Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Project

Last week, I received a call to let me know that I had been chosen as one of two artists creating projects for a Senior Center/Food Bank. I've been applying for public art projects for a couple of years now, and have become accustomed to rejection. This opportunity is very exciting for me. Although the project is small, it feels like a step in the right direction, and it promises to be especially fun.

Today, I drove north to meet with part of the committee to discuss timeline, contract, size, function and placement. The Senior Center has been busy each time I've visited, filled with people who seem very happy to congregate, play games, and have coffee together. Most impressive is their one-year-old community garden, which is outstanding. There is an arched entry, walkways, raised beds, compost bins, and today there was a group of people building a shed. It has all been built entirely by volunteers, and they tell me that they are able to distribute free organic produce to many needy people during the summer. They are now in progress on a food bank, and have received small grants to add some artwork to the space.

So far, working with this group has been great. The seniors using the center are so friendly, sweet, and excited about the artwork! I am hoping to incorporate a mosaic workshop so that they feel more personally engaged with the panel that will be mounted in front of the center this spring. I don't begin work on this until March, but I am really looking forward to it.

PS: The image is from a previous intallation. I just wanted to add visual interest.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Right-brained ramblings about our economy

One day, Anouk asked me why everything can't just be free? I said that people can't give their labor away because they need the money to live. She wisely pointed out that, if everything was free, people wouldn't need money at all. "What if some people took more than their share?" I asked. I tried to explain that we need currency to establish value for our time and our products to make sure our trades are fair. In six-year-old terms, of course.

But I was left wondering...
Because people DO take more than their share. CEOs of large companies often earn 300 times more than low-wage earners at said companies. Banks charge us 23% to loan money, but only pay us 2% to borrow it. So many people live in poverty while a few are unfathomably rich.

Every day, I hear reports on the recession. Today the Dow is up, tomorrow it is down. Sales are up. Employment is down. Occasionally, I hear a report that manufacturing is on the rise. I know this is supposed to make us happy, but I can't help imagining trees being felled for wood and paper, rocky slopes being mined for metals, more oil being used to make plastics, more PVC, more dioxins, and more for everyone to unwrap, use, and throw away.

We were not always a production-based economy. There has to be a way to flourish economically without always producing and growing. Granted, our populations continue to increase while resources decrease, so providing clothing and necessities for everyone seems to require manufacturing. But that simply isn't sustainable.
I keep hearing people complain that they don't care about healthcare and climate change right now. It's all about jobs. And I understand that when people are desperate they get tunnel vision. But without resources, the economy fails. I believe we are seeing this in action right now, and everyone is in denial. It just doesn't seem possible that we can have an economic recovery unless we shift our dependence away from manufacturing.

But what does that look like? I have grown up in a world that relies on houses being built, malls filled with shoppers, sweat shops, Walmarts, and growing cities to stimulate the economy. What if no one was trying to be a millionaire (or billionaire, as is so often the case now)? Maybe we could find a way to earn our money without building more and more cars, roads and skyscrapers. And there has to be a way to reduce environmental impact. We always need services: medical professionals, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, farmers, remodelers, artists, etc. It’s not that I wish job loss on all of the contractors and retailers out there. I don't know what the answer is, and I'm pretty sure our president doesn't know either.

That’s probably enough rambling about a subject about which I know very little. I am desperate to see other people begin to recognize that healthcare, environment, agriculture, trade policies, war; it’s all inherently tied to the health of our economy. The only way out is to make huge changes in our social structures, and I’m afraid the general population will not accept this until it is too late. Maybe Anouk and her generation will figure out how to return to a barter system.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Signs of Spring

I love living in the Pacific NW. I feel so grateful right now that I am not even torn up that we have had to put off indefinitely our trip to Barcelona and Marrakech. Holiday sales just weren’t very robust this year, our property taxes more than doubled, and there have been some extra dental and veterinary costs.

Last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti really hit me emotionally. I listened to the heartbreaking news while working in the studio, until all joy had left me. My work seemed pointless. I felt that everything we did was overly-indulgent, like, how can I possibly eat this fine Indian meal while people are suffering horribly? It definitely puts my life into perspective when I am confronted with tragedy. But then I turned on my ipod and stopped listening to NPR when I realized that I was of little use to my family in my depressed state. I was dwelling, and it wasn’t helping anyone, least of all the Haitian earthquake victims. I sent what we could spare to PIH, a reputable organization already on the ground in Haiti, and began to pull myself out of that hole. Now, I listen in spurts, and try to focus on the signs of recovery and resilience, and to appreciate my life.

