Category Archives: Creative Spirit


The Red Shoes

You don’t find out who you are unless you work at it.
— Iris Apfel

Last night we watched Iris, a documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel. I envy her fearless personal style (and her New York apartment).

Sometimes I wish I had been born a more self-assured, confident person, or at least learned to fake it earlier on in my life. It’s taken me 52 years to eek out more and more confidence, but I wish it hadn’t been so dang hard or taken me so long to get the little bit that I now have.

Red Shoes

When I was 18 or 19, I bought a pair of red Converse high tops (I find it funny that my 16-year-old niece has a pristine pair of white Converse low top shoes. Apparently they are “in” these days). I really wanted those red shoes, and once I had them I rarely wore them. Why? Because they were bright and “loud” and not at all what other girls wore.

I wanted those shoes, but I didn’t want to stand out.

The first pair of eye glasses I picked out at age 8 were light blue. My mother and the eye doctor tried to talk me out of them, but I persisted. Then, I didn’t want to wear them because they were too “different” – I ended up with a brown pair instead.

One more: the first time I went to New York, we were in a second-hand shop and there was this coat….it kinda looked like upholstery fabric, but it was floral and fabulous. The inner Daring-Artist-in-Waiting Julie really wanted it, but the other For-Gods-Sake-Don’t-Stand-Out Julie won.

I still think about that coat and the decision not to buy it, but these days I wouldn’t hesitate to make that purchase.

To Blog or Not to Blog

Part of the decision to start writing this blog was to stop hiding. My fashion choices (or lack of) notwithstanding, I have come to believe that it’s important to put yourself out there, to be “seen” in some way, to share what you do: our stories, our creative endeavors, our voices. Whatever it is that brings you joy, that thing you get lost in when you bring it into being, share it. Let yourself, even if it’s just through your work, be seen.

For a shy, introverted person, this has not been an easy task. But who am I kidding, I do very little to promote this blog (still hiding?), and I have an embarrassingly low number of people who actually read this stuff, BUT … it really is quite interesting, every time I think of stopping, not writing any longer, I hear from one person (who is not an immediate family member) who enjoys or has gotten some benefit from reading what I write. And one person at a time counts.

I still have a long way to go in the “be seen” arena, but as always, small steps Sparky. I’m going to work on channeling my inner Iris, I know she’s in there.







Also posted in Creative Life

Forgetting to Remember

If you Google “vacation” and check out the images, they are pretty much all pictures that involve white sandy beaches and turquoise blue water. Many have empty beach chairs sitting on the sand, waiting to be sat in (presumably by you). There was a random photo of the Eiffel Tower, but I had to scroll down a bit to see it.

Evidently we have a collective vacation fantasy of sitting on a white sandy beach with a loved one, no one else around, doing nothing but looking at the ocean and drinking something with an umbrella in it. This doesn’t seem realistic on many levels, but I guess that’s the point.

Having written that, we will be on vacation in sunny southern California in a week and at some point may just be sitting on a beach looking out at the ocean (but I can guarantee you we will not be alone, and drinking on the beaches is prohibited). Next Saturday we depart for our California adventure.


[ In some ways I wish we *were* going to be sitting on a white sandy beach for a week. Our vacation schedule is rather full…you know it’s bad when you feel compelled to create a spreadsheet for your itinerary. ]

Since I finished Fortune Favors the Brave, I’ve been tired and out of sorts, so a change of scenery sounds really good right now.

[ SIDE NOTE: If you were following along with that story, you’ll know I spoke about how hot the gallery window gets. Apparently I was not as prepared as I thought, and a couple of days of the heat had most of the frames unstuck from the walls and on the floor of the space (the Velcro stuck, but the adhesive on the back of the Velcro melted), not to mention several of the fake flowers that simply came unglued. Dammit! But fixed. ]

The creation of FFTB was so much a part of my routine that not having it to work on has thrown me off a bit. Yesterday I spent half the day picking up the basement where I had been working (there will be glitter on the floor for a very long time) which felt satisfying but didn’t get me out of my funk.

