Category Archives: Creative Life


Lather, Rinse, Repeat

A look through my journal reveals that I’ve been working through the same stuff…over and over…which feels kinda crappy, I’m not going to lie. Get back on the horse, get back to your path, get back on track, get back, get back, get back…I feel like I’m on a mental Loop-de-Loop.

According to the Internet (because you know I had to look it up, and I know you are dying to know) a Loop-de-Loop is, among other things, a type of roller coaster/physics problem, a cartoon character (Loopy de Loop), and a song by Ween featured on a SpongeBob episode.

My Loop-de-Loopy metaphor I see as a series of loops on a page, like when you practiced cursive writing (so sad this practice is on the decline). I see a long line consisting of low straight parts and big loops, over and over, and the loops may or may not be the same height (depending on the day, week, month, year…small loops closer to “on track,” big loopy loops, way off course).

Mantis Roller Coaster Ride

[ The Loop-de-Loop as roller coaster works as a metaphor too. Going real fast out of the gate, up the one side of the loop, and that moment when you hit the top, slow down, gravity pulling at you, and your world view is all upside down…then swoosh you’re down and out. Photo Courtesy: Coasterman1234 at en.wikipedia ]

The Bother List

  1. Get Shit Together
  2. Work on Art
  3. Write Blog Post

Number one on my To Do List this weekend could be read a couple ways, but it’s really Get My Shit Together, mostly my Mental Shit.

Lately the inside of my head has taken on the look and feel of that corner in the bedroom where the clean clothes and dirty clothes are piling up all together in one small mountain of fabric. The only way to tell the difference between clean and dirty is to inspect each piece visually for stains (no red wine here!) and then with your nose (eesh, that’s not wearable). And if it’s too wrinkly to wear it’s considered dirty.

There is that critical tipping point though, where the pile is just too big, and you just say f*ck it and throw them all in the dirty clothes basket (apologies for all the profanity. It’s been that kind of week.)

[ Playing with loops ]

[ Playing with layered loops in Photoshop ]

For about a week I’ve had a sticky note on my desk that reads “mind dump.” Every once in awhile, one just needs a mind dump, what I call creating my Bother List. I have been ignoring this sticky note directive because it’s going to be a chore.

I’m going to write down every single thing that is “bothering” me, tiny and big, all the flotsam and jetsam floating around in that roiling ocean of thoughts: things to do, things to buy, things to clean, art ideas, blog ideas, things I should be doing on my website and with social media (that I’m not), people to email, people that are annoying/angering/frustrating me (past and present), people that are inspiring me, big picture tasks, huge life goals, little every day tasks…

Everything out of my head and written down.

(I realize that if I had been using my planner properly, this whole endeavor might be avoided, or at least not such a big deal, but Get Back to Using Your Planner is one of the things going onto The Bother List).

I then take The Bother List and divide into:

  1. Things I Have No Control Over
  2. Things I Can Do Something About

The first list gets ripped up and mentally “let go” (or at least that’s the goal…that work ends up going on list #2).

List number two becomes The Big List and then divided up into manageable sub-lists. Sounds laborious, and it is, but it’s as satisfying as spring cleaning (and not physically painful).

Spiraling Into Control

My looping metaphor brought up the memory of Spirograph. Anyone else remember having a Spirograph set as a kid?


If you don’t know what one is, you would take one plastic thingy and hold it with one hand on a piece of paper, put one of the round design making thingies next to it, put a colored pen in a hole that’s on the round thingy, and then with your other hand holding the pen, you move the round thingy around the other stationary thingy (there are cogs on the edges of the pieces, like gears) all the while keeping your pen on the paper. Designs would be created on the paper like magic (if you have no idea what a Spirograph is, I’m confident that the picture I just created in your mind is lacking…so go ahead and look it up).

With great care and patience the designs would turn out beautiful. But if you didn’t pay attention, didn’t focus, the little cogs at the edges of the plastic thingies would slip, and your perfect drawing would be ruined. Or, if you kept at the same template for too long, you would repeat the design over and over, adding too much ink to the paper and eventually creating little ruts, and then the ruts turned into holes in the paper.

Catch my drift? Life is like a Loop-de-Loop and a Spirograph (take that Forrest Gump).

Julie Renfro- detail loops

[ Fancy Loop-de-Loops. One of many abstract details that I’m printing out and adhering to the panels as background to my Fortune Favors the Brave piece. ]

Work Hard, Fall Down, Get Up, Repeat

There really is no way around it. If I want to be physically stronger, have more stamina, I have to up the ante in my workouts. If I want to feel my best and be healthful, I need to stop eating crap food and drinking too much wine. If I want to be the best artist I can be, continue to grow and get better, I need to be diligent, unremiting, in carving out time to work at it.

I can talk and write about it all I want, but really, stop “trying” and start really doing (I know, I’ve said similar before, hence the Loop-de-Loop metaphor. I did a search on my own blog for the word “trying”…… so sad, but a relief that every single post didn’t come up).

Naomi Dunford wrote a post that I love titled What If You Tried Really Hard. She wrote:

When I was in the process of quitting smoking, I was having a discussion with somebody and heard myself say this:

“God, I’m just trying SO HARD, you know?”