Back to that: Since the cold snap in early December, we have had (knock on wood) a remarkably mild winter, reminiscent of those I remember from the 1990s. There has been a lot of rain, granted, but no flooding and temps are very comfortable. Today it is going to be 57 degrees, which is warmer than usual. And here is the thing I love so very much about living here: Plants are sprouting! Buds are budding! Every January, there are small signs of spring that coax us through the rest of winter. We can feel it coming, so we are already planning, weeding, choosing which seeds to order, talking about how to be more resourceful and efficient this time.
We are going to order bees and use a hive system developed in Africa. We are buying potato starts. I’m going to sprout some kale indoors this week. Our food stash is getting depleted, but the cycle is about to begin again.

Here is what is coming up in the garden: garlic, leeks, chives, and rhubarb.
Here is what I made for dinner on Sunday: Creamy pasta primavera with roast chicken. I used our own frozen beans, peas, broccoli, and zucchini, roasted a chicken purchased in the Fall from Barnyard Gardens (from our freezer). I used our garlic and herbs. From the store: flour, organic milk, olive oil and pasta. It was quite good, if I do say so.

Along with spring comes more work. I will need to devote many hours to weeding and planting in the coming months. We still have to finish the greenhouse, build those hives, and we have plans to construct enclosed ranging areas for the poultry. My work usually picks up this time of year also. I have a sale in early March and three commissions to complete by about that time. I continue to shun grout, and I just finished an un-grouted representational piece. It is more painstaking, because the pieces need to fit very precisely. But, when it is done, that’s it. All done! And, there is one more cement-product I don’t need to use, adding to the sustainability factor. This only works under certain circumstances, but I will be going this route far more often.

One more thing: I’m teaching a mosaic workshop at Hexen Glass Studio in Olympia, WA on January 30th 1-4pm, $70. To register call 360-705-8758 or email

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

General update on homestead and business

I've written a few entries about our efforts to grow our own food and to engage in the Slow Food movement. (Confession: Until this year, I thought Slow Food meant taking your time eating.) It was more challenging with Mike's mom visiting over the holidays. This is the woman who has refused to drink our organic milk in the past because she thinks extra chemicals and hormones MUST be added for health purposes. We generally take her to the grocery store on the way home from the airport to make sure she has food that she likes. So, for the first time in months, we ate salad with our meals.

It's one thing to live with unusual food choices as a family, but it is another when we have visitors who aren't used to eating pumpkin three times a day. And I felt fine about adding some out-of-season ingredients during the holidays.

Besides, it is getting harder lately to put tasty meals together with the food we have available. On Christmas Eve, which is also my dad's birthday, I made a special dinner of Buffalo roast (grown about a mile and a half away), salad, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie (our pumpkin).

Unfortunately, I used many of our frozen veggies to make a big soup, but it turned out awful. Even I couldn't eat it. What a waste of hard-earned food! Overall, we are getting about one egg per day, we still have a lot of chicken and some vegetables in our garage freezer, and there are a few loaves of zucchini bread left. I just harvested the last of our carrots yesterday. Every morning, I make Mike a smoothie from our carrots, chard and blueberries. I add strawberries, bananas, protein powder and juice from the store. As winter progresses, we are buying more and more food ingredients, but trying to pay attention to where they come from and choosing organic.

An abandoned bunny joined our family two days ago. His name is Uncle Wiggily, and he was left behind when a family moved from their home. Anouk has been begging for a bunny for years, so she's thrilled. We are still figuring out where he will live, but so far, he's settling in fine.

As for my business, I took a break from mosaic during the past couple of weeks, mainly because my studio was in a state of complete chaos, and I didn't have time to clean it. In the evenings, I worked in the house on fabric experiments and some projects for us that I had been putting off. Now I'm preparing to start 3 new commissions and creating new art panels for galleries and a recycled art festival in March.

I've had many ideas over the past few months that I haven't had time to realize, so I expected to get out there and whip out some of those. However, I find myself making something totally new and different. Suddenly, I'm working small and abstract, piecing together little bits of glass into inset rectangles on drawer faces. I have this nagging feeling that I'm wasting time, while I'm doing it, like I should be working off of the sketches in my notebooks, concocting masterpieces. Last night, I realized that I have something to learn from these little, simple mosaics, and I need to follow that urge. It could be as simple as a need to play, and to let go of the pressure to make something grand and impressive. Besides, these small pieces will provide some items that I can sell in a lower price range.

It's a new year and everyone seems to be looking toward spring. Bulbs are already coming up in the garden, and by the end of the month some of the trees will have small buds on them. I have a sense of a new beginning for me as well, with ideas brewing, new projects, and many goals to work on.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lucky finds:

I seem to have a knack for salvaging. I'm one of those people who almost always finds something great at the thrift store for a deal, and I manage to get most of my studio items for free.
  • At the top: This ring saw was broken and discarded. A handy aquaintance fixed it, and it has been working fine for years.
  • That antiquated overhead projector was tossed out. It has some issues, but is very helpful for me when I need to enlarge a design.
  • Next is a chalkboard that a friend got rid of when he moved. It helps me keep track of upcoming shows and commissions. Notice the carved wood panel above it; that is from our Thai canopy bed. We hit our head on it one too many times.
  • The bottom pic shows how I cleverly shove piles of collected bubble wrap and other packing material under my countertops. Ok, it isn't pretty, but it sure is useful when I need to pack and ship my work. Most of the bubble wrap pictured came from the delivery of a metal sculpture to a new building. I happened to be grouting a mosaic there when it was unpacked. I also brought home a truckload of cardboard that day, which will go under our landscaping.

