!
Terror. That’s a word they never mentioned in art school.
Color theory, art history, figurative drawing, these were all pre-requisites; considered the very foundation of any good education in the arts.
Terror? Fear? Not so much. Neither of those words or any words like that, were ever uttered.
And yet… who doesn’t feel fear and even terror, at some point, when creating?
As children, we run headlong, without thinking, without concern, without fear, and we create. Using mud and sand and sticks and our fingers. We don’t pause and reconsider. We don’t think – but maybe this isn’t a good idea. Yet somewhere along the way we learn to be fearful. We learn that being creative opens us up to criticism, anger, even rage and perhaps violence. Suddenly what came naturally to all of us, no longer feels natural. We tell ourselves that we aren’t “creative types”. And yet, I would argue that we are born creative.
Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
Creating doesn’t have to be on paper, it can be an idea, a vision, a way of thinking. Each of us has a unique mind, shaped by our experiences, our interactions, what we love, our passions, where we were born, the families we were born into, the land upon which we were raised.
So where does this terror come from?
Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear, fear, fear. We are taught to be “sensible”. We are taught to not “dream too big”. We are taught to not “waste time”. We are taught that to create is a luxury. But what if what we were taught is wrong?
Moving through fear, even terror is one of the most exhilarating, transcendent things I’ve ever experienced. It is what connects me to other human beings. It is what connects me to my creativity. It bonds, unites, and can bring me to my knees. It’s what causes me to rediscover the unadulterated beauty and joy of my innocence, that exquisite time before I learned to feel fear.
If any of this resonates with you, consider enrolling in my new workshop: Finding Your Voice where we will use various prompts, words, exercises and even stitching to break though our fears and find ourselves in our work.