Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit

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Akua’ba-An African Sculpt

Akua was a young Asante woman who was having trouble conceiving a child.  She consulted a local priest who divined that Akua should commission a woodcarving of a small child.  Akua was told to treat the carving as if it were a living infant.  Akua carried the figure on her back, tucked into her wrapper with just the head appearing above the cloth.  She fed, bathed, and slept with the figure and gave it gifts.  The villagers pointed and teased Akua “Oh look at Akua’s child.”  But eventually Akua became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy little girl.  Others who struggled with infertility followed the same path and all subsequent carvings came to be called “Aku’aba” in her honor.

The Akua’ba below was inspired by a picture in the book Isn’t s/he a doll?  Play and Ritual in African Sculpture.  This particular Akua’ba belongs to the Fante peoples in Ghana.


Below is the original image from the book that inspired this sculpt.



Finding Balance

Continuing with the topic of balance I thought I would share some tips for finding balance in our busy lives.  Keep in mind that finding balance is a very individual quest.  What follows are approaches that have worked for me at various times and ideas discussed with friends.

Meditation: I originally considered meditation a throw back to the days of hippies; getting groovy and earthy.  When I started practicing yoga we often spent some time in meditation.  It was hard sitting still and letting my mind quiet.  Yet over time it really seemed to work.  A moment of stillness calmed me, created focus, and relieved the stress.  If you’re afraid of meditating because you might fall asleep, that is ok too.  Your body is telling you something and giving you what you need.  Meditation doesn’t take a long time or fancy equipment.  Just sit or lie down, close your eyes, and breathe.  Focusing on your breathing is all you need to do.

Take a Deep Breath:  Sometimes just taking a deep breath is all you need to reset.  You know the ol’ drill “In through your nose and out through your mouth.”  Or just breath through your nose.  The simple act of breathing has kept me sane when stuck in traffic.  And it does wonders when I feel I’m at my breaking point.

Walking:  This seems like a no-brainer.  Walking is like meditation in motion.  Walk slowly and enjoy the scenery.  Walk with intent and pound out your frustrations.  Either way you clear your head and get some exercise to boot.  A great two-for-one deal.

Setting Goals:  I’m still not very good at doing this.  Yet when running a business you have to have some idea of what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.  Pick one or two goals.  It can be a “big, hairy goal” (BHAG) or something smaller.  Then think about how you’ll accomplish it.  What small steps lead to that big step?  It can be fun to do this with a pad of sticky notes.  Big goal in the middle and all the little steps surround it.  Don’t be overwhelmed with the big goal.  Take it one little step at a time.

The To-Do List:  I know not everyone likes to-do lists.  For me they help to organize my thoughts and keep me from feeling too overwhelmed.  Try to make your to-do list in the evening.  It helps prepare you for the following day.  It may clear your mind so you’ll sleep a little better and not be kept awake by all the things you’ve got to do.  Prioritize the items on the list.  I just started doing this after avoiding it for a long time and it seems to help.  And if you feel you can’t write a list because there are just too many things to do, make this the first thing you write on the list: “Make a list.”  It will be the first thing you can cross off the list.

Setting Boundaries:  Another toughie.  We all have many responsibilities; work, home, children, spouses, partners, parents, etc.  Yet many of us still feel something is missing in our spun out crazy lives.  What is missing may be YOU.  You stopped doing something you loved.  You stopped taking care of yourself.  Giving of ourselves is often easier than taking/accepting for ourselves, especially as women.  Set aside some time each week, even if it is only an hour, to do something for yourself.  Tell your family this is “your time” and you’re not to be disturbed.  Soak in the tub.  Read a magazine.  Go for a walk.  Make art.  Sleep if that is what you need.  Do it for yourself.  You’re not being selfish.  You’re rejuvinating yourself so that you can be even better for others.