Reminders for Reminders

Many times when I’m out of sorts, it’s because I’m forgetting to remember core things that are not only important to me but that help keep things in perspective. Like practicing gratitude and appreciation. And remembering that down time and resting are part of the cycle; that Life is messy/gray, not clean/black and white; that nature always inspires and reinvigorates me (so get out of the house and look up).

A couple of years ago, in one of my many attempts at being organized, I ramped up my Evernote account. I created all sorts of notebooks for projects, ideas, inspiration, etc. and then created notes to help me “stay on track.”

One of my notes was titled Daily Reminders, and the idea was that I would list things that reminded me to appreciate my life, be grateful, reminders of special/good things that have happened to me, some random drill-sergeant-like admonishments (#1 on the list was “You’re f**king FIFTY! Get your ass moving”), and I was going to read the list daily (but you knew that) which would set me up each day to be appreciative, grateful, in the moment, and happy.


Well, you have to actually remember to read the reminders. Those daily practices don’t just happen spontaneously. I was trying to move away from having sticky notes all over my desk, but perhaps I need at least one to remind me to read my reminders. For whatever reason, I stopped looking at my Daily Reminders, got out of that routine, and then promptly forgot about them. Sigh.

Eventually, my Evernote account went the way of my real filing system: lots of stuff in the unsorted To File Pile and not much action on actually reading what I’ve filed away for reference, daily or otherwise.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

I firmly believe, refuse to give up on, the notion that an Organized Person lives somewhere inside me, that I can reclaim my Evernote account (and personal email Inbox for that matter), and when I become that person…well, I’ll let you know. I imagine I’ll be really happy and remember things better.

One of the things I keep forgetting is that being “in the moment” is all there is, really. Easy to say, hard to practice. Learn from the past, don’t dwell on it. And the future…go ahead and make those plans, set those goals, and dream your future, but you don’t really know what each day will bring. So, each moment is all we have.

During this upcoming week and on our trip I’m going to work on this: Be present. Be grateful. Appreciate all that is good (great!) in my life.

I’ll worry about how to remember my Daily Reminders when I get back.

P.S. I’m going to take 2 weeks off blogging too, so I’ll be back online later in July. Happy 4th of July!

Renfros at the Beach

[ A photo of us at one of the beaches we visited as kids in Dana Point, CA. I’m looking forward to walking on that sand again. ]



Also posted in Creative Life

Fathers Day

Sunday morning in Virginia. Sunlight dapples the new backyard patio, the heat of the day is beginning to climb, but it’s still cool enough to be sitting in my jammies and slippers (at almost 11:00 a.m. mind you). I’m sitting under one of the biggest, most beautiful, magical trees I’ve encountered in my life, surrounded by family, each quietly doing their own thing.

At this moment, in this place, Life is very, very good.


[ Marvin Wallace Renfro in his Merchant Marine uniform. ]

Our dad always had a project going, and his kids seem to have inherited the trait. Scot is creating a little art for the back fence of our sister’s yard, Tina is digging up the area in front of it where a bench will sit, just a small part of the much bigger project of redoing the whole yard. My art installation awaits me in the basement back in Michigan, at a point that made me happy when I stopped working on it late (late) Friday night (enough done so that I can enjoy this time away and not be in Full Panic Mode when I get back).

Mom in the tank

[ Among his many projects, my dad built a tank for the grandsons. It was made of plywood, PVC pipes, and duct tape, had a steering wheel and wheels, but it was “manual,” so you had to have one or more people on the outside to push it while someone else sat inside and drove it (in the very loosest sense could you “drive” it, there was very little actual control of the direction, just forward and vaguely right or left). A tiring enterprise to actually play with it (especially when you had to get it back up the slight incline of our street), but the grandsons thought it was the coolest. Who else has a grandpa that built them a tank? I took this pic of Mom when she and I had to get the tank off the street. She drove, I pushed, and then I made her wait there while I got the camera. ]

Dad was not always the easiest person to get along with (a big understatement, but we’ll leave it at that for now), but I owe at least half of my creativity and love of making things to him.

