Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Holidays

It snowed for a couple hours this morning, leaving maybe an inch of the white fluffy stuff. Still recovering from a back injury, not yet allowed to shovel, I did go out there with the stiff bristled broom, mobile enough once more (thank goodness) to sweep the sidewalk clear and breathe in the intoxicating clean, cold air.

It was hard to stay focused on my morning writing with so many distractions. House finches, chickadees and juncos finally figured out that the new heated birdbath was installed so they could drink! One of our neighbors made a sled run down their hill with a jump at the end. Every time I looked up an orange or lime green toboggan was sailing off the jump and onto the ice. That same neighbor and his grandsons worked for hours clearing a skating rink out in the middle of the pond. At one point the kids were running through the snow from the snow blower like it was summer and they were running through the sprinkler. All I could think was:

How did we get from July to the end of December so FAST?

I'm not really sure, but my vow to post more often got lost in the rush. Here are a few of the highlights:
  • In late August I attended a poetry workshop, WRITING ON WATER, sponsored by Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais. Minnesota poets, Phebe Hanson and Cary Waterman were perfect workshop leaders. The five days sped by, culminating in a reading at the bookstore. It was a great week; I wrote a lot, made new friends, and came back eager to write and submit my work.
  • Yesterday I received word that two of my poems have been accepted for publication in this year's issue of DUST & FIRE (an anthology of women's voices published at Bemidji State University)! I'm hoping to make it up there for the publication reading and reception at the end of February -- weather permitting. This is, after all, MINNESOTA!
  • My back injury prevented me from going to Chicago the see a production of my book, ESCAPING TORNADO SEASON (directed by Gary Balfantz of Lake Superior State University, Michigan at the National Communication Association Conference in November). This was a major disappointment, as Gary does incredible work and I had so looked forward to meeting the cast and seeing his interpretation of my book. It also meant I didn't get to see my daughter and her family or our dear friends who were at the conference. They did give me full reports on the performance, though!
  • Another very cool thing happened this week -- Mary Ann Dames (friend and writing colleague) created a wild rice pancake recipe inspired by that same book! It's posted on her blog -- I can't wait to try it, it sounds so yummy! (Check it out at: It's nice to know that even though the book is out of print, it's still alive in other ways. And it can still be purchased through online booksellers, or by contacting me.
Not being able to do a lot of the things I usually do over the last couple months gave me a good opportunity to get back on track with my young adult writing. Now I'm working on two of the novels at once and glad that it's the start of "hibernation time" (at least it will be once the holidays are over).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer, summer, summer

What can I say? Spring arrived and we flung doors and windows wide and no matter how hard I try, I cannot stay inside. Right before the weather made its magical turn from icy winter to spring to . . . well, okay, we're breaking 70-year records for how cold it is, but it's STILL summer . . . right before that, I was making major progress on my YA novel and working on this collage. I finally finished the commissioned Story Storage cabinet (yeah!) and a major overhaul of my studio space. (I think it counts as "spring cleaning" when the temperatures are still in the 50s even though it's JULY, don't you?)

Hoarse as a crow (mixed media collage on stretched
canvas; 30"X40")

So far, I haven't taken my artwork outside, unless you count the container vegetable garden gracing our decks or the flower gardens in our back yard. I am happy to report, however, that I have been able to take my writing outdoors. So there's still hope of getting a draft of the YA manuscript I'm working on done by the end of the summer. 

I promise to be better about posting!  Whoa . . . I have to go . . . there's a rabbit munching on the mock orange  . . .  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Very exciting news . . .

I just signed with agent Jill Corcoran and I couldn't be happier! In addition to being the new Associate Agent for MG and YA at the Herman Agency, Inc., Jill is an amazing poet, teacher, marketing guru, blogger . . . and did I mention she's an all-around dynamo with a wild and wacky sense of humor?  (Check out her blog at: and the agency at: 

That's it for now. I've got new artwork to post tomorrow. This wouldn't keep!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Time Disappears

What makes time disappear for you? What makes it stretch out and out and out until one afternoon feels as if it's a week long and then -- snap! -- a whole day has gone by and it felt like five minutes? Nothing does that quite so deeply for me as creative work, the work of my heart and hands. 

Lately I've been juggling half a dozen or more projects at once. That's not all that unusual for me, as I'm almost always working on multiple pieces, but right now I'm also taking an online class (more about that in a minute), working through all the visual journal exercises in an incredible book (THE CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR by Lisa Sonora Beam, Quarry Books, 2008), and trying to get better at using Photoshop. Add in several textile art pieces and I think it's safe to say "half a dozen" was a low estimate.

