Category Archives: Motivation


Never Give Up, Never Surrender

I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. Every great idea I ever had grew out of work itself. If you’re going to wait around for the clouds to open up and lightning to strike you in the brain you’re not going to make an awful lot of work.

— Chuck Close

The title of this post has been running through my head all week. Galaxy Quest is one of our favorite movies, and this phrase is a repeated line from the film (a cult comedy that parodies TV shows like Star Trek and the obsessed fans that follow them).

Never give up, never surrender! For me, an inner battle cry that came after the fact, a reminder that I succeeded in getting through a pretty thick and sturdy mental brick wall.

It’s all well and good to remember that all it takes are small steps, Sparky, but I also have to have faith that if I keep working at a thing, continue to push forward, prod and poke at it, kick it if need be, something will eventually give. “Show up and get to work” as the artist Chuck Close said (side note: I love that his website is divided into Work and Life, and both are his art).

Sometimes it’s harder than other times to dig yourself out of a hole, climb over that giant wall, bust through that obstacle in your way.

But don’t. Give. Up.

Studio - Sept 2016

[ The studio is once again a happy place, clean(er) and hey, you can see surfaces! Not only that, I have a flat surface big enough to lay my latest project down. Three coats of gesso. Progress. ]

Grand Declutter and Organize Project, Cont.

We made progress this week, which has really helped forward momentum. I know you’re dying to hear all about it, but here are the highlights: we borrowed a power washer and cleaned the front and back porch (fun!), hung/moved art around the house (exciting!), donated four boxes of stuff and gave away our mannequin (now we’re talking! although saying goodbye to Ms. Mannequin was a little hard…)

LOVE square

[ All you need is Love. Mike’s sister was giving Love away and I took it. I love my Love lights. They are a happy addition, like my pretty pillows. ]

Forward progress. And the studio! Heaven help us, you can see the floor. And surfaces! It’s once again a place I want to work in, which is a huge step. I actually made time to do art work this past week.

No, wait, I actually wanted to make time to do art work. That hasn’t happened in a while. And that’s what brought to mind “never give up, never surrender.” That spark came back, and I just had to have faith that it would. Eventually. If I kept working at it.

Looking forward to the week, to working on my big art piece (aka experiment) in progress.

Keep going. Don’t give up.


Also posted in Creative Life, Inspiration

It’s Not White, It’s Gray

I’m sorry, hate to bother you, but have you seen my Discipline? It seems to have wandered off somewhere, and I can’t find it.

I’m not entirely sure what happened last weekend in regards to my regular blog post, things kept coming up to pull at my time, but there was also lots of inner turmoil and that nagging, grudging homework’s due feeling.

And then Discipline went missing! It’s not just the blog that slipped, so I’m just hoping it comes back, and soon.

Perhaps I can coax it to return, with treats or something shiny.

Pillows for the Bed

When in doubt, clean something” is still my go-to for when I feel stuck, but my runner-up may now be “go buy some pretty pillows for your bed.” I never really got the whole idea of spending good money on a bunch of pillows that serve no purpose other than to look nice on top of the useful pillows, but I have to say, my recent IKEA purchase makes me very, very happy.


That and changing up the color of our room to Light Pelican Gray.


Bedroom_before and after

I know, right? What happened to all that “no white walls” earlier? Mike said this was our “first white room” to which I clarified that “it’s not white, it’s gray.” I couldn’t live with a white room, but a very, very, very pale gray, now that’s different.

I do love our “new” gray/white room and happy IKEA pillows, Mom’s quilt hanging on the wall. It’s very peaceful and calming. Its little makeover is part of an ongoing Grand Declutter and Organize Project.


Take a Step Back and Really See

There are many reasons for being stuck creatively and/or barely having the energy to create, but Mike and I decided that at least some of the reasons have been all the “cleansing” projects that needed to be done, the visual clutter in various parts of our home and studio. Walking by or through these (and ignoring them) just sucks the energy out of a person, often without you being aware of it.

