Today I’ll put the finishing touches on the six-foot-tall fiberglass “Bucky Badger” statue that’s been in my studio since January. I might add a fresh layer of paint to his big grey toes. Maybe I’ll find a couple fabric edges that need more glue. I’ll probably fuss over him a bit more than I need to, because I’ll miss him when he gets returned on Saturday to the organizers of Madison’s “Bucky on Parade." And actually, he’s a great conversationalist – witty, insightful and, surprisingly, kind.
OK, so I hear those two alarm bells going off. And yes, I talk and he talks back, and yes, beyond all that fierceness, he is kind. And just for the record, I know you either talk to your plants or you’re telling your dog that the Facebook video was really not that funny, so enough with the eye-rolling.
I think it started somewhat early in the project, when I was cutting up the fabric I am using to create the collage artwork on the surface of Bucky. I gave him the name “Bright Idea Bucky” and asked anyone and everyone to write on the fabric, giving their answers to the question “What’s the bright idea you can contribute to the world?”
As I looked over the hundreds of writings, I know he heard me muttering things like “I can’t believe that’s all you could come up with?” And I might have said “Really? Just signing your name is the bright idea that you would add to the statue of the mascot for the University of Wisconsin?”
So, I don’t think I actually heard his voice, it was more like I had an impression of his voice. Kind of like when the dog gives you that look as you’re heading out to work and you find yourself saying “These pants are not too short and you know it.” And I realize you don’t know my high school art teacher Mr. Price, but Bucky reminds me of him. Funny and forgiving at the same time, since he knew your biggest problem was not that you couldn’t draw, but that you were getting in your own way.
Anyway, I recall Bucky saying something like “So, that’s not the ‘right’ kind of bright idea, is that it?”
Eeeesh, he stopped me right in mid-scissoring. “I just thought people might reach a little higher, you know, think a little bigger?” I thought back. “I just want your statue to be filled with thought provoking, inspiring ideas.”
“What if those writings that say ‘read a book’ or ‘smile at someone’ have just as much power as big ideas about saving the world and inventing things? And if a person just signs their name, maybe they’re saying ‘I don’t know what to write, but I’m here showing up and that’s what I can offer?’ ”
He was bugging me now, like Mr. Price used to do when he would walk by my desk in art class and say things like “Maybe you want to draw what you see and not what you know.”
“OK, I get what you mean, and I like it even better,” I told him. “Because now the writings all feel like unique little voices that aren’t trying to impress anyone. Kind of like the family reunion dinner table where everyone talks at the same time and somehow it all works.” And just like that, I had an entirely different view of what his statue was going to look like, and I loved it even more.
I shouldn’t have been surprised about where he would go next. I mean this is Bucky Badger, after all. “One other thing,” he began. “When we’re out there on the field, we know what we need to do to win the game, so we try different plays. We know how it feels to win, but we don’t have a set-in-stone vision of how to get there. Keep your eye on what’s happening right now, and switch it up if you need to. And I think you missed a spot on my toe.”
I’m gonna miss that badger.
Over the past few months I've been swimming around in those murky waters called ‘The Place Between Point A and Point B’. We've all had that unsettled, uneasy feeling for different reasons, including things like when will the house sell, why hasn't the doctor called or what if I don't get the job offer? It's the weight of that big question mark that drags on us and makes the waters hard to navigate.
Having an art studio in a guest bedroom has been an unsatisfying arrangement to say the least, not to mention the resulting isolation that comes with it. I wanted more to share about my day than ‘we have a new mailman!’ So I decided that there might be a job out there that would use my professional skills and not suffocate my artist spirit. The giant question mark then became what was this job and how do I find it?
And the more I thought about jumping into the job market the more I realized I was way out of the loop. I mean, really, what's the latest with LinkedIn? Do people still use the phone? What do you mean that computers scan resumes first? And do I dare mention ‘artist’ or does that imply insanity?
I clearly needed guidance on the modern-day approach to all this, and met with April McHugh through the Job Search Support Group offered by Adult Career & Special Student Services, part of the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison. April is a Career & Educational Counselor, and in her words, ‘helps people with ideas, choices and direction to lead the life they imagine.’
