There was a long period of time when I felt like everything I made had to be amazing. Screw that.
I’m so far past that I think I might be going in the opposite direction. I liken it to choosing friends when you’re really young.
At first, you want everyone to be your friend. You have an insatiable desire to be liked. And you quickly learn what behaviors are widely accepted and which are not, so perhaps, you adopt the behaviors that reward you with praise.
And then you realize how exhausting it is to keep up that many friendships, and how unmanageable it is to spread yourself so thin. You start to get anxious over presenting yourself in the best way possible, and you worry that if your friends see you for who you are – imperfect – they won’t like you any more.
And some day, you rebel against that. You clean closet. You get rid of friends that don’t accept you for your weirdness and your flaws.
Well folks, here we are. I cleaned out my closet a while back. Since then, I’ve been sharing my failed images. I’ve been sharing the times when I hate creating, or nothing goes right. I’ve been sharing those moments of sheer panic, frustration, and anxiety. I share everything. Everything art-related, it’s all out there.
I’ve stopped caring if you (the broad You), think I’m a bad artist or a good one, or an artist at all. I don’t care if you hate my art, share my art, wish my art had never been made. I don’t care if you make fun of me, think I’m weird, or any other mundane, idiotic thing someone might think.
Because honestly, it is boring. And it is silly. And it’s not worth our time – mine or yours.
So if you’re here, it’s likely because you’re weird too. Because you accept me for who I am. Because we’re weirdos and we love it, and hey world, we don’t care.
Speaking of that long period of time where I did care what people thought, seeing as it took a while for me to be as empowered in my weirdness as I am now: I used to be ashamed when I made something that wasn’t great.
This new image I made the other day isn’t my best. But I love it. It satisfied a primal need to create. I wanted to make something where before there was nothing. One of the greatest and most interesting things about humans is our desire to play God – to create where once there was nothing. In so many ways. Artists are the obvious example.
So I made this thing. It’s a self-portrait covered in hands. I’ve done that before. I touch on this a lot in my voicemail. And when I finished it, I thought, “Hmph. It looks a lot like other images I’ve made. It’s not special. I shouldn’t share this.”
And then I realized what I just did. I just degraded something I made simply because it isn’t the most fresh and new thing. Simply because I thought YOU might be bored with it.
And when I say YOU, I mean the YOU of the Internet that steps on artists who don’t fit their vision. People who think that art is made for them, personally. People who get bored too easily because that’s the time we live in. And the people who don’t care how fulfilled an artist is by their own work.
That is not you, because you’re still reading this. (Well done, by the way. I ramble).
I loved making this picture. I love this picture. I love creating. Everytime. No matter the outcome.
I’m so glad that I’m intentionally making time for myself to create no matter what. No matter the whim or inspiration; no matter the hang-worthiness of it. No matter. No matter.
And that is what I wish you for you. To create without worry. To create because you must. To create because you feel a primal urge to make something out of nothing. To create, no matter what.
I need to explain some complexities of my personality to properly tell you where I’m going lately.
The first is that I spend a lot of time in introspection – in my head. I think A LOT. I stare a blank walls and papers, A LOT. I am not easily bored. All of that thinking leads to little discoveries that excite me and I love to experience those little excitements and surprises. And then, I condense those thoughts down to bite-size chunks, which I share in blurbs on social media.
As a result, you see the squished up version of my brain on a regular basis, if you watch my posts. But the implication of that is multi-tiered.
One – I come off as being very heady and connected to my deepest emotions at all times. I’m not.
Two – I don’t show you my…fun?…personality a lot. Fun is definitely the wrong word. I’ve literally never described myself that way. So…maybe…free-spirited? or restless? or disjointed? or laid-back? or…
In any case, three – Sharing those little blurbs means that I’m not sharing the works-in-progress – the thoughts that jumble up and make less sense and feel more and desire condensation but aren’t ready for that.
So, here I am. Journaling. Letting anyone who wants to be here into my brain in a less curated way. The result: voice memos, journal-style vlogging where I’ll share all the different types of creativity I’m up to, and more laid-back sharing of content no matter the genre.