I won’t lie, part of the problem is being able to make decisions about keeping or throwing things out, and if the two of us are doing it together, well…exhausts me just to write that.

But that aside, I think the things we surround ourselves with – the art or the clutter, the things we actively look at and the things we ignore – can greatly affect mood and well-being (which for me is ironic, as growing up you could never see my bedroom floor for all the clothes heaps).

We have been slowly taking steps to address the Problem Areas, change the rooms, the corners, the tops of tables, that are not, well, making us happy. Painting the bedroom, moving art around, getting rid of old things that no longer have use or meaning, buying pretty pillows. Like spring cleaning only on a bigger (slower) scale.

The Backyard Bench

Part of the changing/moving/cleansing is also taking the time to enjoy the spaces we create, appreciate the garden in summer, enjoy taking a rest on the upstairs couch on a day when the windows could be open and the breeze drifts through, sit on the front porch swing in the evening light.

And in the morning, before we get to the next item on the Grand Project list, I make the bed and place my pretty pillows just so. A simple task that has become so…satisfying.

But you know, I think I need more.





Also posted in Creative Life, Inspiration

The Right Tools for the Job

Baby, life’s what you make it
Can’t escape it
Life’s What You Make It, Talk Talk

Awhile back, I was painting away at something and was feeling really frustrated. I was having the hardest time making the strokes behave the way I wanted them, kept grumbling to myself, making a mark, wiping it away, making a mark, wiping it away. Not. Having. Fun.

It took me a little span of frustration, but eventually I focused on the brush in my hand and realized I was trying to make square/right-angled strokes with an angled brush. Doh! How did that happen?

(Hold your horses, I feel a metaphor coming on…)

A little Art and Life Lesson right there: pay attention to your tools. Are they helping or hindering? Sometimes it’s obvious they are not working, but other times it’s subtle. Pay attention to those little niggling feelings that tell you “something’s not working quite right.” If something is proving difficult, perhaps consider the tool(s) you are using. Are they helping or hindering?

Fabric Background Squares

[ More squares…alternating fabric and acrylic. Experimenting with backgrounds. ]

This past week I needed to cut fabric into 1 inch squares. I actually have a nice pair of fabric scissors, although I can’t guarantee they didn’t get used to cut something else, I’m not my mother. (On a side note: I totally get now why the Fabric Scissors are not to be used to cut anything else but fabric, but as a kid, really? They look like scissors, they cut like scissors, so why not use them on the pipe cleaners you want to cut into little bitty pieces?) Anyway, I went about measuring and attempting to cut nice little squares with my fabric scissors.

Not only was I not having fun, but it took way too much time, and the results … not quite as evenly square nor consistently 1 inch as one would hope.

I’m not someone who sews or quilts, ok? But considering the “right tools” rule (and this time it was obvious), I knew that there had to be a better, more efficient (and more accurate) way to do this. My sister Tina does quilt, so I texted: “What’s the best way to cut a s**tload of fabric into 1 or 2 inch squares?”

Studio tools

[ Rotary fabric cutter = Tool of the Week; Canvas covered boards for experiments; Patti Brady and Nancy Reyner books on Acrylic painting techniques.]

Her answer was a rotary cutter, straight edge, and mat. I had the straight edge and mat, a trip to Joann’s procured a rotary cutter.

Oh. My. Goodness. What a difference the right tool makes! Ease, precision, and does the job it’s meant to do (note to self: pay attention, we don’t need any more stitches/scars on your left hand, and all the digits on that hand are needed). Seems a little silly, but using this cutter brought me some joy yesterday. Honest to God, joy from a rotary cutter. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

Permission Slips

Just words and someone’s signature on a piece of plain paper, nothing special really, but in grade school those magic little slips granted Official Permission, usually to do something fun like go on a field trip. Or, they allowed you to get out of something you didn’t want to do like P.E. (they did not, however, have as much going on as their cousin the Hall Pass, which gave you power to be special and be someplace everyone else was not).