After making this (in hindsight quite self-pitying) statement, I had a thought.

“Am I trying hard?”

Like, I’m certainly thinking about it a lot. I’m guilting myself a considerable portion of the day. I’m embroiling myself in the drama a lot.

Sure, I’m putting a significant amount of effort into talking about how difficult it is, self-flagellation, whining, reading endless articles on the Internet, and sundried other ignoble pursuits, but am I putting a comparable amount of effort into not putting a cigarette into my mouth and setting fire to the end?

On observation, it would appear that I wasn’t. I wasn’t trying very hard at all.

So. I’m getting The Bother List done, going to stop “embroiling myself in the drama a lot,” get back on the horse, continue on my track, stop talking and start doing, and maybe the loops on my never ending Loop-de-Loop will begin to get smaller and happen further apart.

I can’t make any promises. But I’m going to try really hard.

Also posted in Motivation

Mother’s Day and Garden Wonders

For awhile I was angry whenever Mother’s Day rolled around.

My mom passed away in 1997, three months after Mike and I were married, and it just seemed unfair to have all this seemingly forced celebrating when I myself no longer had my mom. The anger and resentment have slowly diminished over time, and while the day is no longer quite as big a deal as it used to be (in my immediate family), my sisters are mothers, my friends are mothers and grandmothers, and they all deserve to be celebrated too. There are all sorts of moms out there to be celebrated, those that are alive and those no longer with us.

I am so very grateful for Muriel Jeanne Renfro and all she gave to me. Whether passed on through DNA, through her guidance, or through her example, I am me because of her. She is an ever-present influence in my art, and I would not be doing what I do if not for her.

I miss her terribly, and love her dearly.


[ My mother at my graduation from Art Center College of Design. ]

Spring Cleaning Continues

We spent a good portion of today outside, cleaning up the backyard. If I were to attempt to get up off the couch at this moment, my body would protest (OK, enough with the spring cleaning, this hurts).

I know I probably mention the weather way too much, but these spring days are simply the best. Today I took to noticing and treasuring the beauty in our own backyard, and thought I would share:

moss covered rock

[ This moss covers just one rock in our backyard path. I’m not sure what the new growth is (technically) but the feathery green moss has these delicate orange stalks with bright green, uh, things at the ends. Amazing. ]

milkweed seeds

[ Milkweed seeds found on the ground, left from last year, survived the winter. The engineering of these seed filaments, and their pattern, is very awe inspiring. ]

red tulip

[ A tulip in our front yard. We did not plant any tulips, ever, but they have appeared over the years and seem to have multiplied in our front yard. I had never noticed the beautiful yellow and black pattern at the center of the flowers. ]

yellow flowers

[ So much of our garden is either leftover from previous owners or “visitors” from who knows where. These yellow flowers are flourishing in the back of the yard. We did not plant them, but I love them. ]

fountain marbles

[ The marble and glass mosaic orb at the top of Mike’s fountain. Love all the subtle selfies reflected in the lower marbles. ]

golden cat

[ A golden cat, serene and sun drenched. She is from Mike’s Aquarium Gallery installation and now graces our backyard. ]

selfie in garden globe

[ Weird, but I liked this extraterrestrial-looking selfie (of sorts) in one of our glass garden globes. ]


[ We took a trip to World Market today and bought an umbrella and lights. I LOVE sitting here at the end of the day, listening to the water fountain, the birds singing, the neighbors doing what they do….Life is GOOD. ]

This weekend has been about gratitude, appreciation, and noticing/paying attention…to the memory and legacy of my mother and to the wonder and beauty in my own backyard.

Also posted in Inspiration

Spring Cleaning

I’m not going to lie. At this very moment I feel like I did in school: those times when the paper is due tomorrow, and it’s the night before. I’m staring at blank lined paper with pen in hand and nothing’s coming, the mind is as blank as the paper. Something will come, eventually, but the panic is fuzzing up my brain.

It doesn’t help that my whole body hurts, and I’m exhausted.

Garden Gargoyle

[ One of Mike’s Garden Gargoyles. Ready for sun and warmth, so over being covered in snow. ]

The mistake I made this weekend was getting obsessed with cleaning. I did not plan well, and did not foresee that come Sunday afternoon all my joints and muscles, from the bottoms of my feet to my stiff shoulders and neck, would be telling me (not so quietly) that I went a tad overboard with the rags, mop, bucket full o’ water, duster, hand-held vacuum, dust pan and broom…and that the moving of dressers, contents of said dressers, artwork from walls, bending, pushing, pulling, wiping, sweeping, and mopping would leave me just the tiniest bit exhausted (and not, perhaps, in the best shape for writing).

But I had decided to follow my own advice (when in doubt, clean something) because nothing else productive was getting done. Not to mention that the accumulated dust and grime were mocking me every day as I walked through the house (I like to think of our house and its occupants as a physics lesson in entropy, the only word I latched onto in college physics: “a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work”).

Avoidance? Procrastination? Perhaps. But at least I ended up with some pretty darn clean (and rearranged) rooms and my socks organized by color.

