An open studio visit on Governors Island’s Artist in Residency program. Gabrielle Duggan’s studio on the top floor of one of the old buildings in Colonel Row. It was very calming to be in that space, all nooks and crannies and peeling paint. I could have sat there and traced each thread as it weaved itself around the stairwell landing for hours.
No one is an island; everyone is connected. Your words and comments are very much appreciated.
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An afternoon at the Whitney Museum on a weekend when there are sketching tours and open studios for kids on their calendar is a great way to spend a Saturday in the city. Admittedly, the girls usually groan when I announce that we’re going to an art museum, but they always declare it a fun day after the fact. Give them an activity booklet and a pencil and they make it their mission to fill out all the pages and find the relevant artwork to each activity. They’re tireless, and their love for crafting is tireless too. You all know by now that I’m not a crafter, but I admit I may have been picked up a piece of yarn and a pipe cleaner or two that afternoon (though the other day at my friend’s house I absentmindedly starting playing around with these striped pipe cleaners while we talked and made something of a sculptural piece with them. But I wouldn’t call that crafting either. I was fidgeting, and there is a difference).
I love how so many museums in the city organize activities and special tours for kids to get them engaged in the art. Kids under 18 have free admission too which makes it easier for a family to spend the day at the museum. As funding gets cut in NYC publics, art education is sadly one of the first things to go unless you have a PTA that has the fund-raising skills and resources to reinstate those enrichment classes, but unfortunately not every school is able to do this. I’d love to think that we benefit from having world class museums in the city that we live in, and as parents we can help supplement arts education for our kids, but the reality is that we probably don’t get to museums enough.
Now, the girls are old enough that we are paying subway fare for the 10 year old, though oddly enough paying for subway fare is determined by height and not by age which kind of sucks for families with tall kids. We’ve been getting away with the girls ducking under the turnstiles for a long time and bus drivers will still let the kids go on for free, but Mia is just too tall to be doing the ducking thing. This means that at some point it will cost us 20 dollars at the current fare for a family of 4 to take a round trip ride on the subway, and $30 if we need to make an additional stop and ride the train 3 times in a day. I love public transportation, but wow, I never considered the soon-to-be costs of these outings. I hate to say it but driving will become far cheaper and after our train experience last Saturday, definitely more pleasant. Not sure if it’s because the weather was so nice and there were more riders and tourists in general, but the subways were crowded, like rush hour levels crowded. The kind of crowded where you’re packed in like sardines and you wonder to yourself, even though you are totally pro-public transportation all the way, if the destination is worth the hassle of getting there. The girls were getting squished, especially because adults can’t see them at their eye level when they’re trying to push their way in. All they can see is an empty space thinking there’s more room when in fact it’s being occupied by children. So much fun, so much stress, trying to prevent your kids from getting trampled on a crowded train while you become that obnoxious person on the train who yells, “hey, we can’t move further in because there are kids down here!”.
I admit that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to subway fare because as self employed people in NYC, we have to pay the MTA a commuter transportation mobility tax because…who knows why? It’s the stupidest tax created for the self employed on the planet. Let’s penalize freelancers who don’t even commute by making them pay hundreds of dollars to the MTA every year! So yes, even though we only ride the subway a handful of times a month if that, Mark and I both pay more tax to the MTA than we spend on subway fare every year. It makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? (said no self employed person ever). So whenever I think about the MTA tax, I shove Mia under the turnstiles at the subway stations despite her protests of wanting to pay, explaining to her that I’ve already paid for her, in taxes!
Oh, New York. Sometimes we put up with your bullshit to get to the good stuff.
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So, here’s the thing: you can spend your time lamenting over how a certain thing in your life isn’t making you happy, or you can actually do something about it. I decided that Thursdays are my “recharge” days – a day to see things, go to places I haven’t been before, or work on projects that are only my own. I know that some days there will be deadlines that are too pressing to ignore and I’ll most likely be playing catch up in the evening hours, but I’m going to try and keep this commitment going. Ain’t nothing gonna change by simply sitting around wishing I had more free time.
Yesterday I went to the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. It’s been on my list forever and it was a spontaneous, get in the car kind of outing with a friend. I’m glad that my first experience here was without the kids. There’s a tranquility to the space that is translated through the sculptures and the Japanese-influenced aesthetic of the museum design; it was so quiet. We had the whole museum to ourselves for awhile. It was nice to sit on a bench, watch the light filter and shift, and just talk for hours trading stories of travels and people that we used to know.
By 3pm, we were back in our neighborhood facing the frenzy of school pickup, surrounded by hundreds of other kids, parents and caregivers. By 3:30 I was back at home sorting through my inbox which was flooded with emails, but it had been a good day. I needed that reminder that these breaks are important.
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I’ve been having horrible insomnia lately. The kind where you toss and turn and keep looking at the clock because that window of time between sleep and the alarm gets increasingly short. I’m guessing because there’s a whole lot of stuff swirling around in my head. Some of it’s low-bubbling anxiety that I’m trying to prevent from surfacing, but most of it is actually good things, ideas that are in the very early stages of incubation, or in my case, trying to incubate.