Marvin W. Renfro (Marty) was an architect, and to this day, although I have little occasion to look at them, I love looking at blueprints: all that detailed, intricate line work and hand lettering, the faded blue texture of the background, the leftover smell from the process of creating them (ammonia apparently), the thick rolls of them in tubes, waiting to be unfurled on a big table. The original drawings were cool, but the blueprints were cooler (reminder this is from the 70’s, I’m sure copies now are all digital and don’t smell much like anything). If you Google “blueprints” and click to see images, the array of all that beautiful line work is just….oh my (also, I don’t know what this says about me or my search history, but at the top of my results are two blueprints for the Starship Enterprise and two for the Bat Mobile…what?)

On beach outings when we were little kids, along with all the towels, chairs, buckets and sand scoopers, Dad would bring a big normal-sized shovel. No little sand castle building for the Renfros, let’s dig a 6 x 6 x 6 foot deep square hole in the sand. Make some stairs out of sand to get into the hole and a little bench down inside to sit on, and voila, a cool (literally) little beach playhouse (magical as a kid, but my adult self thinks this might have been a tad unsafe, imagining myself, Tina, and our friends all buried alive in the tragic Doheny Beach Sand Playhouse Incident of 1972).

Also an instructor at Orange Coast College in southern California, Dad’s architecture students adored him. He would lock the door to the classroom promptly at 7:00 am (yes, in the morning), not tolerating any students that couldn’t bother to be exactly on time to his class.

Each semester he would bring home all the students’ matted, final drawings for grading. We would spread them out in our living room, on the floor in a big circle, propped up against chairs and the base of the fireplace hearth. He would let us help grade them, pick the ones we thought were the best, the ones deserving of an A grade (his students might not be so thrilled to know his daughters helped grade their work). It was very clear which ones outshone the others, and I now think these sessions were great little lessons in line work, composition, and color.

When I decided to go to art school, Dad said I had to go to the best one around, ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena (much to my mom’s chagrin, as she was the Living on Planet Earth Finance Person in the family).


[ Dad was a big reason I went to ArtCenter. My graduation present was a welding kit (another story). My friend who knew welding said I could have built a bridge with the “kit” dad bought. Couldn’t be a small set of gear, not for his daughter! Had to be the biggest and best. ]

While my current art is linked more closely with my mother and her quilting, I know there’s a little bit of the architect in there too. And Dad’s belief that I should, that I could, get in to the highly competitive ArtCenter altered my path in a way that, in more ways than one, landed me squarely where I am today (all the art skills and life lessons aside, I met Mike there).

Thanks, Dad, for passing on your creativity, instilling in me a love of building/making things, instilling in all of us an attitude of No Project is Too Big/Wacky/Out There, and helping me to believe that I could, that I can, strive for and reach the best [insert Dream Thing] out there.



Also posted in Creative Life, Inspiration

Memorial Day

For several hours yesterday I worked on a blog post, but I just couldn’t get it to a point that I liked. I tried, really, I did. It now joins half a dozen others in an unfinished state. But since it’s a long weekend, I figure starting from scratch today with another post still counts as “regular.” Right?

Pink Geraniums

[ Spring cleaning and planting continues. I can’t get over the vibrant color of these geraniums! I did nothing to the photo, no filter or saturation. That pink is amazing! ]


[ Wave petunias, in this particular color, are a staple flower in my garden every spring. ]

Photos in the Attic

I was up in the attic today going through old family photos, looking for a collection that my oldest brother is searching for. Some day I will find them, dammit, but after an hour digging through four boxes, sweating in the heat, I gave up. Soooo frustrating because I know we have them!

Not sure how it happened exactly, but I ended up with all the family photos and albums after my parents passed away, and unfortunately they are not in any way close to what could be called an organized state…at all. I have some of the original photo albums that my mom put together when my brother, the first child, was born in 1951, along with baggies of loose photos, albums with no covers, and several of those horrible sticky albums from the 70’s that in hindsight were a really bad idea (the photos can not be separated from the albums without damage).