Well, that about sums it all up, right? So, as you can imagine, April and her colleagues offer amazing advice, resources, feedback and support, all free through the university. I could describe some of these programs here but I'd rather focus on one conversation and the powerful nugget of wisdom I came away with: FUN.
Wait, you say, fun? As in enjoyment? Positive energy and feeling happy with your day? In the context of a job search? Yes. And here's what I learned.
Sometimes the fastest way to point B or the job situation you really want, is by taking on what's called a “bridge job”. This kind of employment doesn't have to be in your desired field, it could literally be anything that keeps you engaged and brings in some income while you continue your search. However, April has three criteria she shares on how to choose a good bridge job. Number one: use skills you already have to stay fresh and keep improving. Number two: take on new skills with an eye towards what appeals to you. Number three: look for work that feels fun to you. Think about what you enjoy and go in that direction. So what could this approach look like? A part-time position in a specialty foods shop or wine store could be a great bridge job for someone with a background in marketing and a love for cooking. OK, I'm starting to get the picture and it doesn't seem as daunting.
April also shared the importance of knowing who you are and sharing your unique qualities so that you can stand out from the competition. The old mindset of job searching focused on literal details as your point of strength. Titles, skills, techniques and measurements were key. While these things are still important, she emphasizes that this modern-day job market is about wrapping all that good stuff in your own unique, interesting, and in my case, artistic package. And when you tap into your own version of ‘fun’, you will get more clues about what this ‘who you are package’ looks like and how you can make it appealing to a prospective employer.
So, just as I was feeling greatly relieved at the idea of having fun and being myself, a wonderful studio space found me and pulled me out of the murky in-between waters and over to my point B. I put the resumes away and recalibrated my focus. However, I will use everything I learned during my time with April and her group, especially the refreshing advice to stand out instead of blending in. I will admit, though, LinkedIn still has me confused...
April chose this fabulous chameleon as the GEM (Good Energy Maker) she wanted to share. If you remember, chameleons are lizards that can change colors depending on their environment. April notes that folks in the midst of a job search can have a tendency to change how they present themselves to the world in the hopes of landing a job. This little guy reminds her that helping people find their own true color and work from that perspective is the point of being a good career counselor. That's pretty much the best thing you can say to any of us, especially an artist.
Earlier this spring I treated myself to little envelopes of seeds from a late winter flower show. I've always been an 'herb girl' and chose the old dependables, including sage, basil and thyme. I've forgotten how fun it is to watch over a pot of dirt, keeping the faith that the teeny tiny black specks sleeping in there know what to do and when to do it. I'm entranced with the idea that the plant's whole life story is contained in that little shape.
One of the concepts that I'm exploring in my art right now is 'sacred geometry'. There are all kinds of ways to explain this idea, but simply put, it means "symbolic and sacred meanings given to certain geometric shapes and certain geometric proportions" (wikipedia). These principles are seen in all kinds of things - the spiral of seashells and sunflowers, the shape of honeybee combs, rose windows in architecture, and Mona Lisa's face. Not kidding!
I was curious about the lowly seed, and the big job ahead of her. Surely someone in the Divine Math Department figured out some shapes for this work? It turns out that there is an ancient symbol that is a collection of interlocking circles, referred to as the 'seed' or 'flower of life'. Apparently, this design is the basis for a great deal of art found in ancient churches, in all kinds of religions.
Inspiring! Time for the challenge of creating an artwork that sums up all the energy it takes for the seed to crack open, have a nice drink of potting soil water and head for the sun! I chose a simple white muslin fabric and layered in many colors, using batik (wax to create a resist) to indicate the geometric shapes. I wanted these lines to float in the background like an 'other-worldly blueprint' while all the growing, flowering and living goes on.
Knowing that there's some kind of 'order' underneath and within even the tiniest living thing is appealing to me. In my artwork, I can go beyond a normal nature moment (my seed sprouted!) and use sacred geometry to add meaning to paintings of endangered species, clear cutting forests, terrible pollution and other distressing events. I'm thinking about the blueprint of wisdom inherent in all things and how it knows what the life story is - what to do and when to do it - regardless of the circumstances.
I have to remind myself that the blog stories I want to share with you are not about listing the shiny accomplishments of the person I'm featuring. Especially when the list is long and there are many amazing moments woven in. No, what we want to know here is the "how" of how a powerful idea got started and got going. We want to hear about the creative process that goes into the 'making it real' when inspiration keeps you up at night - especially when a 9 - 5 job is a consideration.