Not pictured is the light table that was discarded because it wasn't working and the base is unstable. It has been fixed by a handy friend, and I keep it wedged between two solid work counters. (Great for glass-on-glass mosaic.) Said counters are constructed of salvaged materials, including a door used as a table top.

I will admit here that my salvaging nature did not begin as an effort to conserve. While I've always been inherently concerned with the environment, I have also lived on a limited income for most of my life. I have been able to build my studio and business with very little overhead. If you can afford it, you can put together a much more attractive, organized studio by just purchasing the systems you need new. A lot of time and energy goes into finding, fixing, and re-constructing all of these materials, but the money and resources saved makes it worth every ounce for me.

Mosaic bases:

That top photo features several old windows that were put out in a free pile. they are in great shape, and with a bit of cleaning and stripping, they will be great for glass-on-glass mosaic.
Below that is one more of my many stashes of scrap wedi, cupboard doors, and hardibacker.
And the bottom photo shows the bases that are on my work counter right now, in the process of being stripped and prepped for mosaic.

Tile scraps:

The top photo is just part of a collection of ceramic castaways that my artist-friend Loralin Toney just gave me. A treasure! For years, she has made and sold beautiful flower lamps that she made of clay (I have several in my house), but her creative passion has found a new direction. I have some ideas for these....
Below that is just one of many piles of discarded tile, waiting for the right project.


Ok, I'm having some trouble downloading and organizing my photos here, but the metal shelf holds the scrap that I use most often. (I salvaged that shelf, which is on wheels - most convenient.)
The very small bits go into random containers and onto that bamboo shelf, which used to be a display unit for bamboo flooring. These tiny pieces are used in my workshops, as I find that most of my students like to use these to fill their designs. On the floor in front of that shelf is a box of cupboard door demos waiting to be dismantled for mosaic, and some wedi scraps that my tile-setting friend, Frank, gave to me.

A tour of my salvaged studio:

I spent most of New Years Day cleaning my studio, which had descended into such chaos in November and December that I could barely fit in the door, let alone work there. While tidying the place up and getting ready for new projects, I took photos for a blog entry about being resourceful in the studio.

These are old milk crates, in which I stack the larger pieces of glass that I collect, separated by cardboard. When I work and when I collect glass scrap from stained glass studios, I separate the small pieces into these shoe-tubs that a friend didn't want anymore:
Ok, it appears that I can't add a photo here, so I'll post it in a new entry.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year, Poultry!

I spent this New Years morning cleaning the chicken coop. That means I strap on my dust mask, take a flat-bottom shovel and wheelbarrow, and remove all of the old bedding, feces, and in this case, chicken body parts from the inside of the coop.

Why chicken body parts? That sounds so morbid! Well, it was Mike's birthday on the 29th, so we went into town and enjoyed some drinks and dinner with friends. We didn't get home until a whopping 9pm; hours past our curfew. In our absence, raccoons had savagely killed both of our roosters, spreading feathers and innards all over the coop, inside and out. (In the dark, we thought more were missing, including our female turkey. Thankfully, all of our hens, ducks and both turkeys were there in the morning.) We are still brainstorming how to deal with the ever-increasing coon attacks.

When we were building the house, the I asked the flooring guys to give me any linoleum scraps they might have floating around. I was given a couple of rolls, and the countertop guy also brought me some. They were all happy to give them to someone instead of paying to take them to the landfill. I used some for countertops in my studio, then used the rest for the floor and nesting boxes in the new coop. I am so glad that I did that because it makes it much easier to remove the soiled bedding. I fill load after load into the wheelbarrow and take it to garden beds to spread as mulch.

When I worked in an office, they bagged up the shredding to be thrown away. I used to take the bags home and use them for nesting boxes. This worked great and saved money. I use cedar shavings from a local mill for the floor. Cedar has natural antibiotic properties and stays clean longer than anything else I've tried. My friend Paul at Barnyard Gardens showed me how to build a ledge in the opening of my coop and fill it at least 6 inches with shavings. I toss scratch grains onto the floor each day, so the chickens turn the bedding, and I can go about 3 months before changing it out again.

New Year, clean coop. I also cleaned my studio, so I can finally get back in there and get some work done. But that's a story for another day.