Thursday, April 20, 2017

Practicing Slow


I just finished a book that I can't stop thinking about, Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. Erin is a Lifestyle Blogger who shows us through her blog what a beautiful life we can all have. The book however, takes us behind the curtain, into Erin's real life, a life anything but always picture perfect. Her honesty, and writing won me over from the first chapter.

But it is the title that I keep coming back to Chasing Slow, something I am forever doing. My middle name is Get It Done, I can enjoy it later. But what if later never comes, how many things have I sped through to cross them off my list...done.


Slow is never going to be easy for me. I take after my dad, a man in his eighties still out cutting firewood to add to the multiple rows of firewood he already has. And maybe that is what keeps my dad going and why he is still alive in his eighties. But when we were sitting in the hospital waiting room last summer we talked, there are so many things he wishes he had done. I don't want to have those same unfulfilled wishes in my eighties.


This week I took my first step toward practicing slow. I went to the Garden Center, to buy some plants for the weed-riddled flower bed I pinky promised my husband I would maintain this year. Instead of buying the first plants that met my criteria: full sun, not too tall, long blooming. I took my camera and wandered. I did ask permission to photograph first, which was met with a pleasant, "Of course you can, and if anybody gives you any trouble send them to me". My new best friend Kathy, doesn't know what beast she just unleashed.


What did I discover as I wandered? I love containers more than plants. Put a plant in a container and then I am in love with it. I never would have discovered this if I wasn't practicing slow.


 Photographing flowers in my own garden, or anybody else's garden will never delight me, but let me loose in a garden center with plants in pots, or just pots, and I could really start to enjoy gardening.

I am going to keep practicing slow at the garden center, because that weed-riddled flower bed needs a lot of help, and I want to see what other revelations slow reveals.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Make A Wish


Can you make a wish in a fountain that has no water? Is it the water that makes a wish come true, is it the penny, is it the fountain? Or is it the person who believes in magical things.

Standing with penny in hand, ready to throw, I ponder this thought.

The fountain in front of me is filled with last autumn's leaves, crumpled candy wrappers, and pennies from the past, but no water. Will adding my penny make any difference?

What things will I wish for if I throw my penny?

I wish...
--to stop trying to figure out either/or and be content being both a photographer and a writer
--for a long and happy marriage
--for my daughter to find someone who cherishes her. Don't we all deserve that?
--to travel near and far
--to have a dog like my dear Scout again someday
--to have a cottage on a small lake with a dock, where magical things happen
--to be involved in art retreats for women

We don't get all our wishes, and some of our wishes will change over time, but we must keep collecting those pennies and tossing them in fountains, whether they have water or not.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pleasures


I type the word Pleasures into the search bar at the top of my Pinterest page, a little afraid of what I am going to find. My writing directive for the day is Pleasures, and my notebook of pleasurable ideas is a little soggy at the moment, so I thought I would look and see what brings other people pleasure.

I click enter. The first photograph is of a well thought-out picnic on a riverbank; on a salmon-colored tablecloth sets a wicker picnic basket with a french baguette peeking out the top. There is another baguette on a wooden cutting board, partially sliced. There is a stack of salmon-colored salad bowls awaiting the freshly torn lettuce in the serving bowl next to them. Multi-colored cherry tomatoes sit on a cream-colored snack plate. Six glass jars hold various salad toppings. Salmon-colored linen napkins, along with real silverware are ready and waiting to be used. I find pleasure in this idlic scene, especially if someone else made all the food and laid it out for me.

Continuing down the page of pleasures, I see there are mostly pictures of food, apparently food brings a lot of pleasure.

Then there are fuzzy, yellow ducklings walking in a line down a perfectly mulched garden path, lush green grass on either side of the pathway. That would bring me pleasure too until one of the ducklings poops on the perfect path and ruins my photographic moment.

The next non-food photograph, sort of, is of three kids sitting on the tailgate of a vintage, red delivery truck, half slices of juicy, red watermelon in their hands. Their faces and shirts are amazingly juice free.

As I look at all these flawless photographs, I know that none of them would be the things that  bring me true pleasure, except maybe the picnic. But mine would be paper plates, plastic silverware, an old faded quilt, plastic red Solo cups filled with a favorite white wine, and plastic containers with fresh pasta salads from a local deli. Sitting on the faded, old quilt would be my husband and myself enjoying a perfect date day.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Scene & Story - March 2017


Too bad you can't take a photograph of accomplishment, because accomplishing things has been my goal in March, and I have succeeded.

This might be one of my all time favorite photographs that I have ever taken, it was taken with my iPhone and edited with the app. Stackables. It was taken on the first day of March, thick atmospheric fog enveloped objects along my walk to the beach.