Saran Ouk is a change maker, and a creator of opportunity. She's also a loan officer at Alliant Credit Union here in Madison. For many underrepresented young adults, ages 18+, her non-profit, conNEXTions, is the hand you reach for if you are trying to move up and on to the things you want, like decent employment and home ownership, but lack the tools to get you there. Her group provides resources for networking, mentoring and professional development. And to the young adults in her program, this means access to business contacts who can guide you, inspire you, and more importantly, refer you. Workshops on resume writing and interviewing. And networking opportunities that simply would not be available otherwise. She knows how it feels to need all kinds of help, and how grateful you are when you get it. You see, even though Saran is a UW-Madison graduate with a degree in Community and Non-Profit leadership, owns her own home and has a job she loves, she is a member of a refugee family who arrived in the US with basically nothing. They needed food, clothing, housing and a sense of community - all supplied by non-profits - and she's never forgotten this. conNEXTions is her way of honoring this help, paying it forward, and answering a need that she's seen first hand through her work.
KS: How did you become aware of this idea for your own non-profit?
SO: "A friend of mine asked me to give advice to a young lady who was majoring in Finance. I learned that this person wanted to become a financial adviser, and I felt really connected to her when she said that she was passionate about financial literacy. She wanted to help low-income people invest their money wisely so they could end the cycle of poverty. I thought WOW! I need to help her get there. I remembered another friend who had just opened his own investment firm, so I contacted him to ask if he would be willing to meet with her to help her with this goal. He said of course, and that's when it just clicked! Making that connection for her felt like my 'calling', and I decided to pursue it. I wasn't sure how right then, but I knew that I could combine my love of non-profits and this kind of work."
KS: What advice do you have for someone who wants to bring their idea to life?
SO: "First, keep reminding yourself to believe in the dream. When I would feel overwhelmed, I would remember how it felt when my family received help, and how I wanted to make this possible for others. With my degree and background in banking, I knew I could do it somehow. Speak out loud to others about your idea. It made me accountable to get it going, and people's enthusiasm really helped me along the way. Ask people to join your circle and trust your instincts along the way. And just do it! instead of getting lost in the details of a big plan. I'm not a creative person and culturally I wasn't brought up to think of myself as a 'leader', but I wanted to step out of that box and make this happen."
Saran traveled back to Thailand last summer, hoping to see the refugee camp area where she and her family had lived after fleeing Cambodia. Since it wasn't there anymore and you can't 'google' that kind of thing, she had to rely on locals for ideas and directions. Along the way she met a woman whose kindness she will always remember.
This beautiful GEM (Good Energy Maker) Saran chose to share with us was a gift from this woman. Saran says it symbolizes the kindness, patience and caring this woman shared with her as she made her travels alone. Interestingly enough, with its egg shape and moving part at the top, neither of us could figure out what it might be! Still curious, we looked up the symbolism of the peacock and found a Buddhist source that described it as representing 'openness and acceptance'.
Just the right kind of energy a young person would hope for as they venture out into the world.
After living in the south for almost 20 years, I am no stranger to beautiful, "50 shades of green" gardens filled with every shape of buds, flowers and leaves, no matter what time of year. Regardless of the season, the landscape is always going about it's business of growing and greening while keeping its face turned towards the sun. I have to say, it was nice being immersed in that kind of energy all the time, and I took it for granted after awhile.
This fall, I moved to Wisconsin. In time for winter. And, it's, well, not very green. However, I am savoring the contrast between the stark white and mostly frozen landscape and the vibrant colors I became used to. I realize I have missed the quiet hibernation of winter. The inward energy of regrouping. Here, in February, there are no green buds on anything yet, and this is really OK with me. And the contrast I'm talking about is between this time of rest and rejuvenation and the pressure to get going on the new year! make goals! achieve things!
I'm going to speak for all of us and say that there are times when the ideas, next steps and ways forward seem elusive and half-baked, at best. Sometimes momentum will just not be created! I came across the article below purely by accident, and it's theme about embracing uncertainty seemed so timely with these winter reflections. It is good to be reminded of the value in 'living the questions' instead of contriving some satisfaction out of a to-do list with lines through it. Oh, and you must read it to understand the benefits of caterpillar soup!