Way back when, in the days of buying rolls of film, you thought twice (or your parents reminded you) about wasting film. Since you paid for every photo that was developed, good or bad, you tended to keep them all (at least our family did). There are blurry photos in the albums, photos with fingers over the lens, and, if those aren’t bad enough, sometimes near duplicates of those really poor photos.


[ Snapped this photo of a photo while in the attic. I am the photographer, and we are somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. My sister does not look happy. My dad never let us take photos of just places or things, you weren’t allowed to take a photo unless there was a person in them (don’t want to waste film!), but apparently he didn’t remind me about fingers in front of the lens… ]

The Times Before

Of course, as I was digging I found all sorts of other cool photos, waves of memories flooding my brain, transporting me from the hot attic back in time, bouncing me from one decade to another, one family vacation/Thanksgiving/Christmas (ooh that one ended badly) and back.

Some of the photos really made me wistful, nostalgic for all those times before: before family or friends left (just out of our lives or off this plane of existence), before the fighting and divorces, before school (where you learned how mean people can be), before people changed (in a sad or bad way), before the place in which you grew up lost all its empty lots and rolling hills to houses…


Another photo I found while digging…the above photo is of my dad in the Merchant Marines. Memorial Day is to pay our respect to those who died in service, and my dad did not, but I’m betting he knew men that did. I asked my oldest brother Scot about Dad’s service, and he wrote:

Dad was in the merchant Marines and then when war broke out in the pacific he went into the Navy and was a lieutenant junior grade. His ship was a troop transport and they delivered ground troops to Iwo Jima – then they brought home what was left over after the battle. Aunt Jane told me that dad was never the same after that.

I wish I had known my dad before the war. I wish I could ask him if he had made friends while on the ship, ones that perhaps did not return home with him. I wish I could ask Aunt Jane how he was different after that, what change she saw in him.

My parents were not ones to tell stories, about themselves, their childhood, anything about their parents/siblings. All I have are the photos. After we moved to Michigan in 2001, I learned, for example, that my maternal grandfather was born in the upper peninsula of my new home state! How could I have not known that? I don’t remember now the sequence of events that led to that knowledge, but it certainly wasn’t my mother telling me. How cool is it that I moved to the state where her father, George Moore, was born?

Generally, and I think about this a lot, I wish I could ask both my parents questions, have some real conversations that I couldn’t have, or didn’t think to have, when they were alive. There are so many photos in the attic of people I don’t know, but that my parents knew, or they were my relatives! Who were they? and what were their stories?

Memories and nostalgia on Memorial Day.

In my digging I came across the photo below, one of my favorites from my childhood. My dad used this photo as evidence that he was the one that started me and my sister on a path to be dancers. I absolutely love how ecstatic my sister is. Such joy. Plus, as is true with almost all our photos when we were very little, Tina is dressed in t-shirt and pants, and I am in a pretty, frilly dress.

Sorry, Teen, I don’t know the story behind that either. I think I was the lucky recipient of some nice hand-me-downs, but If I could ask Mom, I would.



Also posted in Inspiration

Chances Not Taken

One of my first assignments in art school was a total flop. I didn’t listen to my instincts and instead made what I thought I should make. What I wanted to do was take a pile of my old, worn pointe shoes from my very recent days as a dancer and create something three-dimensional (would have been my first use of recycled/found objects). But that idea felt too “out there” and risky. I couldn’t guarantee my fellow would-be illustrators wouldn’t laugh and the instructor critique it as being a really bad idea, therefore I didn’t take that chance.

I can’t remember what the final, two-dimensional piece even looked like, but I do remember it had a nice, formal, white matte frame around it. And I remember how it felt when I brought the piece to be critiqued.

When I got into class and saw some of the unique, creative, and “out there” pieces the other students had done, some of which sat on the floor, some on a table or desk, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I placed my nicely matted piece on the “crit rail” (the metal rail under the large white boards that lined most of the rooms) and felt like an idiot. I had made the wrong choice.

My review did not go well. A very big lesson in listening to my instincts (the pointe shoe idea may have flopped too, but at least it felt more like me).

What Could Have Been…Maybe

Flash forward three years, towards the end of my time at Art Center. By this point, I was doing things I wanted to do, trusting my instincts more. It took three years to build up this (more) fearless attitude, to be able to create what I wanted to create, what felt right, and then take whatever criticism followed.