Plus spring is the time for cleaning. Starting fresh (kinda like New Years, only sunnier and warmer).

Mimi Helping

[ Supervisor of Dresser Content Removal ]

Lessons From The Quince

Spring in Michigan is a truly glorious experience. Growing up in southern California, I never really knew distinct seasons. Winter was definitely colder than summer, and there was that one tree on the block that lost its leaves in fall, but compared to where I live now, there were not four distinctly different seasons.

The last two days here have been bright, sunny, warm (in the sun), and after the gray and cold of winter (as mild as it was), the joy of sitting outside, watching and listening to all the birds, looking at all the tiny green dots that will soon be leaves…is heavenly.

Of course there is, therefore, lots of work to be done in the yards, but that can wait. Focus on the birds chirping and plants growing.

Ostrich Ferns

[ Ostrich ferns unfurling in our backyard. ]

This year, I am taking a lesson from the quince bush currently flowering in the front yard. The one I thought we had killed removed.

The previous owners of our house must have thought long and hard about how they could torture the future occupants. Let’s fill this two foot by eight foot plot of dirt with small white rocks! And not just one layer, how about a foot deep. Heh, when the next owners want to plant something there, boy won’t it be fun to remove all those rocks!

And hey, right next to the driveway (the driver’s side), lets plant not one, but TWO different types of bushes that have thorns! Plants that will grow to be too big for the space they are in, and therefore repeatedly stab the new occupants as they try to walk between the car and the house!

Much as Mike may think otherwise, I do not like ending the life of anything growing in our yards, but sometimes the health of the garden, or the owners, demands it. We removed that damn quince about three or four years ago, and not only has it come back, this year it has more flowers than it ever did before:

The Indestructible Quince

I don’t have the heart to try to remove it again (and I don’t think Mike will let me). It has persisted. And not only that, it has literally blossomed and more beautifully than it did before.

My new motto: I am the quince.

Maybe without the thorns.

A Change Will do You Good

The cleaning helped, but the rearranging of our bedrooms (and subsequent IKEA visit, always a good thing) was even more satisfying. Something about the change up – sleeping in a different room, with different light coming in the windows, different sounds – has been a really refreshing change. If you’re feeling stuck, clean something and/or move things around. Shake things up, change your perspective.

Mental, physical, creative blocks, all be damned. Hard work, patience, persistence, hard work…patience. I may be hurting as a result of my work this weekend, but I am persisting. I temporarily forgot my exhaustion, got into the flow of writing and sharing. A reminder to just sit (at the computer, in the studio, in front of that pile of whatever) and just start. Begin.

I’m moving forward. And I will, hopefully like the quince, blossom with a vengeance.

Ostrich Fern Unveils






Also posted in Motivation

Title TBD – Part 2

{ NOTE: I know I’m a day (or two) later than my normal weekly schedule. I did start writing yesterday, but my weekend got away from me, and the writing wasn’t coming as easily. Flying by the seat of my pants, indeed… 🙂 }


The debate in my head went something like this:

Julie1: you can’t do a “part 2” post yet, you haven’t done very much, there’s nothing to write about.

Julie2: but that’s part of the process, right? I want to write about the whole process of creating this installation.

Julie1: well, you’ve really only done a lot of thinking about the piece, not a whole lot of doing. You can’t write about sitting on your butt “thinking.”

Julie2: why not? That’s part of the process…

Julie1: but that’s boring.

Julie2: but that’s part of the process…

Julie1: well, there are no engaging pictures of you “thinking.” You need pictures of something, otherwise it really will be boring.

Julie2: but sitting and thinking’s part of the process…

Julie3: you guys are driving me nuts, just start writing for Pete’s sake…

Anyhoo, the debate rambled on like that for awhile, which I know is not very exciting, and perhaps not interesting to you in the least. But I really do do this at the start (and in the middle) of a piece: circle around it, stare at it, think about it. The basic substructure is up (you can read Part 1 of this series here), so I stare at it as I walk by to do laundry, or while I’m on the treadmill which sits in the opposite corner, or on the stationary bike (not actually cycling mind you) with my coffee…and I’ve been debating choices, rolling ideas around, contemplating:

+ Should I add foam insulation to the walls? Still not sure about that idea…I can pin things into it if I do. Or should I just paint the walls Mike used (although I hate to paint over all that work!) and then glue stuff to them?

+ We know from experience that the Aquarium Gallery window gets direct afternoon sun and the space heats up…a LOT. Mike had fake candles that were partially made of wax, and several of them melted and needed to be replaced. Something to keep in mind.

+ I want to hang stuff from the ceiling, LOTS and LOTS to fill the space. How the heck is that going to work? Dowels or 1″ x 2″ wood strips will probably sag in the middle, so maybe an already built lattice of some sort?

+ What exactly am I going to hang from the ceiling and pin to the walls? That will determine how I’m going to build it up…

Basically, I drive myself nuts with endless options (aka commitment avoidance). In the meantime, I have been prepping parts:

Found Squares from Past Work

[ I did find these unused, unfinished squares from a previous installation that Mike and I created, and I thought they would be a perfect addition to this new work. These squares currently have images of the women in our families on them. Not sure if I will keep the images or replace them. ]

Muriel Renfro - Princess

[ My mother, Muriel Moore (I love this photo). A coat of gesso over the previous color before I repaint them gold. ]


It was random that I found this stack of squares, piled (and hidden) in a corner of the studio, but I’m so happy I did. There are currently 60 of them that need to be painted over with gesso, then a couple coats of gold.