I love everything about it - the pier posts dancing in the water, the buoy that looks like a bobber, the two mallard ducks that flew into my frame at the perfect moment, the leafless trees, the processing that lends that perfect foggy morning feel.

One of my accomplishments in March was to get this photograph printed. I must admit I have never had many iPhone photos printed, and the ones I had done I wasn't that impressed with. But I think that was my early tendency to process everything with an overly warm cast. I have since developed my own slightly cooler style.

I started with having a 5 X 7 printed, big enough to get a good feel for the photograph, but not too expensive in case it was a disappointment. It was not! So I thought I would push it and try an 8 X 10 and an 11 X 14. Both are fabulous! The 11 X 14 is in a black frame with white matting waiting to be hung on the wall in the family room. The family room is waiting to be painted a nice Simply White. That will be next month's accomplishment.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Lists


When I am feeling stuck I like to make lists. They bring a sense of calm and order to my life. There is something about writing my tasks down, getting them done, and crossing them off, that gets my life flowing again.

I have recently started a new weekday routine. I make two lists each morning. The first is called Domestic Tasks and the second is called Creative Tasks. On each list I write down things I would like to accomplish for the day. I usually start with creative tasks because I am my most creative in the morning, and I feel better about those nasty domestic tasks if I have been creative first.


I know there are apps on my phone for this kind of list making, but I prefer making my lists on separate small yellow legal pads. Writing in pencil, numbering each task and when it is completed, crossing the task off with a colorful Sharpie marker. Both lists sit at the end of my kitchen counter so I have to walk past them numerous times throughout the day.


Lately the Domestic Task list has been longer than the Creative Task list. At first I thought it was because I was letting the Domestic list rule, but then I realized I have actually been accomplishing many of the things that have long been on the Creative list. Now I am doing things that should have been part of my daily routine all along: writing, photographing, walking, art journaling, selecting photos to be printed. I am between photography e-courses at the moment, so I don't have to add daily assignments to the list, but I have finished all of the work in both of my recent on-line courses thanks to my Creative Task list, something that rarely ever happens.

They say it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. I wonder if that is longer when you take weekends off. Weekends are just for fun.

**Reminder - The next Scene & Story blog link-up will be this coming Sunday, April 2. Wondering what Scene & Story is? Visit the last link-up here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Constructive Criticism


I have always shied away from constructive criticism when offered in on-line classes. It isn't that I don't want to get better, because I do, it's because I am afraid that my fragile self-confidence can't take it. I would rather hear "That's beautiful", "Great Shot", "Well done". Or so I thought. But the truth is those kind affirmative comments leave me feeling a bit empty, like a whisper of air passing by my ear, but the words don't fill me. Instead, I want to know what someone sees or feels when they look at one of my photographs, does it resonate within them.


I just completed an on-line photography course called The Personal Project You Already Shot, taught by Pam Korman. The course built upon the weekly photography projects I had been doing. I liked this class because I didn't have to figure out what to shoot each week, I could look through the thousands of photos I already have stored in my Lightroom catalog, searching for project themes. It would also teach me more about editing and sequencing a project, something that caught my attention after watching a Kelby One course taught by Stella Kramer. I also had a chance to delete some hideous work from years past and make some extra room on my external hard drive.


It was a four week class. Two weeks to nail down your project's theme, and two weeks to get the editing and sequencing done. The third and fourth weeks we could take screen shots of our Lightroom grids showing our sequencing and get feedback from fellow classmates and Pam, the instructor. I was only too happy to review and comment on other's projects, but I stubbornly held my own screen shot back. After seeing everyone else's work, I was sure they would think "what an amateur" if I posted mine.

Finally, midway through the fourth week I gathered up my courage, opened Lightroom pulled up my project grid and took a screen shot. Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it, I clicked over to the Facebook Group and posted it.


I got amazingly helpful critique. One gal loved the anonymous feel of it. I loved the word anonymous. The best advice came from Pam. She said "It seems like at times your photos show you feeling stuck, but then you gather yourself up and move on, I would love to see some photos of movement in your sequence, the moving being the bridge between feeling stuck and progress." Once I read that I thought "yes that is exactly it." At times on the journey we make steady progress, but then we slow down or get stuck, but usually after a time of rest the journey continues.


We are often too close to our own work and can't see the bigger message. That's when we need fresh eyes, people who don't know us, to tell us what they see within us.

I am in the final stage of sequencing my project and hope to have a Blurb book completed by the end of next week. Work is also underway on a portfolio.