The credit for this article goes to Jamie Zimmerman, MD. I was searching for contact information for someone with the same name, and found this article instead. I was delighted with the coincidence of what she wrote and what I had been thinking and wanting to share somehow. The bio information on her website www.jamiezmd.com is simply stunning with how much she has accomplished in the realm of "meditation medicine" and living with passion and purpose'. When I went to connect with her on Face Book, I was shocked to read a post from her mother, dated October, 2015. Apparently Jamie slipped on some rocks at the beach while vacationing in Hawaii, and drowned after being swept out to sea. She was 31. Toward the end of her post her mother, Jordan Zimmerman, writes "I hope my baby girl's life will inspire you to take action to make our world a better place." So let's do our best to live with passion and purpose, even if what that looks like is sometimes unclear. This good work will find a way to keep on living in the world.
Eric Paulson and Angelynn Brown of Stone Circle Studios live on several magical acres in Hillpoint Wisconsin, a beautiful community just north of Spring Green. Walt and I stopped by on a perfect October day, taking in the sights as part of the area's Fall Art Tour. We were entranced with the otherworldy beauty of the land and studio. Shimmering areas of deep green grass invite you to stroll and relax, while artful pockets of tall flowers nod as you pass by. And yes, there is an actual stone circle, intentionally created by Eric and Angelynn, looking like the ancients selected and placed each stone. I wanted to plop down on a rock and stare off into the trees, but I worried that I might interrupt a Jedi Knight beaming in. Is it any surprise that Eric and Angelynn use their dreams as their main inspiration for their artwork? After a tour of their studio, I wanted to hear more.
When Eric and I met up again a month or so later, I originally intended to ask great questions about his paintings, the process that he and Angelynn use to retrieve and nurture their dreams, and methods he uses to create an artwork. I would then distill this wisdom into handy, bite-sized pieces for this blog post. That lofty goal was quickly set aside as I listened to my recording of our conversation and realized it should be heard in its entirety. Trying to present a key point would be like viewing a rich and complex painting and saying 'here's why he did a good job with yellow'.
This audio file as about 25 minutes long, and was recorded in the middle of our conversation, but it's filled with insights and daily practices. Since we are all working on some kind of challenge in work and life, I think any guidance that helps us hear and apply our own inner wisdom is welcome. Eric and Angelynn have developed an awareness and real-life interaction with dreams, and I for one would like more of that for myself. Which part of the interview resonated the most with you?
To see more of Eric's paintings and Angelynn's encaustics, visit their Stone Circle Studios website.
There are two parts to this blog - the fun stuff, and the really fun stuff.
So, let's get started with the fun stuff.
You know how you have that seashell on your desk from vacation because it reminds you of how fun and relaxing it was? Or maybe it's the goofy wind-up toy your college roommate gave you years ago. These are GEMs - the Good Energy Makers we keep around so they can give us that little 'zing' of good, happy energy whenever we see them. These items are important! They have meaning to us, and I believe our creative hearts need to look at things that encourage us instead of reminding us that we are responsible adults. As an artist I have them all over the studio, and each one has a different but powerful 'good energy zing' connected to it.
One of my favorites include this little guy in a spaceship (left) from my dear friend Susan. In an odd display of our maturity and refined sense of style, each year we search for a goofy, tacky Christmas ornament to bestow upon each other. This one did not get put away with the holiday decorations - it stays out to remind me that I have kindred spirits who are with me in this earth orbit. It also reminds me to go with the flow and not take things too seriously. So, that makes it the perfect GEM! Happy, silly and filled with inspiration.
Now for the really fun stuff. Just as there are many ways to create a painting, there are many ways to change things up in life and work. Upcoming posts will feature interviews with people who have imagined something they wanted to create and the steps they took to make it real. I think stories like this are fascinating, and I always learn something! This creative crowd includes: artists of all disciplines, change makers, career re-inventors, and major life curve-ball navigators. AND they'll choose a favorite GEM and share the cool story behind it.
First up - an artist who primarily relies on dreams as subject matter for his paintings. How does he remember them? How does he hang onto the image long enough to create an amazing painting from it? How can I learn more from my own dreams? Check back soon.....