Turn off the TV:  Sometimes I need to be a lump, sit on the couch, and watch some brainless program on TV.  But afterwhile I feel like my brain cells are starting to leak out my ears.  An article in this Sunday’s Boston Globe stated that we actually have more leisure time due to advances in technology over the past couple of decades.  Unfortunately we’re filling a good part of that alleged leisure time with the television.  If you enjoy certain programs, I don’t think you should deny yourself that enjoyment. (Don’t bother me on Wednesday evenings when LOST is on.) But I  know when I find myself just flipping through the channels it is time to get off the couch.

Kill Your Computer:  Ok, not literally but to paraphrase a slogan from a few years ago.  The internet and email are two of those great technological advances mentioned above.  We can locate more information (good, bad, and brainless) than ever before.  We can communicate with more people more quickly than ever.  The problem is we can locate more information (good, bad, and brainless) than ever before and we can communicate with more people more quickly than ever.  I’m as guilty as the next person.  I can spend lots of time on the computer.  Sometimes it is because I’m bored.  Sometimes I’m avoiding some other task.  Either way it is a time suck.  Try to set boundaries on your computer usage.  Check your email first thing in the morning and again in the evening.  Respond to those items requiring attention and flag those less pressing emails for later. 

Say “No”:  I don’t know if it is our generation or societal or some thing innate in our personalities but many of us get stuck in the “I’ll just do it because I know it will get done” mantra.  And then what happens?  People always expect you to do it.  All of us have probably been on both sides of this mantra (you do it all/you let someone else always do it.)  What is wrong with saying “no” sometimes?  It isn’t as if you’re walking away from everything but just at this particular time you can’t take on the specific task or responsibility.  Can you delegate it or share it?  Or perhaps this is the time to make a complete change and let someone else enjoy the experience.

So there is my list of some ways that might help you find balance.  It isn’t a comprehensive list by any means.  And I know it is often easier said than done.  I fall off balance just as easily as the next person.  And when that happens I think about what I need to do to reset myself.  And sometimes it involves stacking rocks in our yard.

What do you do to find balance?


Stone Cairns-The Beauty of Balance

In New England, rock walls are a fairly common sight.  What else did people do with all those rocks that they tilled from the soil?  When we had our yard landscaped several years ago we had rock walls built to prevent the garden beds from eroding.  We even have some rocks, er boulders really, strategically placed in one garden bed for visual interest.

So it should come as no surprise that I find myself building small rock sculptures in our yard.  I don’t know what possesses me to do this. 

It is a rather meditative act; you find a few rocks and begin to stack them.  Sometimes they fall over when they aren’t balanced correctly.  Sometimes I wedge small rock shards or sticks into the crevices to create balance.  Yet even then balance can be temporary.  A chipmunk tries to sit on the sculpture and topples it.  A strong wind comes along and knocks the whole thing over.  And again I will build the rock sculpture and try to balance it.

Balance.  It is a curious concept.  When we feel out-of-sync, we seek balance.  When we are stressed, we seek balance.  Yet when we find balance it is sometimes a temporary achievement because those outside forces that we threw us off to begin with seem to find us once more.

I’m a Libra.  The astrological symbol for Libras is the scale of balance which represents the balance that Libras continually seek for ourselves and in our lives. 

Before turning to art as a career and business, I worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist and then a Technical Writer.  I enjoyed helping people and I enjoyed writing.  Yet over time, I didn’t feel completely balanced in either of these careers.  It was like I had stacked rocks temporarily but then a wobble would disrupt the balance and the rocks would tumble.  I was stressed.  I wasn’t very happy.

And then I found myself unemployed. 

I decided to take a chance and return to my art; the one activity that I always contemplated during times of stress and dabbled in here and there.

And then I found balance. 

Oh it hasn’t been without its ups and downs.  The rocks still wobble and sometimes come crashing down.  But resetting them is easier.  And sometimes it doesn’t even matter if they are balanced because being a little off-kilter is ok now.