Then I plan to summon my inner 6-year-old self, get out the glue, beads, glitter, and miscellaneous sparklies, and have some fun. That’s the current plan anyway.

Time consuming work, and mindless, in a way, except 1. right now it’s nice to have an art task that doesn’t require a whole lot of decision making, and 2. with these particular squares, I have been treasuring each image as I paint around them, thinking about each person. Some of these women I know/knew, some I have never met, but they are all part of the interwoven story of my life with Mike. A nice bonus to this process.

Grace Moore - the squares are getting gold borders

[ Grace Moore, my maternal grandmother. I’ll have to write a post someday that is just about her…from the little I know, she was a strong, resilient woman. ]

I’m also mulling over ideas for a title. Premature you say? The cart before the horse? Well, giving it a title is one of the most fun parts!  It also might help shore up my decision making process 🙂 A phrase (potential title) did pop into my head last week when I was jogging on the treadmill. But I don’t want to reveal that yet. Still pondering. The piece may or may not even have a meaning. Perhaps it will just be decorative (and weird).

Since I don’t have a solid plan yet, I’m kinda winging this series of posts about process (really? You don’t say…)…so, not sure when “part 3” will happen. Two weeks? Three? But whenever it is, I will have moved things forward and will have more to share. Stay tuned!




Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Making, Fortune Favors the Brave

Seek and Ye Shall Find

A couple of days ago we went looking for inspiration, a change of scenery, and instead we found a giant, rainbow-colored shock of a gift. We had one of those Life experiences that are so out-of-the-blue but that feel so perfectly timed and “meant to be.” Let me tell you a story…

For several years, Mike and I have taken a trip to Chicago for my birthday. I waffled about going this year. Perhaps someplace different instead? Or maybe we stay home, since we are spending so much money on our big trip to California this summer. I decided fairly last-minute that, what the hell, we needed to get out of our house for a couple of days. Congress Plaza Hotel, dear old friend, here we come.

About four hours after leaving Ann Arbor we are in Chicago. About an hour after that we are at the Art Institute, looking at our old favorites. But the inspiration isn’t really manifesting like we had hoped. Perhaps it was the crowds. Or that there was nothing new for us. I was temporarily excited that there was a Martin Puryear exhibit, but then disappointed that it was mostly drawings (although beautiful) and not more of his sculptures. I like Van Gogh, but the exhibit on his “bedrooms” didn’t sound appealing (and all those people to navigate…I know, we’re sad).

Eh. Well, the deep dish pizza dinner was worth the drive. Perhaps Friday will bring something.

Indeed it did.


[ If nothing else, just walking around Chicago is always energizing. Love this city. I can always count on finding interesting textures and architectural elements. ]

Glass, metal, concrete floor in a downtown Chicago doorway

[ Purple glass and metal circles on the floor of a doorway. ]

A view out the window.

[ A blurry photo taken with my iPhone, out our hotel window, looks like an abstract painting. I only increased the saturation and contrast in Photoshop. Love the blue accent of port-o-potties at the top left. ]

A Fortunate Happenstance

Bear with me, I want to share the randomness of the path we took to get to our “meant to be” moment during this trip.

On Friday morning, the only destination we had in mind was a bookstore I found online, Sandmeyers (Some shopping on the Miracle Mile perhaps? Not in the mood. Contemporary Museum as usual? Hmm, current exhibits don’t sound like our cup of tea. Natural History Museum? $38 each!!! Uh, no.) From our hotel window, we could see this big, icy blue and white square in the park. I thought it was tile, Mike thought it was perhaps three-dimensional, but it was really too far away to tell.

We decided to take a closer look at the blue tile thingy on our way to the bookstore.

Blue square out our window.

[ From our hotel window. What is it made of? ]


Turns out, the floor and a small stage are painted wood pieces screwed to a substructure (it had rained, so it was shiny from the water). The colors and pattern are beautiful. I looked it up later, and it is a 100 percent recycled, open-air dance floor designed by Chicago artist Dan Peterman, part of the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park. The annual Chicago SummerDance is held here.



Mystery solved, we continued walking south to the next point of interest (the bookstore is still a little further south and west). On a hill at the end of this garden area stands a statue of a man on a horse, General John A. Logan (internet trivia for the day: apparently, we have him to thank for pushing Memorial Day to be a holiday).

General Logan

[ The path to the General. Color saturated in Photoshop. ]

Statue of General Logan, Grant Park, Chicago.

[ Mike and the General. ]

Looking south from the hill where General Logan permanently rides, a huge block of brightly colored cubes sits in the middle of an expanse of bright green grass. We still had a half hour to kill before the bookstore opened, so we meandered in the direction of the brightly colored cubes.