Brenda, a very talented designer and long time blog reader, asked me to participate in her Get Fueled series where she asks creative people about their process. This essay was a bit of a challenge because I’m not exactly sure what my creative process is and quite frankly, I’m not even sure I properly answered Brenda’s question. So I rambled instead (very typical). I might very well have a process that I’m not consciously aware of, but it did make me realize that I do have a different process as a designer than I do when I’m creating work of my own. One of things that I was finally able to articulate for myself in answering this question is that for me, I see design and art as 2 very separate disciplines and they often can’t co-habitat successfully in the same creative space in my brain.
For obvious reasons of needing to make a living and supporting my family, I’ve been a designer for the majority of the second half of my life, whereas art and writing music was all I did for the first half. I really do admire people who can churn out a drawing or a piece of art every day, but I’m not that person. I think I really need to totally immerse myself in whatever I’m doing without any distractions and THIS is what I think my process is as an artist – to have the freedom and the time to just stare at a blank piece of paper for hours if I need to and then run with an idea all night. There’s something to be said about the luxury of time in that regard. I sometimes look back to when I was younger in school and wonder, was I more creative back then? Why can’t I be that prolific now? But then I realize it’s because of that luxury of time when I didn’t have to wake up to a job or a deadline or raising kids. I didn’t do anything else but create. I’m sure that my age has a lot to do with it, as well as the fact that my kids are growing into people right before my eyes, but I have college and retirement so much on the brain right now. You need money for both, and that’s where my focus has been lately.
But isn’t being a designer creative? Yes. But for myself, the answer is also no. I think I’ve always looked at being a designer as a job, separate from other creative processes. I never thought of myself as being particularly good at being creative on demand, so I think it’s a bit ironic that I ended up being a designer where work is always deadline based. But as I mention in that essay, I think those constrictions and parameters have been very good for me. And let me back up a bit when I wrote earlier that I admire those people who could churn out a drawing a day. The fact is, I am being creative everyday when I’m working. I’m not churning out drawings or paintings, but I am designing and when I’m done working for the day, the last thing I want to do is go draw. Photography, however, has been an enormous breakthrough in terms of trying to fit in personal creative work with freelance work. It’s a little less daunting than being faced with a blank canvas and that’s been really instrumental in getting back to being actively creative again. I think this is primarily why I’ve resisted trying to turn photography into anything other than a hobby.
But getting back to that insomnia. I think I’m having anxiety because I’m feeling so creatively empty these days. Work has been steady and great lately, but recent projects haven’t been creatively interesting. Ironically this might very well be the reason why I have the head space to think about personal projects right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about some work that I did in college, a series of mixed media photo collages – and later Photoshop collages when I was learning Photoshop in the mid 90s – incorporating old photos and new photos. The idea has piqued my interest again. The challenge, of course, is finding time (it’s ALWAYS about time, isn’t it? It’s the bane of my existence, really, being pulled in so many directions every day and never feeling like I’m caught up), but I’m determined this year to try and make it work and see where it leads. I am still very interested in collaborations with other people and I think this is ultimately where I’d find the energy of the creative process most invigorating since I work so much on my own a lot of the time, but life schedules have made this a challenge and in the end, a failure. So I’m finding that I need to turn inward. Whatever the means, it’s time to get creative again.
P.S. I think I might be the queen of rambling blog posts. Guess I didn’t get that memo that nobody has the attention span to read long blog posts anymore, sheesh.
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A few weekends ago, the girls and I stumbled upon this exhibit, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” at the New York Public Library. We were in the neighborhood and on a whim decided to take a look inside since they had never been. Although the exhibit has been open since summer, it was a fantastic, unexpected find. Well curated and beautifully designed, the rooms brought some of the most beloved children’s books to life including a life-size replica of the green room in “Goodnight Moon”.
As we made our way from room to room, we spotted well-loved characters around every corner like Alice, Harold and his Purple Crayon, Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”, and one of Max’s monsters recreated as a cutout entryway covered with fur on one side of the wall and gilded with gold around the edges. When you step back and look at the entire wall, you discover that the monster is a cutout from a wall that is in the shape of Max’s crown.
Books to pull out and read can be found throughout the exhibit and if your kids are like mine, they’ll take every opportunity to sit down and read. One of my favorite little details was an ivy covered wall from The Secret Garden which had a carved out ledge for sitting. On either side, almost hidden by the ivy, were 2 slots in the wall wide enough to hold a single book.
Leonard S. Marcus, a children’s book historian who is the curator of the exhibit, draws together 250 artifacts from the library’s archives including original artwork, manuscripts and letters. On display is a rare illustrated edition of Aesop’s Fables, the original stuffed bear and tiger that inspired the characters in “Winnie-the-Pooh”, and original watercolors from “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm”.
The exhibit runs through March 23 and is free to the public. Make sure you visit the library gift shop too. Can’t remember the last time I bought a book for myself (the kids buy books all the time), but the gift shop is stocked with some great books and we walked out with a few.
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