I’ll share updates about my novel-writing process, the new photo series I’m working on (both of them!), my sculpture projects, and more.
What does more include? Well…hiking (where I location scout and find inspiration), reading (where I imaginary location scout and find inspiration), traveling ( where I dream location scout and find inspiration)…speaking of dreams, I’d love to tell you about mine. They’re terrifying. Nights are exciting in my house.
So, here we are in journal one.
And here’s what I’m feeling.
Anxious. Because, well…I want to be more vulnerable. But even that is a lesson and a chore, because it doesn’t always come easy. I’m a really private person and will remain that way in my personal life. So sometimes it’s hard to separate creativity from personal stuff. And sometimes that makes vulnerability hard. But it can work, and here I am, trying.
Fulfilled. Because I know that detailing my adventures in creativity and inspiration will bring me even more depth and inspiration.
Silly. Because…who wants to read this? Or rather, and more importantly, because I don’t care who reads it and I’m doing it anyway.
I’ve never journaled before. Never. Never had a written notebook of my thoughts (except for that summer I tried to impersonate Harriet the Spy). Never had an interest in remembering my days. Never had an interest in parsing through my thoughts that way.
To be honest, I think quick, I process easily, and I don’t lament the past.
But I want to push myself into new ways of exploring and connecting.
For context, here are some projects I’m working on:
I have a new body of work that will be displayed in New York in June. I’m knee-deep in preparations for that, but the snow has been keeping me from shooting a lot. I’m aiming for the first week of March when the snow is meant to be melted to dive in big time. I’ve been sourcing props from my local antique store and I’ve got very in-depth images planned. It’s a series about rebuilding humanity. I kind of love it. (a lot).
I’m working on a very personal series about grief and death that I’ve talked about a lot in these parts. No news of where it will debut or when. It’s constantly changing. But it’s so, so fun to shoot. Think paint and syrup and clay and dirt and everything wonderful in the world. And decay. Obviously.
Novel! Novel novel novel! Is that word starting to lose its meaning to you? ME TOO. I wrote my novel for four years, realized how bad it was, threw it away, and became a student of the craft of writing. I’ve read 70 books in the past 1.5 years and started from scratch writing a detailed outline. That’s getting edited RIGHT NOW, ya’ll!!!!
Art book, whaaaaat! That’s a long time coming. My first fine art coffee table book is coming out later this year. It’ll be a 256 page beauty of my work from the past decade that I can’t tell you any more about, yet. YET!
Promoting Passion Roadshow! For four years I’ve hosted the Promoting Passion Convention, and I decided this year to do mini Promoting Passion events in more cities so that more people could join in. I’m working hard on it right now, confirming cities/venues/guest speakers. It’s hard work, no kidding. I’ll tell you more about that next month.
I’ve had to put ceramics on the back burner lately because it is the least developed of my artforms and personal things have taken a front seat in that time slot. Maybe MAYBE more on that later.
In the spirit of this journal, let me tell you how I felt this past weekend:
Anxious beyond reason, because I haven’t been able to work on my new series much between travel, snow, and just plain indecision. I rarely suffer from indecision. WHAT EVEN IS THAT? So I was freaked out and frantically trying to find a solution. My solution: GO SHOOT EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE RIGHT NOW. So I did. And it was terrible. Obviously. So my husband sat with me for 2 hours as we re-hashed the images and figured out a creation plan. Whew.
I also recognized my need to be in complete control. It’s a constant battle over here. First, because my sister was in the hospital having gallbladder surgery, I was desperate to go be with her. But, in all honesty, she didn’t want me hanging around her room while she was trying to sleep. So I had to take a step back. And that reminded me that I tend to be a bulldozer. I think I know what’s best and I trudge forward no matter the cost. So I took a step back and recognized that art often imitates life, and that I need to chill out and let things flow.
And in the coming week…
I’ve got a Sony Alpha Female retreat to attend (YAY and HORRIFYING). I am such a socially anxious person that even typing this made me breath really shallow and feel a shaking in my stomach. I kind of want to throw up. The thought of being in a group of women, no matter how inspiring, where I don’t get to be the unequivocal leader…is NOT my jam.