Vacation is one of those few times I give myself permission to let go of the Daily Routine, the Lists, the Shoulds. While on vacation, I shut all that out: open my laptop as little as possible, generally don’t check email, don’t look at my phone/Facebook incessantly. If I want to lie on a couch and read all day, that’s perfectly fine. No guilt. That’s the key, I let myself off the hook and allow myself to ignore all the demands of Normal Daily Life (otherwise, it’s not really vacation, right?)

Of course, coming out of that zone and back into routine can be tricky.

I struggled a bit with getting back into the art routine, but gradually circled around it: cleaned my side of the studio, bought some boards to experiment on (I stumbled on a coupon at Michael’s for 50% off all regularly priced fine art supplies. One day only. That day! The coupon lotto win…), got out some books on acrylic techniques (because I wanted to try creating a faux encaustic effect), read the recipes for that and gathered materials…

And then I gave myself permission to screw up.

All those boards I bought, not one needs to end up a finished piece. They can all be ugly experiments, no pressure to make finished work. Just play. I have a distinct, overall end result in mind for the next iteration of my work, but I’m not quite sure how to get there yet, so I need to experiment. Play.

Studio experiments

[ Testing out faux encaustic recipes. Another tool that makes me happy is the green silicon spatula in this photo. It works so well for mixing thoroughly and scraping the edges of mixing containers (we have one in the kitchen too 🙂 ]

Nobody Knows How to Draw a Poinsettia

There was a drawing instructor at ArtCenter who quickly dispelled the notion that one needs to be able to draw from memory: “nobody knows how to draw a Poinsettia.” Basically, get a photo, or the real thing, and look at it. Or take a photo and trace it. Making something harder (or impossible) for yourself, struggling to create, doesn’t make the art any “better.” Figure out your process, your best/most useful set of tools, and start working from there. If that process and set of tools don’t work, try another one.

Or another one. But don’t give up.

Of course this applies to Life too. I know what tools/practices I need to incorporate daily to make me happy. I know what habits I need to discard and replace in order to live my Art Full Life to the fullest. Not saying it’s easy, by any means (small steps Sparky!), but I can honestly say that this past week has been one of those forward-moving weeks on all fronts.

And I may be repeating myself, but I’m not giving up.



Also posted in Art in Progress, Art Making

Unfinished Business

You know, in September when I started this blog, I thought that one of the side benefits of writing about my art making would be that it would force me to make more art. OK, not “force” but, you know, apply a little pressure. Some small amount of persuasion to be creative on a more regular and more productive basis since there were people “out there” reading what I wrote (well, theoretically anyway).

If anyone is keeping score out there (and seriously I have my doubts that anyone is paying that close of attention, but if you are, then cool! and thank you) you’ll know that there are a few art projects I’ve written about here on this blog that, well, have sorta kinda never come up again.

Hate to admit it, but I have lots of “works in progress” that aren’t really progressing much, with the exception of Fortune Favors the Brave, which has been my focus lately (deadlines take precedence, that’s my excuse).

I have let some work languish, and I feel badly about that. I got bored, frustrated, disgusted (that might be a little harsh, maybe “displeased”) or some combination of those.

(On the positive side, at least the projects in question didn’t necessitate purchasing a small kiln and all sorts of other expensive supplies that never got used…a story for another blog post…)

Love Letters

Remember the Love Letters to myself? Back in December I wrote a post about letting go, and in it I included a bit about this series of small, quick, fun pieces I was creating and then mailing to myself (if you didn’t read the post, then this will sound sad, and it kinda is). I started these 3″ squares in November, with the idea that I would create one a week. At the time I wrote about them I had completed four.