Looking back through my photos in Lightroom, I found a couple of other possible projects that I would like to develop for portfolio pieces. The journey continues...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sketches


I signed up for Vivienne McMaster's year long self-portrait photography class Body Peace 2017 when it was first advertised last fall. The first class started January 1st and ran for 15 days, then we had a 15 day break before the second one started February 1st. In my mind this was an ideal schedule; 15 days on, 15 days off to catch up on the few lessons I may have fallen behind on.

I started out strong, as I always do with on-line classes, obediently working on each day's prompt.


The class is intended to help us, especially women, to be more accepting of the body we have right now. Always the rebel in a group, I also choose to use the prompts as starting points for well-thought out, creative self-portraits. Now don't think that I don't have body issues I need to deal with because I do, but for me it is about becoming a better self-portrait photographer as well. It is amazing the details you pay attention to when you are the subject of your photograph.


My self-portrait creative perfectionism meant that I could only shoot with my Canon dSLR, no iPhone allowed. That perfectionism carried me for about three days, after that life got in the way, as it always does. I no longer had an hour each day to set up the perfect vignette. So instead of loosening my criteria and adapting to what life was at the moment, I quit. I didn't do any more lessons for January, and in February when life got even crazier, I didn't even start.

But here's the thing, I'm not a quitter. So when March 1st came around, I opened my Morning Pages journal and did some soul searching:

  • I paid for this year long class, so stop wasting the money
  • I enjoy the prompts - they make my creative mind start working again
  • I love the community and sharing with other classmates
  • I need to find a way to adapt
So I slid off my creative high-horse and I got out my iPhone, my GorillaPod tripod for my phone and my remote shutter release and set about doing the daily prompts.


When I was having my weekly Skype conversation with my friend Leon of Sea Blue Lens, I was lamenting to her about lowering my standards but at least getting it done. I also said, the ones I really like I can go back and take with my Canon. Then she said "It sounds like you're doing sketches with your phone". There is was! The artistic term that I needed to make it alright to shoot with my iPhone. I am an artist and I understand things in artistic terms, the term "sketches" made it creative. Thank you Lee, you are a Godsend, in so many ways.


So now I happily get my iPhone out almost every day, some days I have to do a couple prompts to catch up, but I am keeping up. When I have extra time I do get out my dSLR, making vignettes like the one above that actually made Flickr's In Explore, which surprised me to say the least.


But my favorite one thus far is this one, taken with my iPhone while messing around with the grand puppy. There is no way I would have been able to take this with my big camera.

The takeaway - If you need to give something a different name to make it work for you, do it! The most important part is not to quit. You will be creatively blessed by staying the course.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Scene & Story - February 2017


Deep breath and release.

That's how I feel now that February is over. What is usually the longest short month of the year due to Michigan winters has passed in one quick blink.

The weather in February was unnaturally warm, many 40 and 50 degree days, the average is usually around 20 degrees. We have had very little snow. I don't think I got the snowblower out once. We also saw more sunshine than all four winter months put together.

Big changes also occurred in our house. Our daughter moved into her own apartment with her dog. It is very weird to be living in a house with no dog, we have had a dog or dogs for the past thirty years, I am still getting use to the emptiness. I spent a couple of weeks helping her find furniture for her place and painting the dark brown walls light and airy shades of gray. All of this left me with very little time for exploring.

This photograph was taken on the second to last day of the month. My husband took the afternoon off for a date day. For Christmas we tend to do experiences instead of big gifts. I gave him 12 date days for 2017, one per month, vacation days were required. He always ends the year with too many vacation days unused, I plan to change that this year.

For our date afternoon we went to a Bar & Grill we had never been to for lunch, after that I made us climb 300+ stairs to the top of a small mountain with great views of a resort town and Lake Michigan. The day wouldn't have been complete without a trip to the beach. In summer you have to pay $8 to park at this beach, but off-season equals free. My husband and I explored a natural area at the end of the beach, and then wandered down to the lake. As my husband lingered on this path I captured the moment with my iPhone.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Painting


I use to occasionally paint for others. By paint I don't mean a landscape painting, I mean painting their bathroom, their bedroom, their living room. It isn't that I love to paint, but over the years of painting all the rooms in our houses multiple times, I have my system down to a science, and a little extra hobby money never hurt.


I went through the faux texture wall application phase, I went through the focal wall a bold color phase, I went through the colorful walls phase, and now I am settling into the simply white walls phase.


Over the past two weeks I have been doing another painting job, and this one is without pay, at least in the monetary form. But it also a painting job that brings me great joy. For the past two weeks I have been helping my daughter paint her new vintage apartment.