For one of my assignments in a Fine Art class (vs. the Illustration part of my degree track), I created a “necklace” that was made completely out of paperclips.

Small Obsessions - Paperclip necklace

[ Pardon the bad photo, this was back before cell phone cameras, or even before digital cameras that could preview the photos…when you had to actually get the film developed, and then you got to see that, oops, you hadn’t quite focused the camera correctly. Anyway, this does not do the piece credit, it was actually quite cool and much more lovely in person (in my opinion 🙂 ]

The exact assignment escapes me, but the necklace received a good review in class. And as fortune would have it, we had a guest artist from Italy visiting, and she critiqued during this class as well. I can’t recall her name, and unfortunately I was not writing much back then so I don’t have any other documentation, but I remember an older woman, very kind, warm, yet intense and focused when she spoke to you. She pulled me aside after class and told me how much she admired the piece.

And…she said I should come to Italy some time, that she was interested in my work. She gave me her contact information.

And…I did nothing. I didn’t contact her.

Fear won the day.

Me? An artist? I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have “work,” I can’t go to ITALY for Pete’s sake! That’s way too scary.

So the opportunity came and went. I let it slide.

Small Obsessions

Small Obsessions - Show Promotional Card

But I did muster up the courage to put together a show. As a Fine Art student, you could reserve the undergrad gallery to show your work (technically Fine Art was my minor). A fellow student had shown in the gallery, and his show was a resounding success. Lots of people came to the opening. I decided I wanted to do that too (envy?), so I decided to take this leap. I was too afraid to go to Italy, but I could quietly create a show for the undergrad gallery (which was on the first level, in a far corner, at a point where it was below ground level, and on the day of my opening there was water leaking through the wall, onto the floor, from the outdoor sprinkler system…)

This was my first encounter with using a deadline to create work: you have reserved the space, now you have to make stuff to put IN the space. And try not to embarrass yourself.

Small Obsessions - paper chains

[ Construction paper chains for my show at the Art Center Undergrad Gallery. ]

Small Obsessions

It’s embarrassing now to look at photos of the work, most of which is pretty bad (I’ll spare you), but at the time I was really proud of my work, of the fact that I reserved the space and took the time to think about, and work up, enough pieces to fill the space.

The opening reception was not well attended, which was my first lesson in marketing and popularity. If you are well-connected, know lots of other people, this makes a difference in how many people show up for you. If you are shy and don’t have a lot of friends, your marketing efforts need to be amplified…a tad.

Fear and Letting Things Slide

Embarrassing or not, I do still love the ideas of the paperclip necklace and the construction paper chains (one professor said I hadn’t taken the paper chains far enough, it would have been better to fill the room with them…I agree!) I think my current work, however different, contains some DNA from those works.

And I still think about the Italian artist every so often, and I wonder what would have happened, how my life would have been altered, if I had taken her up on her offer. If I had taken that chance. I don’t have a big feeling of regret really, I don’t think I was ready for it, but what if I had felt the fear and gone anyway? Pushed myself beyond where I was at the time and just said what the hell, let’s see what happens?

It’s so easy to just let things slide. Getting your creative work in, keeping connected, in contact with people, doing the work, whatever that is…takes hard work. Diligence. Taking yourself beyond your limiting beliefs (my 1994 self that felt “you’re not an Artist!”), beyond what you think you are capable of…this is the challenge.



Also posted in Art Stories, Motivation

Title TBD – Part 1

Gotta love a deadline.

I may be procrastinating on all my other projects, but on one, at least, I have a due date. Can’t get around it, someone is expecting something creative from me, delivery and assembly to be done on a specific date. Three months from today, on Sunday, June 26th, I am committed to installing “something” in the Aquarium Gallery at the Ann Arbor Art Center. The title of my installation is yet to be determined, and the whole concept is still not fully formed, but this weekend I began the process of building this “thing,” this Art Piece, and I thought that, here and there, I would share the process with you. Make you my accountability partners, so to speak (whether you like it or not. Hey, thanks for being there for me!)