And so I build rock sculptures in our yard.  And I find joy and balance in creating them.  Some stand unscathed and others wobble.  And when they tumble I don’t always feel an immediate need rebuild them.  Because in life we have balance and we have imbalance.  And when we feel good and secure in what we do, the little imbalances aren’t so bad anymore.

I recently learned that these rock sculptures are also known as Stone Cairns.  They can be found in many countries and across many cultures including Scotland, Ireland, Tibet, and in the Arctic.  The cairns were used as directional markers pointing the way home or to safety.  They are also a symbol of friendship and hope.  Cairns may also mark the site of a burial, the summit of a mountain, or a special event.

rocksculpt1webblog.jpg     rocksculpt2webblog.jpg     rocksculpt3webblog.jpg

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Artful Blogging-the magazine

Today I found the BlogHer blog community site.  In the Art & Design section,  I located Debra Roby’s blog where I read that Stampington, Inc has published a new quarterly publication titled Artful Blogging.

You can read Deb’s review of Artful Blogging on BlogHer here

It sounds like an interesting publication.

To read Deb’s primary blog StitchinTime click here


Play Time!

One of my goals is to spend a little more time playing and experimenting in the studio.  I’m trying to split my day between those tasks that must be completed (e.g. orders) and the more creative activities that keep the muse happy.

So with that in mind, here are a few things that came about the last couple of days:

Tea mix-ins

Tea Mix-ins: I’ve been saving dried Jasmine tea leaves (after steeping) for this project.  Jasmine tea leaves come rolled in a tight, tight ball and unfurl when steeped in hot water.  Mixed into translucent clay they aren’t very exciting.  I tinted the clay with Pinata and/or Ranger inks.  Next time I may try mica or embossing powders with the tea leaves for a faux stone look.

TLS Paper

TLS “Paper”: I love this technique.  I originally learned about it from an article Geraldine Newfry wrote for Cloth, Paper, ScissorsDonna Kato has a similar technique in her new book that I also want to try.  I think this “paper” might make a good cover for a goth-inspired art doll.

foilarmhead1.jpg    foilarmhead2.jpg

Foil armature head:  Another goal is to start making larger art dolls and that means using armatures.  Here I started with a crumpled ball of aluminum foil that I covered with glue soaked tissue paper to smooth the surface.  In this stage the head kind of looks like Voldemort.

But apply a little polymer clay and here is finished head:


It has been a while since I created a formal sculpted head.  I completely forgot to mark out facial landmarks (except for the eye sockets which were pushed into the foil.)  So this fellas head was done free-form which probably gives him a slightly wonky look.

As usual there are more ideas rolling around in my head.  Unfortunatley they’ll have to wait for another day to emerge.  I hope you found some time to play today.  It really does feed the soul.


An Archeological Dig Through Scrap Clay

I’ve amassed quite a bit of scrap clay these past few months.  A fair amount I’ve generated on my own.  Some I got from Judy Dunn (and it is so colorful!)  The rest was gifted to me at Klay Karma (ok, I offered to take it off of Sherry’s hands but it was like receiving a gift.)

The other day I was emptying a scrap clay container so I could line it with freezer paper.  As I dumped out the container I had to smile at all the bits that I recognized from past projects.

The ball of Fimo that still requires Mix Quick to become malleable.  I remember the exact thing I made with that clay.  My first woven pins made with a burgundy color and white Fimo.  I think the pins were heart shaped.  I loved the pins.  However, I developed a serious dislike for Fimo after that adventure.

The experiment with alcohol inks and paint on clay and the bowls that were generated from it.  I still have the bowls.  That particular design didn’t go over very well.  Oh well, they make nice candy dishes and ring holders in my studio.

The stars and stripes cane bits.  Where did that come from?  Oh yes, a friend who commissioned me to make a stars and stripes pin for her.  She loved her pin.  Ironically anything else I made using this cane didn’t sell.