I am only comfortable in a group if I am the leader of it. It’s something I recognize about myself as a character flaw and as an asset. Right now, it is what it is. But I’m committing and showing up so that I can help the women there as much as possible…and even open myself to being helped, too.
See, I struggle with that immensely. I don’t like to be helped. I like to be in control, as I mentioned. So in any case, that’s the big issue of the week that I’m working through, and I’ll let you know how it goes next week.
What have been the highs and lows of the past week for you? What are you excited about this week?
Do you think this journaling thing is going to work for me? Do you like the voice memo?
Of all the weird things I’ve asked people to do with me, I think this one takes the cake.
On one of my annual visits to India I went on a motorcycle tour. It came highly recommended and we were told it would be a really fun time. And it was, but not in the way we expected. We visited the Mother Theresa house, Garbage Mountain (where our motorcycle broke down in front of a pile of dead dogs), a cemetery, and finally, a funeral pyre.
We sat witness to a funeral and cremation of a man and saw the family gathered, grieving but also celebrating. It felt wrong to be there, and we soon asked to leave so that the family could have privacy, though the funeral space was open to the public.
On that same trip, I watched a a hearse went down the street, carrying the dead in a glass car so that everyone could look in.
I started to realize that death in India isn’t the same as death in America. That death in so many cultures is less taboo. Sometimes death is a celebration; sometimes it is a cause for weeks long mourning. Sometimes we put a wall between us and it, or sometimes a thick, ornate wooden box. Sometimes, that box is made of glass, and sometimes those in mourning ask others, strangers, to join in with them.
Death is not such an easy thing to grasp once you’ve started traveling and understanding other cultures. This peek into how death is treated in India gave me pause, and started me thinking about death as a subject for serious introspection. Two years later, the idea for this series was born.
Though these images will not be featured in the final series, it was one necessary step in my exploration. These images were inspired by that glass car in India, and serves as a window – or really, an invitation – to get a little closer to death.
The experience of this photo shoot was all of these things: hilarious, freezing, difficult, dangerous (at times), and above all, absolutely wild.
I had an amazing team helping me. And when I say helping, I mean doing a lot, if not most, of the heavy lifting. My friend Dave Junion had the coffin made locally and we used his forest, his fork lift, and his building skills to get it strung up in the tree. Dan McClanahan lent us his height and strength as we tied the coffin to the trees. KD Stapleton took behind the scenes images and drove some of the heavy machinery. And Randy Verhasselt worked the fog machine and helped work out the electrical wiring.
Not least of all, Payton Bottomley, our model, fearlessly got into that coffin. I got in first to test it, and we did put it through some rigorous testing to make sure she would be okay. She didn’t flinch at the idea, and remained excited before, during, and after the shoot.
Step 1: Put the coffin on a fork lift. Step 2: Drive the fork lift into the forest. Step 3: Tie rope onto two trees after the distance has been measured. Step 4: Raise the coffin to the height of the rope and attach. Step 5: Pray. (Just kidding, mostly). Step 6: Set up the heater underneath the coffin to warm it and set up the the fog machine. Step 7: Test shots. Step 8: Get model in place. Step 9: Shoot from every conceivable angle…because we are not doing this again. Step 10: Hot chocolate and high fives.
And so the shoot went. It took 3 hours from start to finish. It was a beautiful day, absolutely frigid, and we laughed so much we cried.
Do you want to know the secret to getting people to do weird stuff with you? Acknowledge that their contribution is worthwhile and appreciated. Be weird…as weird as you genuinely are. People love to hang out with weirdos. Create. Being part of a true artistic creation process is priceless, and a lot of people will recognize that. Give your energy and passion, and you will attract people who are looking to ignite their own energy and passion.
That’s my secret. I am wildly passionate and energetic about life, and I never fail to find friends who want to help me bring my visions to life. Though these images aren’t going in the series, they will remain a testament to what can be accomplished when your passionate vision gets loosed on the world.
