Home, The Artist’s Residency and A Look Back

Home, The Artist’s Residency and A Look Back

I’m back home.

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:

Creativity Mirroring Life

Creativity Mirroring Life

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

Adding stuff

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!

Showing up For Work

Showing up For Work

I’m not feeling great.  I should probably just end this post right here.  But, no, I’ll soldier on. Not because this post is important, it’s not, but because it represents all the things on my to do list and so much that is just life. No one needs to hear my laundry list of “woes”, we’ve all got them.  More to the point is that I’m struggling.  My mom’s death feels like an endless, bottomless pit of emotions.  I know I’ll get through it.  I know work-arounds that help me get through those days when things are really bad and “getting through the day” feels impossible.  That’s when the put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other method of coping gets enacted.

Grieving is a luxury. Some days require putting all of that to the side so that other things can be dealt with in a timely fashion and because life moves along, it doesn’t wait for those of us who are grieving.  And I also know I can’t leap frog my way beyond the grief.  It will be there waiting for me on the other side.  It’s always there.  Some days I’m luckier than others, the grief stays on the edge, other days it moves front and center.  Those are the days when every step feels like I’m dragging a fifty pound weight.  Those are the days when showing up feels like a monumental task.  But I know from designing, from creating, from every day that I work on a piece, that even when I don’t “feel like it” showing up for the work is one of the most important things I can do.  And, counter-intuitively, it is what ends up making me feel better in the long run.

All of this reminds me of something Michael Crichton once said.  It was decades ago when I was the Director of the Aspen Writer’s Conference and had reached out to him to kick off the conference.  He was game and gave an amazing talk in the Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute.  I will have to paraphrase as there is no transcript of his presentation.  He was talking about writing. Imagine, he said, if you were a commercial airline pilot with a full schedule of flights and woke up one morning and said, You know, I don’t really feel like flying today.  I think I’ll go back to sleep for a few hours. Writing (any of the arts) is the only “profession” where people talk themselves out of getting up and putting in the hours.  Everyone in the audience was quiet.  But it doesn’t work that way, he continued.  If you’re a writer/artist then you get up and you put in your hours, whether it’s flying a commercial airline or writing a book, or in my case, working on a new piece, writing up a new workshop, filming a new Youtube video or any of the other things I’ve got on my list of things that I need to do because this is the life and profession I’ve chosen for myself.

How does grief fit into all of this?  It doesn’t.  It’s just there.  All the time.  And as a result, it is I that must make the necessary adjustments in my life to accommodate these new feelings and emotions, while continuing to show up for the work.

 

Pain, Grief and Showing up Anyway

Pain, Grief and Showing up Anyway

So here’s the thing…  I feel a whole lot better when I show up even when I feel awful, even when I feel things are rough and I’m tired, even when I don’t want to.  I’ve also learned that showing up anyway is the single best remedy for not continuing to feel that way. Except that it’s also really hard to do.  That’s the thing.  It’s really, really hard and sometimes… sometimes it feels impossible.  I know it technically isn’t, but it sure feels that way.

Marcus Aurelius wrote about pain a great deal.  And in his writings about it he consistently focusses on choice and responding, rather than reacting.  I’m a huge fan of Marcus Aurelius, not just because he was wise, but because this guy was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet he continued to do his best to remain humble, to avoid arrogance, to nurture self awareness and to treat others with respect and kindness.

So yeah, showing up anyway.  Easier said than done, so I have found ways to do so that aren’t quite so laden, that make it a tiny bit easier.  I call it setting myself up to succeed.

Here’s what I do:

  • Thread up a whole bunch of needles with different types and weights of thread.  I use both Chenille needles and Milliners Needles.
  • Grab a needle, any needle, it doesn’t matter which one, and begin stitching.  I have a couple of mindless go-to stitches that don’t require any thought.  They are the meditative stitches like french knots, bullion knots, colonial knots, seed stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch, straight stitch and then I riff on them, which means I start exploring every aspect of that stitch.  How many wraps can I make on a french knot before the whole thing begins to fall apart?  (It turns out a lot more than you might think!). What ways can I stitch a straight stitch to create different patterns?
  • Exploration
  • Investigation
  • And before you know it, I’m playing!

Stitching, more than anything, changes everything, even grief, even pain.

If you’re curious to know how I did this, I made a video about it and you can watch it here:

Swiss Lace & My Grandpère

Swiss Lace & My Grandpère

My father’s father, Maximilian Oscar Zürcher, my grandfather, imported Swiss lace to all the Couture Houses in Paris. Originally from Teufen, Switzerland, he moved to Paris where he and his wife raised my father, who was born in 1919 and my Aunt Jeanne. This was the extent of my knowledge regarding my grandfather. And then one of my patrons on Patreon asked if I’d demonstrate working with vintage lace for our monthly livestream. As my eldest brother had sent me some of my grandpère’s lace years ago, I pulled some out and along with it, came upon a sketch book that I’d not spent much time looking at.

And inside was a treasure trove of beautiful sketches that he had done.

When I realized that these sketches were my grandfather’s I was both proud and astonished. How was it that this book had been sitting on a shelf along with dozens of samples of the beautiful Swiss Lace he imported and yet I never realized he also designed and was an artist?!

A few samples of the Swiss Lace he imported.

And then I remembered that my Aunt Jeanne, my father’s only sibling who lived in Paris until her death, had given me a photo album filled with photos of Grandfather’s lace used by the fashion houses in Paris, where he also lived and where my father and his sister grew up.

Grandfather’s lace used by Christian Dior
Nina Ricci – Spring 1957
Schiaparelli
Schiaparelli
Robert Pignet

Almost all the photographs were marked on the back with the designer. A few even had other notations in French: the year, the model and where they were. And then I came upon this watercolor drawing.

Lanvin Watercolor Sketch

As I looked through the photographs it was like stepping back in time…

Mme de Salis: 1952
1932
1929
1924
1910
1904

I haven’t tried to translate all the writing, most of it is in either French or German or maybe even Swiss German, I can’t tell, and the handwritten script is difficult for me to decipher, still it’s something I’d love to do so that I could read what he wrote.

I cannot describe the feelings that are coming up after seeing all of this. When I was at Parsons, I knew fairly quickly that fashion design was not for me. At the time I felt that I had somehow failed. Here we had spent a small fortune getting me through college, and yet I knew I didn’t have it in me to devote the rest of my life to fashion design. But there was something about fabric, threads, fiber that continued to call to me. I began designing hand knits, I ventured off into designing fine jewelry, but I always felt the pull to return to fiber of some kind. Finding all of these things from my grandfather, a man I never knew as he died before I was born, has been nothing short of astonishing. It feels as though things make more sense. Could it be that this man whom I knew nothing about, my father rarely spoke of him, had never-the-less influenced me? Is there some genetic component to what one feels drawn to? Who knows? Regardless, I am incredibly grateful to have these small treasures that were once his.