A chrysantemum cane end; more clay painted with Lumiere paints; stained glass cane bits, faux jade, faux bone, and a chunk of a purple and white bullseye cane (or is that a poorly formed Skinner blend plug?)  More mokume gane bits, a checkerboard cane piece, a slice off a shamrock cane (one of the first canes I attempted; with Sculpey no less), and bits of a jelly roll cane.  And the rest is just bits and pieces.

My scrap clay collects bit upon bit until the bucket fills.  Some people sort their scraps by color.  Others roll their scraps into partially blended lumps.  And then there are those who claim to not have any scrap clay.  Somehow they don’t have any leftovers.

I’m surprised so many of these clay bits jogged my memory.  Funny how you can trace your past creations by the scrap bits in a bucket.  Curious how these bits will be combined to make a lovely muddy color that will eventually be used as a clay core for something else.  Clay that is always transforming, always finding a purpose.

What past creations can you find in your scrap clay bucket?


With Good Intentions

More often than not, when someone makes a suggestion or recommendation to you it is with good intentions.  This happens frequently in the art world.  Friends, family, gallery owners, customers and collectors, they all want to share with you their opinion, offer a suggestion, or make a recommendation.

When we start out in our art businesses we are like sponges; absorbing everything we can, taking it all in, listening, and learning.  Then we gather the courage to approach a gallery to sell our work or apply to a show.  Yes!  And if we are fortunate our work is accepted into the gallery or into the show.

So now we’re happily selling and a suggestion comes along; “Have you thought about making polka-dot widgets? I think they’d sell really well.” “I think you should check out the Twiddly Fest.  It is great and people sell a lot.”

Hmm, okay, that isn’t something that I normally make or a show I’ve thought about doing but maybe I’ll try it. 

So now you’ve made 30 polka dot widgets and after three months not a single one has sold.  Or you try the Twiddly Fest and you question whether the other work is handcrafted or imported and wonder why everyone is buying the $5 and $10 blippities.  Your work is nice, people have said so, but then they look at your prices and put it back on the table.

Good Intentions.  What happened?

Swept up by the excitement of our work being purchased and being encouraged by people with an interest in our work we often take some steps that aren’t true to our nature.  It is all part of the learning process and part of gaining self-confidence.  Internally we question the suggestion or recommendation and yet sometimes we convince ourselves to give it a go even though we still feel a little unsure about it.

Believe me I’ve been there, done that.

When artist friends who are starting out are faced with these situations I recommend the following:

  • Walk the show if at all possible.  See for yourself firsthand if your work fits in (quality, price point, etc.) 
  • If you can’t walk the show, ask someone who has done the show what their impressions were.  Ask about the promoter’s organization, layout, support, marketing and who the people are that come to this show.  Doing a show is more than just how much someone sold.
  • The same applies to a store or gallery that someone might recommend.  Visit the store first.  You’re ultra modern work may not fit in with the country decor.
  • Make a sample of the suggested item to see if it can be constructed and/or if it really is what the person envisioned. 
  • Or make a few pieces to sell on a trial basis.  If they do sell well you can always make more.  If they don’t sell you now have all these widgets in your inventory with no place to go.
  • Begin to learn the market you are trying to target with your work.  Think demographics (male/female, age, income, city/suburban/rural and so forth.)  A general idea is better than no idea.
  • Go with your gut feeling.  You can graciously thank the person for their suggestion or recommendation and tell them you’ll consider it.  And you should think about it even if for only a short period of time.  You’ll know if it feels right.

That last one isn’t always easy.  It can take some time to get there because we want to see our work sell.  We want to make money.  We want people to enjoy our work.  But if you don’t truly enjoy making it yourself all the best intentions won’t matter.


Art Date: League of NH Craftsmen Show

This weekend Judy Dunn and I made our annual trek to the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Show.  This wonderful show, now in its 74th year showcases some of the best art work created by artists from New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont.  (Aside: Though primarily comprised of NH artists, artists who live in the bordering states, within a 20 mile distance from the border of NH, are also eligible to join the League.)