Sometimes, particularly when I give lectures, I watch as a bewildered crowd looks at me with horror. Inevitably someone says, “your poor models!” and heads nod in agreement. You see, I put my friends through some rigorous photo shoots – nothing I wouldn’t put myself through, mind you – but nonetheless uncomfortable.
The way people react to realizing I’ve covered my friend in, say, wax, is almost always disgust…as if I did it without their consent, somehow. It almost makes me laugh, and we always get the misunderstanding straightened out.
Why yes, in fact I did have express permission from my model to pour wax all over her! “Oooh, okay then!”.
And so we have it again, another hair-raising story filed under “Things I Do to my Friends”.
I flew to Wisconsin to do two photo shoots for my death series called Samsara. What ended up being a $3,000 trip (more on that later) yielded no usable results, and I proceeded to begin my long, long artistic breakdown (yet again for another blog post).
But in the moment, it was exhilarating!
My friend Dave Junion in Wisconsin happens to have an abandoned train depot on his property, so I used that space to create in. Old, blank, beautiful, falling apart. All I needed was some candles, a table, and a candelier.
Unwisely, I brought the chandelier all the way to Wisconsin with me. I checked a bag just for it. It weighed 40lbs and undoubtedly TSA was concerned, but it made it through.
I found the table outside of another friend’s house in Wisconsin (you’d think I grew up there, but no, I’m a Pennsylvania girl). I assembled everything I needed, from a high-powered heater to a blow torch, candles, fabric, table, chandelier, and smoke bomb. All gathered, it took me a full day to organize with the help of my friends.
And then the torturous part. I asked my friend to lay naked on a table covered in ice for the better part of an hour while I slowly melted candles on her bare skin.
AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!
We laughed so hard through the whole thing that I was afraid the candles were going to fall over on her body! I kept yelling at her to stop laughing which only made us laugh more, but I promise you, no one was injured.
The high powered heater didn’t hurt either, especially since we were in an abandoned building and it was 20 degrees F in the room. Did I mention it was February…in Wisconsin? The only problem with the heater was that it created two very different temperatures in the room and my smoke just tabled off at a certain height. I had to run around like a maniac waving cloth around to get it to disperse.
I used the window in the space for natural light, but needed to make sure it was dark enough that the candles had some effect. I photographed the chandelier first, hanging above her, then removed it and lit the candles. After I had some shots of her and the candles, I ran around the room with a lit smoke emitter so that I could get the hazy, smoky effect.
This image, an homage to classic paintings and particularly religious art, didn’t end up making it into my series. I ended up going in a different visual direction in which no locations were used at all, and the figures were more abstract than literal. However, I love this image, so on it’s own it exists in my heart as everything it was intended to be: a meditation on mortality (using candles to signify a vigil) and a look at the delicacy of death.
I am often inspired by paintings, especially Gothic, and looked upon “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli as a great inspiration. The pose and the lighting played a large role in creating this image. Through the series, both what was not used and what is being used, which I will share with you at a future date, is inspired by Gothic paintings.
Next I’ll share the really harrowing story of how I hung a glass coffin tied to trees 10 feet in the air in a beautiful forest in Wisconsin. Until then, my dears…until then.
Model is my best friend KD who looks as though she’s stepped out of a classic painting, and we love taking advantage of that. She’s quite literally the best, and I hope everyone finds their own KD in life with whom you can melt candles on.
This image was meant to be exactly what it is, but it wasn’t meant to be what I tried to force it to be. I set out to create a new photo series all about death. I had personal reasons for doing that, but that story is for another day, maybe months from now or maybe years (or maybe never). I wanted to break down the barrier between the living and the dead. I wanted to confront what scares us most about death and in doing so, become better acquainted with my own mortality.
Alongside an idea is always a technique, or in other words, the physical manifestation of that idea. How was I going to portray death? What would the series look like? How would it come across?
At the time that I began the series, I was in a transitory period as an artist. What I didn’t realize was that it was just the beginning of a two-year struggle to find my new voice and vision. Back then, I thought I knew exactly what I needed to do to take my art to the next level.