Artists Monument

[ Mike took this photo after we had already spent much more than a passing minute looking at the monument. The figure standing next to it is me. ]

As we walked closer, it seemed that each square of color was intersected by whitish columns. I thought perhaps it was corrugated, like cardboard. Once up next to it, you can see the white is actually a list of names etched into the plastic. The whole piece is entirely covered in an alphabetical listing of names. The plaque next to it says it’s called Artists Monument, by Tony Tasset.

I must have seen an artist name I recognized, I can’t remember now, but as I was standing near the S listings, I randomly looked for Mike’s name. Why not?

Mike Sivak's name on Artists Monument by Tony Tasset

I cannot adequately describe the feeling of finding “Mike Sivak” listed on one of the yellow squares. WTF???!!! This, of course, had me trotting over to the Rs to see if my name appeared there. One could hope. Although, it happened so fast, it was just a “let’s take a looksy why not” impulse that turned into a “holy shit!” moment.


Julie Renfro at the Artists Monument by Tony Tasset.

[ And it was just TOO coincidental that we had a rainbow umbrella to match…not to mention my shoes. ]

Then, of course, we spent time walking around looking for the names of our artist friends (the bookstore opening time came and went). We found many! This was just too cool, too much fun! Where did the list come from? How did ours and our friends’ names get on it? Why did some not? The date on the plaque said 2014. This had been here for two years!!?? Really?

But it actually hadn’t been in Chicago for two years. The story gets better…

Turns out the piece was created by Tony Tasset for the Whitney Biennial…wait, what? 2014, installed at Pier 45, Hudson River Park, New York, NY. Our names are on an art piece that was in the Whitney Biennial (let you in on a little secret? I’m feeling slightly hysterical and uncool about all this, but I can’t help it, I’m going to wear my yes-I’m-almost-52-but-acting-like-I’m-12 badge proudly).

You can read more about the Whitney installation in this interview with Mr. Tasset. He reveals that being in the Whitney Biennial was “a personal ‘white whale,’ an aspiration that he pursued for a quarter-century” which for me makes the artwork, and our finding it, even more special. The installation includes almost 400,000 artist names on it, but as Mr. Tasset says about the work, “the Artists Monument attempts to include all artists but this is a symbolic, utopian gesture. It would be impossible to include everyone who calls him- or herself an artist.”

It was just so shocking to, in such a seemingly accidental way, come across our names in a public setting, on such a large-scale artwork, a piece that has existed, been out there, for two years. How surreal is it that this surprise encounter happened?

What a great gift of encouragement. A gigantic reminder that, somewhere along the way, I found my tribe.

And, I’m sorry, it’s just really F***ING COOL! 🙂 Happy birthday, Julie.

Snowy drive home

[ In contrast to the rainbow colors, the view on the drive home. Contrast bumped up in Photoshop. Rain on the drive down, snow on the way home. Spring in Michigan! ]

Also posted in Inspiration, Motivation

Time Marches On

At this time a year ago, this website and blog did not exist. A year ago, life was humming along with normal, predictable meanderings on the path (whatever that “path” was in my head at the time), then off the path into the weeds. Hack and stumble my way back onto the path. Angst and mental hand wringing about my Art. The usual.

A year ago at this time, during this yearly visit with my sister and her family in Virginia, my brother-in-law did not know he had cancer. But within a couple of weeks he did. Ten weeks after that he was gone.

It’s still hard to get my head around this immovable, lives forever altered, fact. I mean, we all know death is coming, but the tendency is to think of it as an event “out there” somewhere in the future. Surely not now.

As I type, my sister and I sit under the Big Art Piece we made over the holidays. So much has happened since last spring. So much change, and at the same time so little change. Some things are very, very different, much has stayed the same. The same work events have come and gone, the seasons have passed the same (albeit a little warmer and weirder), most life patterns and habits have stayed relatively the same. But someone from my immediate family is…just gone, and that alters, in unseen ways, even those things that haven’t changed.

Being here with Tina, for another annual March visit, has been a trigger of emotions for both of us. Obviously, a very different spectrum for her. Unavoidable though, and OK too. We are still enjoying our time together, just having to navigate forward and through as well.

Tina's Tree - Spring 2016

[ Another spring. Sitting out in 70 degree weather in Virginia. Blue sky. Green beginning to make an appearance in the trees. Such promise. ]

Letting Go….Again

I’m not sure I would have ever been able to muster up the courage to start this blog if it hadn’t been for the unexpected and abrupt end of Scott’s time here. Maybe I would have. Eventually. It’s so, so easy to say “tomorrow.” I’ll do this thing I really want to do, next week. I’ll make this good-for-me-healthy change the first of next month. Later, not now. It can wait.

You know what? It’s cliché, but everything I’ve ever done that has been worthwhile, that has made me grow in some way, has been hard. Challenging. Not comfy and cozy (sometimes this has been by choice, sometimes not). So, this week a reminder to myself to pay attention to the discomfort, pay attention to the feelings and things I’m avoiding, putting off or numbing. Feel them, confront them. Move through them. Sit with the feelings of discomfort and make them my friends. Or at least acquaintances. What can they teach me? What are they saying that I’ve not been listening to?