To date, I have done twelve. If you do the math, although you don’t need to because it’s obvious, there should be a lot more than 12 by this point. And it’s been weeks since I did the last one.


I do love them hanging on the studio wall, pinned up with gold map tacks, and I do love the idea of hundreds, creating a big sparkly quilt on the wall. But I don’t know, Life happened, they stopped being fun, and I lost my momentum.

Still Lifes

Then there is the Still Life series. No. 1 was finished at the end of 2014. No. 2 was finished early 2015. Numbers 3-5 (that I wrote briefly about at the end of this post) never actually became real, physical pieces. The beginnings of one are on the computer. Does that count? As for Still Life No. 6 (mentioned here and here, back in March)…I just sorta stopped. Frustrated. Not liking where it was going.


[ Still Life No. 1 on the right. Still Life No. 6 unfinished on the left. ]

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Bear with me, I’m weaving a metaphorical tale here, but if you get bored just look at the pictures and jump to the end…

Right along with the story of the quince bush we tried to kill, we have a Cecil Brunner rose in our backyard that has a mind of its own and is finally flourishing after 15 years. Not only that, it’s blooming in its original spot in the garden and not the place we supposedly moved it to (evidently we need to learn more about digging up plants).

We planted the rose, in honor of my mother, next to a huge tree stump that had been left in the yard by previous owner(s), figuring that it could climb and cover the stump eventually. It never really did well, had a couple random roses bloom eventually, but then we had to remove the stump before it just fell over and demolished the fence (and potentially a car in the neighbor’s driveway next door). So we moved the rose next to the studio, put up a trellis on the side wall for it to climb.

A few years back the rose by the stump came back. Just a couple rosey tendrils with thorns, no flowers. We stuck a decorative iron thingy over it, not having the heart to kill it or move this new version. It existed like that for a few years, not doing much.

This spring, not sure what happened (we certainly didn’t help it along), but all of a sudden there were shoots that sprung up over 20 feet, resting in the lower branches of the pine tree! It was like Jack and the Beanstalk.

I was just going to cut it back, but because we are lazy people, the next best solution was to buy a trellis and just let the new shoots hang over it.


That photo above is a miracle. Fifteen years to get all those flowers! (Hi Mom!) (the bush by the studio did bloom for a couple of years, but a really cold winter killed all the branches, and it had to start completely over from scratch…no flowers on the new iteration yet).

So what has this rose to do with unfinished art work? I see it as a lesson in tenacity and perseverance. Fifteen years to get this amazing, flowering, climbing rose. This is what we envisioned on the tree all those years ago.

The plant just kept doing its (latent) Jack and the Beanstalk Enchanted Bean Thing underground, year after year. I need to just keep at my Artist Thing. Hunker down in my element, keep working. Give the art work time. Abandoning an idea is ok, but don’t quit just because the work becomes tedious.

If you want the end result you envision, hunker down and do the work. It will take time.


With the Love Letters, I think it’s not just boredom, it’s a lack of commitment, not being in it, totally, for the long haul. I know what I want the end result to look like, it just takes a consistent time commitment. Even when it’s not fun. Either that or make it fun again, but if I want that wall full, I need to commit to that end goal.

With the Still Lifes, I’ve actually been thinking about them a lot, working out ideas on how to make them more interesting to me and also better. Thinking about what the end pieces will look like, trying to up my game, and figuring out how to get there.

Also, I now have another deadline! 🙂 I’ve been invited to participate in a group show, in a new (to me) gallery, in summer/fall of 2017. I’m super excited about it, I envision my Still Lifes hanging there, but I will need actual pieces to hang on the walls, so…

I just have to keep at my (sometimes Enchanted) Artist Thing.


Also posted in Art in Progress, Creative Life, Inspiration

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 Creative Life

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 Creative Life

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, Creative Spirit

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 Creative Life, Inspiration

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, Creative Spirit, Fortune Favors the Brave

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, Creative Spirit