To give you an idea of the space for which I’m building something, the photo below is a pic of the Aquarium Gallery installation that Mike did last summer:

Mike Sivak, Aquarium Gallery 2015

It’s a lot of window to fill (about 7′ x 7′ x 2.5′ deep), and, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me if I want to live up to the standard Mike set. Damn you, Mike Sivak…I mean, thanks for the challenge, Sweetheart! (BTW, Tuesday we celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary 🙂

Getting Started

Coincidentally, 10 years ago Mike and I collaborated on a piece titled Feminine Mystique, aka The Barbie Cake. It was for a show at The Gallery Project, during the time they had a storefront space in Ann Arbor. Mike made the “dress” that looked like a frosted cake (it really did look like frosting), and I made the inside of her dress: a lush, sensual, glittery, floral world inspired by the insides of those hollow sugar Easter eggs we would get as kids (another coincidence: happy Easter!)

Feminine Mystique

[ “Feminine Mystique,” aka “The Barbie Cake”, 2006. Featured in the Humor Show at the Gallery Project, Ann Arbor, MI ]

As I’ve been mulling over the idea for this installation for the last several months, I thought of possibly recycling parts of The Barbie Cake. So yesterday I asked Mike (nicely) to get the parts down from the attic (including the floor and walls he used for his Aquarium piece), and to also please help unearth other pieces from that one corner of the basement that is impossible to get to because of all the crap piled up (BTW, I found a mouse nest in the Barbie Cake…probably TMI, but this is the life of an Artist Hoarder).

Title TBD - in progress 1

[ Floor and walls from Mike’s piece, bins of fake flowers, foam insulation for walls I can pin things into…all good stuff. ]

Title TBD - in progress 2

[ The mannequin from Ms. Mystique…hello old friend! ]

Title TBD - in progress 3

[ Pink fur, sparkles and fake flowers from the inside of the “Barbie Cake” – all potentially reused materials for this new installation. ]

Title TBD - Mimi helps check things out

[ Mimi helps inspect materials. ]

Title TBD - work in progress 4

[ I dunno, this dusty aquarium figurine seems like he has to go in the piece somewhere…. ]

Title TBD - art in progress 5

[ Silver mirror balls, gold shiny/sparkly things…of course! ]

The Hardest Part is Done

Getting started is the hardest part. The momentum has begun, the pieces are in place. All the stuff I’ve gathered may not even get used, but it’s there to play with. So much potential! I’m excited. And scared. Over the next three months, a lot has to happen. I don’t want this to be simple, it needs to be complex, “over the top.” Lots of glitter and sparkle is imperative, lots will be going on in this small space.

Title TBD - work in progress!

[ A lot of time will be spent sitting and contemplating…coffee a must. ]

I want people to be compelled to look closely. Weird is good.

The whole thing may work, or it may fall flat. But I’m going to have fun (at least some of the time) either way. We shall see.

Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Making, Art Stories, Fortune Favors the Brave, 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 Life, Motivation


“Stop over analyzing. Life is simple.”
— The Holstee Manifesto

You see, a Flying by the Seat of My Pants Operation still…

This is not my usual blog post timeline, but I was in the studio for a good portion of the weekend so that counts for a lot. I would like to be able to say I chose getting paint on my hands over writing, but it wasn’t that calculated. Some times days just roll as they will. It would be oh so nice, but my new Planner can’t account for everything.

The quote at the top is part of The Holstee Manifesto which I have printed out and taped to the wall in front of our treadmill. It’s a wonderful manifesto, and I like rereading it for motivation. The “stop over analyzing” part speaks to me, I need to take that to heart. A tendency towards over thinking and making things more complex than they need to be is part of my makeup, a pattern of thinking and behavior that I’m trying to change. Trying.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the “life is simple” part. I’m not sure I agree with that. I would like to. We certainly can make things more simple by eliminating a lot of the noise in our lives (TV, internet, incessant looking-at-cell-phone apps). Working on that too.

I can also choose how to react to circumstances in my life, not make them Bigger than they are, and work to keep things in perspective as far as my tiny spec of a part in the Grand Scheme of Things.