My beautiful girl is moving out, and most likely for the last time, with a taste of true freedom I doubt she will return. I had a moment the other day while driving to her new place when it hit that this is it and I could feel the tears well up. But I pulled myself together and said she is only ten minutes away, not like college when she was eight hours away, she can stop by any time...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scene & Story - January 2017


It was about this time last year that I began to become disenchanted with iPhone photography and the driving force of social media linked to iPhone photos - Instagram. I can't put my finger on one specific reason for the dissatisfaction. Two things do stand out though. First - I had grown extremely lazy with my photography. My iPhone and various apps. could do everything for me and fix almost any technical error. Second - Instagram, something that had once been a community of "my people"  had turned into one more way to prove my self-worth based on how many "likes" a photo received. I was posting to post and to get likes, not to create and that bothered me.

Over the course of the year I continued to fall off, at one point even temporarily suspending my account, I needed a break for a while. Eventually I did reinstate it, probably prompted by a class that encouraged Instagram sharing.

Some really good things have come out of this disenchantment; I use my big camera on an almost daily basis now, as opposed to my phone, I also feel my photography skills have grown with my recommitment to my dSLR. Using my Canon has also made me strengthen my Lightroom and Photoshop skills, as well as, learn some new programs like Topaz Texture Effects and Impressions. I have also rediscovered Flickr and some pretty amazing groups there.

A couple things I have missed with my iPhone: the easy portability, and apps. like Stackables, iColorama, and Brushstrokes. I will probably never return to the level of obsession I had before, but I am slowly finding a place for it in my life again.


This photo was taken with my iPhone on a cold, damp, foggy day in January at the Lake Michigan beach near my house. The day was too cold to lug my dSLR around and freeze my fingers off fiddling with dials. Seeing the potential in this shot, I did some editing in Snapseed and Stackables and created the image at the beginning of this post.

No matter the camera device or the editing software, I still love the creating.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Altered


It has been an unusual January here in Michigan. We have had a couple of cold blasts and enough measurable snow to break out the snowblower a time or two. But for the most part the days been a dull gray with temperatures hovering in the 30's and 40's Fahrenheit. There was even a day that it reached into the 50's.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga
I have a gym membership for the rainy days, the snowy days and the bitter cold days, but given a choice I prefer to be outside. The need for fresh air, natural light and wide open space is irrepressible. Most of the year I am happy to walk along the beaches near my house, but in the winter, when I am craving creative visual stimulation, I hop in my car and drive to our thriving downtown.

I begin my walk in near darkness, the sidewalks illuminated by street lamps, car headlights and the lights of store window displays. It is the window displays that draw me downtown, so much creativity and imagination goes into each store's presentation of who they are. Following the holidays, my mind seems to be empty of creativity. I walk, I look, I dream, I am inspired.

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga
There are also office buildings at the east end of our downtown, many of the offices have windows looking out onto the main street. As I walk past and the lights begin to come on, I see the photographs that adorn the desks and walls of these spaces. The smiles of children and spouses often shine bright from the desk or the shelves behind the desk, my favorites are when the family pets have their own framed portraits, this office belongs to someone I would like to know.

The walls though are the most interesting, family photographs tell a part of their story, but what about the artwork on the walls. Did they get to chose their own pieces? Or did the interior designer chose what should adorn their walls? I like to think if you have to look at it all day, you get some say in it. Judging by the variety I have seen, it seems most people get to pick their own, to me that tells another part of their story.


Some have large, matted realistic photographs of the big red lighthouse near our local beach, a much photographed icon in our town. But the pieces that catch my eye are the painted canvases; open fields with rustic barns in the distance, painterly lake shores with iconic lighthouses. I always wanted to learn to paint, lacking the patience for that, I became a photographer instead.

I have many empty walls in my own house. I have talked for years of printing and hanging my own work, and I have done some over the years. What I mostly print is realistic photographs and then frame those 8 X 10's in 11 X 14 matted frames. They have never stirred me. The few canvases I have had printed of creatively altered photographs are the ones that move me, and the bigger the better.


You can guess and assume what your preferences are, but until you actually take action you don't really know. By seeing my small 8 X 10's printed I found out I prefer bigger prints. Realistic photographs don't thrill me, creating painterly images from my photographs in Photoshop and Topaz Labs programs, that makes me happy. Taking that knowledge and the inspiration from those downtown offices, I ordered a 24 X 36 canvas of a digitally altered portion of snow fence I shot in December. For the first time in almost fourteen years in our house, we finally have something on the wall above our bed. I kept waiting to find the right thing, little did I know I just had to create it myself.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Perfectionism


Perfectionism seemed behind me, but that is only because I have become fairly good at what I do.