A visit to a quality art show is always inspiring.  Several notable polymer clay artists are members of the League, including:

Kathleen Dustin:  Kathleen has once again pushed the envelope in creating and developing techniques in polymer clay.  With a background in math and then ceramics, Kathleen first became known for her astonishing millefiore cane work.  Then she perfected the depth of surface technique with translucent polymer clay which allowed her to create exquisite museum quality handbags most notable for their depiction of the female face and form.  Now Kathleen has pushed the envelope again with pod forms.  I joked with Kathleen that it looked like she had been playing in her garden.  “No,” she said “I’ve been walking alot in the woods picking up pods.”  I want to take a walk in those woods.  Kathleen’s web site will be updated in the near future with these new pieces.  They are simply stunning! (Note: a shot of Kathleen’s new work is currently posted on Polymer Clay Daily.)

Sandra McCaw: Sandra creates delicate jewelry that starts with handblended colors in polymer clay that are then combined into Skinner Blends.  But it is the patterns that Sandra creates with these blends that are real winners!  Everytime I see her work I see movement and flow in the patterns.  Just mesmirizing.  This fall Sandra will be teaching her technique in a six week course at the Worcester Center for Craft.  If you have the opportunity to study with Sandra, I highly recommend it.

Barbara Sperling: I first met Barbara several years ago at an area art show.  Her cane work simply blew me away.  I had never seen canes with hummingbirds and herons before.  And the detail was unbelievable.  Since that time Barbara has expanded her work to incorporate precious metal clay with the polymer with a wonderful effect.  Barbara also makes sculpture pieces and recently received several awards for her work in the National Polymer Clay Guild’s 2007 Progress & Possibilities Juried Competition.

Luann Udell: Though I knew of Luann and her work, I had never seen it in person until 3-4 years ago.  Luann’s work is greatly inspired by “artifacts from lost cultures” and is best known for her horses based on the Lescaux cave drawings.  Luann has a great ability for combining these artifacts with minerals and gemstones to create jewelry with an “aged” feel; it is as if these pieces were recovered from an archeological dig.  Luann also combines her artifacts with wonderful fibers to create one-of-a-kind wall hangings.  And not only does Luann have her famous horses but bears, fish, and birds in ivory, jade, and soapstone.

Ann Dillon: Ann’s specialty is mokume gane and, most recently, flower canes with a watercolor affect.  Ann has a great sense of color which is evident in the color combinations she uses in her mokume gane jewelry.  Ann also has a wonderful ability for combining polymer clay with seed beads, delicas, and other beads.

Along with polymer clay artists, my other favorite artists at this year’s League show were:

Lauren Pollaro: Lauren was first brought to my attention as a jewelry artist.  Lauren creates jewelry from collages of her own acrylic paintings.  Each piece of jewelry is a small, delicate art work unto itself.  In recent years, Lauren has branched out into mixed media wall hangings that incorporate found objects, wood, metal, paint, and other items.

Paula Barry: Paula is a potter, a member of the Dunstable Artisans Guild, and a new member of the League.  What I love about Paula’s work is that I have seen it grow and change over the last few years.  When I first met Paula she created functional pottery with pleasing blue and green glazes.  Over the last year or so Paula has pushed her own boundaries into horse hair pottery, carving in the clay, and these groovy new pod shaped forms.  It has been very exciting to see this happen.

Lydia Grey: Lydia’s work is new to me and I was immediately drawn into her booth.  Lydia is also a potter however she uses porcelain clay to create sculptural pieces that evoke a spiritual, earthy quality with a bit of humor thrown in.  My favorite piece was titled “Connections” which featured several figures riding astride a wide base.  The figure in the rear wore an iPod, in front of him was a person working on a laptop, and in front of that person was another person viewing a computer monitor.  Ah yes, our connections.  Not so much with each other but with our technology.

And so it goes.  By visiting a quality art show I can connect with other artists and with my own creativity.  I’m feeling inspired and ready to get back to the studio.