High budget productions, ornate sets, and models.
So I started building a new series on paper, writing about it and casting models. I rented a few abandoned locations and decided to give myself a one year timeline to finish this new body of work.
As I went on, it became clear to me that something wasn’t right. I liked the images, spent thousands of dollars making them, and on some level, was proud of myself for creating in ways that were a bit foreign to me.
But on the other side..the IN-side, I knew it wasn’t right. It can be very difficult to admit, after so much money has been invested, that something isn’t working. But that is the conclusion I eventually drew after 1.5 years of working on this series.
The problem wasn’t with the series, but with the way I was creating it. I realized I stubbornly tried on different ways of creating, hoping in the process to find my new style and vision. The truth of the situation was that I was relying on visuals and techniques that I thought would make my art better, not that I actually wanted to utilize.
It also turns out that I needed that whole year and a half to reconnect with myself. I had a very scary, very honest talk, alone in my garage, about what this series should actually look like. And when I reassessed, I learned that I needed to go back to basics. That the simple, inexpensive techniques that have always served me well would serve me well again. That I didn’t have to change everything about my creation process to do something groundbreaking.
But, that’s for another time. For now, I want to share the story of this image with you.
I contacted my friend Kyna to do a photo shoot. She was 6 months pregnant at the time. It felt like harmony as I pursued a series about death and she was about to bring life into the world. I crafted an image around her, deciding to play up the themes of life and death.
In a really scary moment, I decided to ask her a question that I hoped wouldn’t offend. I asked her if we might create art using her father’s ashes. He passed away a few years ago and I thought, with new life and old, that we could create something really meaningful.
Here’s the thing about being a totally out-there, weird artist: you attract like-minded people. She didn’t flinch at the idea, but instead welcomed it openly.
I booked a location, drove 3+ hours away to find it, and then took a 1 hour truck ride on the most treacherous road to get to the house. It was off-roading to the extreme. But finally, we got within a mile and hiked the rest of the way.
I spent the day before gathering ashes. I went around to some local campsites and asked if I could clean out the fire pits, which the park managers happily agreed to let me do (that way they didn’t have to do it!) and I took those ashes with me to our location. They were HEAVY, which was unexpected, but we somehow managed to hike with them up to the house.
I scattered the whole room that I chose to shoot in with ashes, and then set up tall black candles around the space. In addition I set up a light outside the window to create streaks of light, and kicked up dust to create a hazy effect in the room. I also bought an old bassinet for the background.
When it was time to shoot I asked our helpers to leave so that we could have privacy. It was time for her father’s ashes. It was years working to heal through his passing, and this was one more step in that process. She had the box next to her, and I asked her to take some ashes and wipe them across her eyes. She did, and it worked, but we needed more. Eventually holding the pose and getting the fabric to stay up was too much to keep together, so she asked me to spread the ashes.
I felt such an interesting feeling of connection and disconnection in that moment. Connected, because I was permitted such a sacred rite. Disconnected, because I could feel the bone pieces in the ashes as I wiped them across her eyes and I recognized what I was doing in its component parts; that something can carry memories, and therefore be alive in one way, but be entirely inanimate, too.
We finished the photo shoot and packed up as best we could. Hiking down the mountain, I remember feeling such awe for her and the amount of vulnerability to do a photo shoot such as this one.
She thanked me for creating something so personal to her, but for me, it was universal.
We all touch death. We all touch life. In that, we are all connected. She gave me a gift that day that I will never forget, and it was the gift of facing death (and life) in a way that most people don’t get to. To hold the remnants of a person in my hand and to be entrusted to create art out of it. To be told, through willing participation, that my vision is worthy of creation.
That is the gift that this image gives me. And to my dear friend, whose baby girl is nearly a year old now, I thank profusely for participating in and helping to create this story.
Though this image won’t live it’s life as part of the series I intended for it, I’m learning that sometimes the things we create have a way of settling into exactly the place they were meant to be.
Photographed in January 2018 on a Sony A7RII + 24mm lens.