Last week I began something new - Art Journaling. Perfectionism returned like the nasty, caught in your throat slime that it is, slowly choking me until all my creativity was extinguished.


One of the things I want to reclaim this year is making with my hands. I have tried collage work at various times over the past two years. Generally, I would get to the halfway point in a project and then my love for photography would return and the half-finished collage piece would sit on my art desk for months while I was at the beach, in the woods or exploring old buildings with my camera, completely captivated again by my first love.


Part of the problem with collage pieces is that I start too big. Smoothing drywall compound on 11" X 14" wood panels, letting that dry for the required 24 hours then coming back and staring cluelessly at it.


This year I am determined to try again, but on a smaller scale. I went to Hobby Lobby and purchased a cute, little red 5" X 5" art journal.


Being an explorer I love maps. Recently I purchased an old map of Lake Erie at an antique story. It was perfect for my first project. I got busy measuring, cutting, gluing and stamping. Loving what I was creating, I was ready to put the finishing touch on it - a stamped date for the date created. I inked up the stamp, did some sample stamps on the craft paper that covered my desk, one final ink and I was ready to commit. After pressing firmly I lifted the stamp, despair filled me. Only half the date had stamped on the paper due to the uneven, bumpy layers of paper and glue. I walked away.


An hour later I came back, picked up the matching color marker and tried to fix the error. It looked exactly like that - that I had tried to fix the error. I loved everything else about the pages, but that one mistake was the only thing I saw. I tried to embrace the concept of each piece having one mistake in it, it wasn't working.


I went back to Hobby Lobby and bought a new, smaller date stamp. I bought two new art journals. I began again, creating two new pages in a 5.5" X 8.5" journal. I loved one page, hated the other. My 52 week project was held up for a whole week as I struggled with these pages. My theme for the week was Being a Maker. Success was not coming as a maker.


Then it dawned on me, I didn't start out good at photography, I got good from lots and lots of practice. Why did I think I would be good at Art Journaling and collage pieces without putting in the practice time.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scene & Story - December 2016


Bring out the camera and everyone in my family becomes a comedian.

I was trying to photograph this cookbook from a low angle for week eight of my 52 week photography project when my daughter decided to insert her comical face into the frame. By the grace of God I caught the shot perfectly and it immediately became my favorite photo from the whole project that week, yet one I could not use because it didn't fit the story.

This adorable shot of my serious child gives my heart that fluttery feeling. It is rare to capture these moments of my adult child who is stuck in her childhood life. She is ready for so much more, an adult job with an adult salary and place of her own. She is also ready for someone special to be in her life, the invisible scars of past relationships nearly healed.

As her mother I see how gifted and talented she is, I know that others will see that too. I pray that 2017 is the year that she begins her magical adult life.

P.S. I did get her permission to use the photo :)

**Scene & Story is a collaborative effort between myself and Lee of Sea Blue Lens. We encourage you to share a favorite photo from the previous month along with a short story or description and link up your blog or Flickr photo. Please remember to visit the other story sharers and leave a little love everywhere you visit.



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reclaim


My word for 2016 was Open. This word proved to be beneficial in the fact that I fell in love with the wide open landscape.


But you also have to be cautious when you pick a word like Open, because along with being open to good, you also have to be open to challenging things like change, loss, and frustration.


Being a bit more careful with my word choice for 2017. I have chosen RECLAIM as my word. I like reclaim, it is an action word and I am ready to reclaim some previous undertakings.


Reclaim health. I had two grandfathers and at least two great-grandfathers die from heart disease. One of my grandmothers had a stroke in her fifties and remained bedridden for almost thirty years. As I fast approach the half century mark it is time to be serious about my health, my diet and exercise.


Reclaim time. I need to get back to scheduled workdays. Working with purpose and passion. Make a schedule and stick to it. Make lists and cross things off.


Reclaim dreams. For more than a decade I have had a dream of one day leading small creative retreats. Gathering varying groups of women together to create, to share, to laugh, to cry. To photograph, to journal, to paint, to explore nature, to cook and share meals.

To see how these retreats are put together I need to attend a few first, see what I like, what I would change. I have my eye on one in particular Firefly Institute Photography Camp for Women in California mid-October. It is time to leap off that edge I have been teetering on for the past few years.


Reclaim Making. I bought a small red art journal the other day. I want to make with my hands again.


Reclaim space. In all reality we will be downsizing our house sometime in the next five years. Now is the time to get rid of the clutter, buy less, give more.

I hope that Reclaim is kinder to me than Open was, but no matter what happens in 2017, I am stronger because of being Open in 2016.

Have you chosen a word for 2017? I would love for you to tell me about it.