Let go of the latest rock. Stop clinging. As they say, feel the fear and do it anyway.


Almost six months ago I started writing this blog. It’s been six months! I have an archive for Pete’s sake. Who would have thought? Seriously, if you had told me a year ago that I would have a blog up in six months, I would have laughed. Yeah, right. I’m not a writer.

(I still don’t consider myself a writer…I think of myself as a visual artist who likes to write).

This visit to my sister’s also reminds me that I moved through all that fear and vulnerability and started writing and sharing my stories and my art anyway. Another lesson from this past year to advocate: Share Your Shit! You are kick-ass at something (whether you’re creative, a maker, organizer, leader, innovator, caregiver, whatever), or maybe you aren’t so kick-ass at your Thing (yet), but you love what you do. Don’t sit on your gifts. Share your passion. And for the love of God, don’t wait!

We watched one of Brené Brown’s TED videos the other night. What she has researched, learned, and shares about vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame is so encouraging. I share it below in case it will be encouraging to you too.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.”
— Brené Brown


Also posted in Creative Spirit, Motivation

Flying by the Seat of My Pants

“To use one’s judgment, initiative, and perceptions as events unfold in order to improvise a course of action without a predetermined plan.”

Another week, another saying for a title, another chance to search for the origin of the saying…yay, Internet! And, many wasted minutes trying to figure out if the saying is technically an “idiom” since that sounds so much more cool – but I can’t be sure, I’m not an English major People! So without wasting any more time “saying” it is…

“Flying by the seat of one’s pants” came out of the days of early aviation, before fancy instruments, when pilots had to fly by feel and instinct, especially when visibility was poor. The seat of the airplane, being a fairly large source of contact between pilot and plane, was apparently useful beyond being a place to sit in the cockpit.

In regards to this blog, I definitely feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Each week I sit down to write, without a real plan of action, with a vague direction from a list of ideas I keep, and generally (except that one stuck time) several hours later I have some words down that make some sense. I hope.

It’s really a little weekly miracle, at least to me.

Julie Renfro - Still Life #6 - in progress

[ If you’re wondering where all the “art” is in this Artfull Life blog, it’s mostly been in my head lately, but today I spent a good 4 hours at it, mostly in the studio. Nothing much to report at this time, except that there’s Forward Progress and forward is always good. I hope to have this Still Life finished in a couple of weeks at the most. ]

Planning to Develop a Plan

I need a plan. If I had a dollar for every time I have either written those four words in my journal or had them float through my head, I would not be rich, but I could buy a nice lunch for myself and Mike. We could even have wine.

But I’m serious this time, I need a plan. And by that, I mean a better way to engage with my short and long-term goals (starting with actually writing those down someplace official), to be intentional about how I spend the minutes and hours of my days. I tend to get done what needs to be done each day, but each week flies by and then it’s been a month and I realize I haven’t been in the studio! How did that happen?

This needs to stop. I can no longer have my life just whiz by without me taking notice.

So I have been on the hunt for a daily planner, because that will make all the difference in the world, right? A new, blank, Book of Planning Potential, finally, will help me make a plan (does this enthusiasm, perhaps, remind you of my Self Help Book addiction?)

Years ago I used a Franklin Planner at work, and I loved it. Made me feel organized and together (at least at work). Then everything gradually went digital, and our organization’s task management moved online.

For my project and task lists, I’m currently using Trello, online and on my iPhone. And while this works for keeping all my To Do list items organized, it doesn’t help me with looking at my months, weeks, and days to see where and how I want to focus my time. And my Google Calendar has no…warmth. I’m a paper and pencil person at heart, so the idea of adding a paper planner back into my system appeals to me (not to mention all the sticky note and highlighter potential).

But I had no idea that my search for a planner would make me feel like Goldilocks: this one is too big, this one not laid out right, this one too frilly, this one too antiseptic. None just right. My criteria, apparently, are hard to find all together and with nothing else. I just want:

  • Month views
  • Week views, with a daily column for SEVEN DAYS. Many planners make Saturday and Sunday these little half columns…or Saturday is full but Sunday is half…my weekends are just as full as my weekdays!
  • Days broken down in time increments to suit me (my day starts earlier than 8am and goes later than 6pm)
  • Places for notes
  • A pocket/sleeve for additional papers

I do not want:

  • Inspirational quotes (I’ll pick them if I want them)
  • Sections titled something I would never call them or that are not of use to me (“hot”…really?)
  • Pages for figuring out my life’s purpose or goals (I’ll work those out elsewhere)
  • A planner that weighs more than my laptop
  • The above mentioned half day Saturdays and Sundays
  • A planner that costs as much as a decent pair of shoes (or more!)

Sorry to go on about this, but I’m sharing what turned out to be a QUEST! If I didn’t have enough on my plate, I would design my own damn planner and start a Kickstarter campaign to fund it (I’ll put that in the Someday/Maybe pile).


ANYWAY…after visiting every version of those “Best Planners Ever” websites, I found Seize the Day Daily Planner. It does not have the full week view, and I wish it were a brighter color (it looks gray but it’s “mint”), but it is a good size and weight, has month views, and each day gets a page with a layout I like: hourly list section on the left (starts at 6am, goes until midnight) and large notes section on the right, plus space at the bottom. Clean and simple.