For "Carnival Girl" I digitally altered a failed 9X12 mixed media collage, creating several different versions and learning a few things in the process. Is today Fat Tuesday? She looks like she's ready and wishes herself on Bourbon Street, doesn't she?  Whichever century she ends up hailing from.

"She Says No" is another digitally altered mixed media collage.  The vintage photo of the sulky girl standing by a small table is an image that finds its way into my work over and over again. The girl happens to be my mother, and I'd give a lot to be able to ask her what was making her so cranky that day. Since that window of opportunity closed 30 years ago, instead I use the image to make up all the "What if . . ." stories that flow from putting that image into different contexts. Was she saying no? Probably not.  But if she WAS . . . I wonder what she was saying no to . . . I wonder who . . .

What's kept me busiest the past couple weeks has been an online class I'm taking, Transformative Doll-Making, taught by Pamela Hastings ( The class, now in it's fourth session of five, is offered at one of my favorite online stores:, where I spend way too much money on art supplies and books (and now CLASSES). Check out Pamela's website to see her incredible work and read about her process. I'm posting two examples of the dolls I've done in her workshop so far, one a paper doll, the other fabric and twigs.

I would be embarrassed about them both being self-portraits but as it turns out, I can use that to tell you about another book I'm enjoying right now (MIXED MEDIA SELF-PORTRAITS by Cate Coulacos Prato, Interweave, 2008).  It's a gorgeous book filled from cover to cover with inspiring ideas and techniques.

As our third Minnesota winter begins ever-so-gently to shift gears in preparation for its end, I'm realizing that this hibernation thing is turning out to be a great time for learning and experimentation, for writing and playing with all the art stuff I gathered at yard sales and thrift stores, for researching and exploring the scary world of marketing and art as a business.  That said, I also know I'm going to be ready to fling doors and windows open at the first real sign of spring! 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gathering Branches

I've become obsessed with branches.  It started harmlessly enough in a couple of small mixed media pieces I did using old family photos adding sticks and wire as a means of hanging them.  The next thing I knew I was doing another and another, each one larger and more complex (and using more branches).  Maybe I should say it's an obsession with wood, because I've added in driftwood and bamboo and big old sheets of plywood.  I even took apart an old shelf unit and nailed it to this one.  And don't get me started about how much I love the bark of trees.  (Don't worry -- I don't strip the bark from the tree.  I only pick up dead wood!) 

I'm sure this will run its course, but in the meantime, I'm working on a series of Family Tree collages, searching as always for the stories hidden in familiar photos and behind the surface in other people's family pictures. 

This one is titled:  What She Said, What She Did
It's 2ftX3ft (plywood, canvas board, repurposed shelving, branches, wire, beads, vintage hardware, vintage lace, ribbons, digitally altered vintage photos,  acrylic paint, handmade and decorative papers). 

Family stories are what I write about, too.  And they're what I gravitate to in the books I read, whether poetry, fiction, or memoir.  Nothing fascinates me as much as the complexity of family relationships and the stories that are either passed from generation to generation or are suppressed until someone with a lot of curiosity (sometimes called being really nosey) comes along to dig them out or make them up as she goes along. 

This piece, titled "Leaving Camp" uses some of my husband's family photos to explore the experience of the Japanese American internment camps in this country during WWII.  

I don't just gather tree branches. I also love to rescue vintage photos from yard sales and estate sales and thrift stores. At first, it broke my heart to think such a personal thing as a family photo album could end up on a sale table. But after I started working with them, I realized that each photograph of people I've never met has multiple stories to show and tell, a wealth of material I use over and over in my collages and assemblages as well as in my poems and stories.

I am always deeply grateful when people let me use their family photos in my artwork.  It feels risky, even dangerous at times, because unless I'm doing a commissioned work, I'm not really thinking about telling their story. But there are countless stories embedded in the richness of the old photographs, and I always hope to uncover some kind of emotional truth as I work and play with the images.

Friday, January 23, 2009

More Images

Doing It Better

It's too early in this sub-zero winter to be talking about the ice breaking up. But I think some of my own internal ice is starting to shift and move and melt.  As far as I can figure, that's as good a thing as the warm winds of spring will feel when they finally arrive. I've always been the kind of person who pauses right before sharing something I've done, allowing enough time for that shifty thought:  IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! to creep in. Sometimes the thought arrives even earlier, like just as I get to my art table ready to create something. Or when I'm sitting at my computer prepared to write. And that's when the next thing I know I'm doing email, watching TV, or playing mindless computer games for hours on end.  