But in some ways life is very, very complex.

I mean, just physically, we, and all living things, are walking miracles of complex engineering. Think of all that goes on in our minds and bodies to make a day happen in our lives. There’s some serious complexity that allows you to sleep, wake up, hear the birds chirping, feel the sun coming through the window, move your limbs to get out of bed, walk, get dressed, brush your teeth, remember to feed the dog (or your kids), get in a car, and drive to Starbucks so you can order your (complex) latte.

Then add in emotions, trying to be in the “now” and not the past or present (memories and worry), relationships (good, bad, and ugly), shitty days, really shitty things occurring out of the blue, and I’m not sure I could ever call that “simple.” Not to mention all the super shitty things happening to people in other parts of the world.

I realize they are not speaking of life as physical Life/Nature, but in my mind, it’s all wrapped up together in one big, terrible, beautiful ball. But I like the statement, it is nice and clean, and there is something at the edge of my consciousness, perhaps some Buddhist principle I can’t quite recall, that tells me, yes, life really is simple. Some say it all boils down to Love.

So I contemplate “life is simple.”

Art in Progress

For 7 out of the last 10 days, I’ve been in the studio for a minimum of 1 hour working on art. Not too shabby! My attempt at focus, using my new planner (still working at a system, but there’s progress), seems to be helping to create quality blocks of time for art making. I’m not moving very fast (small steps Sparky), but that’s not the point. Creating on a regular basis, immersing myself in creating, is the point.

Testing out some art making processes

[ Experimented this weekend with using stencils to add layers of paint. I love going to sewing and craft stores and searching for tools to use in my art. I learned through a YouTube video that the best way to use stencils is to use a sponge roller and to make sure to get excess paint off the roller before applying. It seemed to work! ]

Some of my time in the studio (maybe a lot more than I want to admit) is spent stewing over what to apply to a surface next. With Still Life #6, the pressure is on because I started with a lovely (expensive) color print from our Epson ink jet printer. Some may say, “well, just leave it alone then”…but I can’t! At this point in the evolution of my work, I still need to go back in with paint, add layers and texture. Add more.

So I stew, and finally just start in one little area. There, that wasn’t so bad, right? And, I can always make another print and start over. That may very well happen. I don’t have a great Plan for the finished piece, it needs to evolve. And it may evolve into a big muddy mess.

Still Life #6 - In Progress Detail

[ I’m loving this corner so far, the colors and layering. This is when I really start enjoying myself, getting immersed, when I’ve taken the leap to start, and then little corners and sections start coming together in a way that I like. You can see the shadow of the butterfly in the base print. I plan to collage the below image over it, create another layer of (perhaps) pristine color print. But we’ll see… ]

The Butterfly - Still Life #6

K.I.S.S. and My Weekly Trivia Lesson

“Keep It Simple Stupid,” aka the KISS Principle. It kept coming into my head as I thought about Life is Simple.

“Simple Stupid” not “Simple, Stupid.”

KISS is a design principle that came out of the U.S. Navy in 1960, specifically the Lockheed Skunk Works. The lead engineer who came up with the phrase, Kelly Johnson, apparently did not place a comma between simple and stupid, although the comma was widely used after the fact. He was not calling his engineers “stupid,” rather:

The principle is best exemplified by the story of Johnson handing a team of design engineers a handful of tools, with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing must be repairable by an average mechanic in the field under combat conditions with only these tools. Hence, the “stupid” refers to the relationship between the way things break and the sophistication available to repair them.
— Wikipedia

I recall KISS was around a lot as a saying when I was growing up. Coincidentally, Mr. Johnson was born in Michigan, went to school in Flint, and graduated from the University of Michigan! My current backyard…nice!

While I contemplate “life is simple,” I can still try to make mine as simple as possible. Or perhaps, less complicated is a better view from which to approach it. Stop over analyzing. Your planner doesn’t need a rainbow of colored highlighters, three different color pens, and stickies to make it work (although, I have to say, it’s more fun. But don’t get carried away).



Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Making, 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 Life, 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 Life