Month names and dates are blank, so I can start now (it’s almost March! Again, how did that happen?) It only has 120 pages of daily planning, but if it works for me, I’ll buy another 2 for the year.

If not, the Planner Quest continues.

A Course of Action

This blog is likely to remain a Flying by the Seat of My Pants Operation, at least for a while (I’ll just consider it a weekly challenge), but I need to be more intentional with how I structure my days and weeks in order to:

  1. get the art-making in that I want
  2. get all those practices (that make me feel great) done daily
  3. get to all the things I want to see, and do, and read/learn

Essentially, to live that artfull life I’m in pursuit of! I’m hoping that my new planner will help. Or to put it better, that I can create a new habit of planning (with my new planner assisting). We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.



Also posted in Creative Spirit, Motivation

You Can’t Go Home Again

One cool thing about writing this blog is that I get to learn random trivia while doing it (what, dear God, did we ever do without Google search and Wikipedia?) The title of this post came to mind, and since we are living in 2016, I took a few seconds and looked up its origins. It is actually the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe, published in 1940, and taken from a question posed to him by writer Ella Winter (and then used with her permission): “Don’t you know you can’t go home again?”

The things that stick around and become part of our lexicon. I wonder what Thomas and Ella would think about that.

Anyway, this summer we are going “home” again. At least me and my younger sister are, to the city where we grew up. Back to southern California for a visit, to show Tina’s girls where we were born and raised, and where their parents met. This past week I’ve spent a good amount of time online, looking at potential places to stay (giving AirBnB a try!). I have also, as a consequence, spent a good amount of time thinking about the place I used to call home, and thinking about the Past.

[ Tina and Julie, Dana Point backyard, 1967 ]

[ Tina and Julie, Dana Point backyard, 1967 ]

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

I have a figurine I have been carrying around since childhood. A lovely young lady in a long purple dress, wearing a purple bonnet ringed with tiny blue flowers. I recall her being a birthday gift from my parents, and I loved her. I wanted to be her, to wear that dress and hat, wear those dainty gloves.


At age almost 52, I still have her sitting on my dresser, as she did over 40 years ago, albeit now without the circular music box mechanism that used to be attached at the bottom of her dress. I would obsessively turn the bottom disc to wind the music up, place her carefully back down, and then watch as she slowly spun around to the tinkley chorus of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Looking closely now, you can see she lost her head and both hands at some point (and they were not glued back very expertly). But she is still as lovely and serene as ever.

Looking at her brings that tune into my head, and (a quick Google search later) I have learned that the song was written in 1910. Apparently it was very popular.

Read This - It's Interesting

[ A write up about a follow up song entitled “Since You Called Me Sweetheart” ]

I’ve never really thought much about the fact that the Lady in Purple still sits on my dresser (if I ever gave her a name, I have since forgotten). I don’t pick her up and examine her on a daily basis like I once did. I am not as enamored of her as I once was either, but I find her charming. The fact that she was a gift from my parents makes her special. Maybe this is a weird thing, but there is something reassuring about her being there. Still.

We can add so much emotional/sentimental weight to objects (our attic is very heavy!) We give them stories, give them heft way beyond their true value. And I love that. I think that’s one of the things I enjoy about making shrines or 3D assemblage pieces. Especially using found objects (perhaps they are someone else’s weighted things). A variable mishmash of objects assembled just so, add paint, add sparkle, and a story emerges. Sometimes you start with a story in mind, sometimes one is created with the piece (or changes along with it). In the end, someone may read the story differently than I do, but that’s even better, that the piece I have created has multiple layers of meaning.

Stories. That’s what our lives are made of.

Just Visiting

It’s true, you can’t go back home. That place, as you knew it, doesn’t exist anymore. The child/person you were doesn’t exist anymore. Many of the people you were with, then, are no longer in this realm. Come July, we’ll just be visiting beautiful California, recalling and sharing some stories about our time there.

At least, that’s going to be my mental point of view. Traveling down Memory Lane, it would be too easy to add emotional weight, make the stories heavy with comparison of how things “used to be.” I’ve been at this point before, been back there and been so very disappointed with the way things are now. Too many people, too much traffic. And the biggest disappointment of all, Disneyland is not the same…

It’s still going to be a great trip. This is where our stories started, the place where our journeys began! But it’s a place like my Lady in Purple is a beloved object: not in the same, perfect, out-of-the-wrapping-paper shape; not held and touched daily; but very special, and reassuring that it’s still there.



Also posted in Creative Spirit

So as Not to be Dead

As I wrote about in my last post, this week I have been in the midst of the Sphinx Competition, and today we finished up with SphinxCon. I’m writing this in my hotel room, and tomorrow is the final day, culminating with the Sphinx Competition Finals Concert. It’s been an exciting/inspiring/exhausting week!