I've been working at keeping a visual journal for several years now, but something has been preventing me from truly throwing myself into it the way I am able to let myself go with my written journaling. There are always these thoughts bouncing around in my head: I'm not doing it right.  I need to do it better. It's not good enough! No matter how many times I tell that inner critic to go sit in the corner and keep her mouth shut, I let the voice in and I falter. My work falters. For the past couple weeks I've been PLAYING with some of my "failed" collages and other pieces (like ATCs and postcards), using them to create art journal backgrounds digitally. Okay, this is too much fun for words!  And whether they are "good enough" or not, I'm sharing a few of them with you (above and in the next post).  

On the night of the inauguration I kept hearing people say that our new president made them want to be smarter, to find ways to contribute, to "do it better." President Obama and his beautiful, community-minded, giving family make me feel that way, too. Seen in that light, "doing it better" is a good thing. A place for me to begin is right here in my studio. In a spirit of playfulness. Practicing doing what I love. Finding ways to share it. Because, after all, that's how we get better at anything, isn't it? Today, still basking in the warm glow of Inauguration Day, that feels like spring to me!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Images and Words, Words and Images

On evenings like the one in the photograph the winter sunset over the houses across the street knocks me senseless.  Deep reds and oranges, densely brilliant hues and tones contrasting with black silhouetted branches and snow on the rooftops.  This image is one of many midwestern images that kept showing up in words on paper and then later as pictures pulled from magazines and pasted down on journal pages during many years when the only snow I ever saw was a brief dusting in the foothills above the San Fernando Valley or on TV (and then this kind of orange sunset usually meant something was on fire).  My longing for four distinct seasons was what started my first notebooks devoted almost entirely to images (no way was I ready to call them art journals at that point -- they were my Dream Books, a place to turn my longings into visual affirmations).

These notebooks were in addition to the morning journaling practice I've had for over 30 years of madly scribbling, dumping anything and everything onto the page, usually while drinking two cups of coffee and often before speaking one word OUT LOUD. (Along the lines of Julia Cameron's "morning pages" from her wonderful book, THE ARTIST'S WAY, or Natalie Goldberg's freewrites from WRITING DOWN THE BONES, this is writing that clears my head and allows me to go on with my day. The writing serves primarily a meditative, prayerful, therapeutic purpose with an end-of-the-year "payoff" -- poems, story and art ideas, character sketches, and other creative jottings ready for me to develop or ignore.)

Once my Dream Book affirmations worked and we moved back to Minnesota, I let myself begin to explore the amazing world of art journaling.  I love the way the form marries words and images, how it obscures at the same time it illuminates.  It's a great way to play with different mediums and can take pretty much any shape, size or form.  I like to keep several going at once (because I'm impatient and hate to wait for paint and glue to dry) which allows me to work on different surfaces and with different materials.  Right now, for instance, I've got two altered book journals going, one index card -- using heavy watercolor paper and a vintage card file, and several fabric (art quilt) pages like the one on the right.   

For me this work/play is like making the poem or story visual, while keeping meaning veiled in mystery -- left to the observer to discover through their own response.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Writing Myself into the New Year

I'm sitting at my desk surrounded by notebooks -- my writing and art and life journals from 2008 -- and am in the middle right now of a process I do each year sometime between Christmas and the middle of January.  I go back through my writing notebooks of the past year, pulling out poem drafts, story ideas, character sketches, art ideas, notes about marketing, and drawings I want to save. As I work through the 20-25 notebooks, I'm also reading the year's story of my ups and downs -- as an artist and writer, of course, but mostly as a PERSON -- and thinking about the year in front of me.  

Now, I'm not big on resolutions. They go the way diets go for me.  Badly. Let's just say they stimulate a spirit of rebellion.  So, yeah, I'm thinking about the things I'd like to do differently. But what works better for me than making a resolution (or five or 20) is to look at how I want my day to go.  Do I want the balance to swing toward art or writing or both?  Do I want solitude?  To be inside or outside more? What keeps me from doing the creative work I love? What can I do (ya know -- TODAY) to change that?  In what ways do I want to share myself and my work with others? Where do family and friends fit in?  

Gradually, as I've taken this time at the end of one year and beginning of another to ask myself these questions, I've begun to experience each day as the gift that it is. Days that actually DO yield creative work -- like the 40 or so pretty rough poem drafts I pulled out of my journals today and the mixed media art quilt ("Mardi Gras Me-dusa") above, that this time last year was only a sketch or two in one of those notebooks.

So, here I am, answering a couple of this year's writing myself into the new year questions by starting another new notebook (of sorts) -- setting out to keep a blog! Hoping to connect with you here and wishing you a happy and creative new year!