So, I’m cheating (a little) this week. I don’t have the time to write a big ol’ post, but I thought I would direct you to some content out there that I found relevant, to a recent blog post by Callie Oettinger on Steven Pressfield Online. I loved this post. It struck a chord, and I feel the need to remind myself to keep “dancing and dancing and dancing, and writing and writing and writing, so as not to be dead.” (this will make sense if you click on the link to the post below)

AND…since I’m pointing you to his site, if you have never heard of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, I highly recommend it…for anyone struggling with creating, whether it be writing, visual art, film, music, starting a personal venture…we all struggle with Resistance, and this little tome gives a shape to that thing “that keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do” and helps identify ways to conquer it.

Here’s to beating Resistance and creating, creating, creating, so as not to be dead:

Bradbury and Bowie: Dancing, So As Not To Be Dead

Guardians of the Studio

[ Guardians of our studio, helping to ward off Resistance ]



Also posted in Inspiration, Motivation

Not Stuck, Full

Things are moving slooooowly around here in the art-making department, but they are moving. I was really getting a bit down about it, not getting more done, but I realized I am not “stuck” in the Inspiration and Ideas departments, I’m just full at the moment.

There is no room, mentally and actual time-wise, with my current Work workload, to add a whole lot of art-making to my days. But that is typical of this time of year.

Julie Renfro-Still Life in progress

[ A section of the latest digital print for a Still Life, printed out this week on large format paper. It needs to be mounted on a panel and painted back into, and it will eventually go in an ornate frame I have been dragging around with me since living with my parents (I used it for a project in art school). It’s one of the art pieces that has been moving along, slowly but surely. ]

And when I say “Work” with a capital W, I mean the full-time job that pays me, but I in no way mean it’s Work as in dull, mundane, or thankless. Quite the very opposite.

Temping and Serendipity

Back when I was 25 and newly divorced from my first marriage, I worked for a temp agency. I liked temping, as it was generally mindless work (filing or data entry), and I would get to change it up every few days or weeks, depending on how long I was needed. It was easy work, a bit boring perhaps, but it paid the bills.

One memorable job (for all the wrong reasons) was for a large government-contracted business. They built parts for things that fly (like planes and rockets, and who knows, maybe a space shuttle). I was basically someone’s assistant, and the temp assignment was for a few months. The thing that sticks out to me, all these years later, was how unhappy some of the employees were. There was one room where the accountants lived, a series of nondescript desks in an uninspiring open room. The accountants were all youngish but older than me, maybe in their early 30s at most, and they hated their jobs. They talked about when they would be getting out (I seem to recall it was not soon), as if they had no choice but to show up for this work, and that some day their real lives would begin.

I didn’t want to be in a job like that. Ever.

Fast forward to fall of 2002, a couple of years shy of my 40th birthday. We had been in Michigan for a little over a year. Unemployed. Not for lack of trying, but nothing was panning out. One day, on a complete whim, I set out for a temp agency.

I always think of the word “serendipitous” when I recall that decision to go look for a temporary job. What if I had waited a week? Or gone the week before? What made me decide that I had to go that day? It seemed so impromptu, at the time.

The short of it is that I ended up working for the Sphinx Organization as a temporary Program Assistant (the job had initially been given to someone else, but my resume included web design, which sealed the deal for me). Temping morphed into a full-time job in January of 2003. And for the last 13 years, among many other events and programs, I have been a part of making the annual Sphinx Competition happen. And the 19th Annual is occurring this upcoming week.

One of the Lucky Ones

I know, now, that you can make your own luck, or at least do a lot of work to move your life in a particular direction. But most of my life has not been charted by design, and by sheer chance (or divine guidance) I ended up in a job that has been life-changing.

This is a very simplistic way to put it, there is so much more to the work, but I can say I’ve helped kids get free violin lessons (that otherwise would have no music in their schools), assisted in giving talented musicians a chance to open doors and further their careers, and in the broader arena helped move diversity in the arts forward (I make it sound like I’m out there in the forefront, but in reality I’m a designer/bookkeeper/hr person/office manager and mostly sit at a desk…but hey, I’m part of the Team that makes this all happen, and that counts).

The team I work with is, I honestly believe, extraordinary, and I feel very, very fortunate to be working with and for this group of smart, passionate, hard-working, supportive individuals.

This next week is my favorite week of the year at Sphinx, possibly because the Competition was the first big event I participated in (have to say, though, I cried a few times that first year, sometimes growth is thrown at you…in a good way). We not only make a 5-day national string competition happen, in addition, for the last four years, an arts industry conference (SphinxCon) as well.

The people who attend both events, that participate, are always inspiring. No matter that I am a visual artist, not a musician, the talent, dedication, and hard work that is evident when the final three senior Laureates perform on Sunday spurs me to work harder at my own art form.

I may be exhausted come next Sunday at 5:00pm, but how lucky am I to get to do this Work.

SphinxCon – Ignite to Action February 5-7, 2016. Westin Book Cadillac, Detroit.

Sphinx Competition Finals Concert, February 7, 2016 at 2:00pm. Orchestra Hall, Detroit. Tickets through the Detroit Symphony Box Office.


Julie Renfro-Still Life Detail-2

[ Another Still Life detail from this week’s print. I know, one print for the whole week, but hey, I’ve been busy 🙂 ]


Also posted in Art in Progress, Inspiration