I got to work on a really amazing project recently: art based on the citizen stories of African-Americans who lived and worked along Alberta Street. Alberta is symbolic of the historical mistreatment of blacks in Oregon, and of the ongoing gentrification of Portland, and its ugly to know the details. (See Oregon's black exclusion laws, news of the Vanport Flood, and OPB's excellent history Lift Ev'ry Voice.)
I didn't get this art job. I shouldn't have. But I am grateful for the education -- and for the story-tellers' willingness to share their lives. I will share their words with you when they go public.
These three samples are the paper-cut mock-ups I made for large metal sculptures. Resilience is a banner based on the stories of three generations of women, and Stand is a life-size sculpture based on a father's fear of protecting his three children in a racist America.
When I moved to Portland fifteen years ago, I owned only a trunk-full of essentials, and the next few years were one of the most creative and expansive times of my life. Now I have a house, a career, a family, and a stability that still surprises me. (Am I now part of the establishment?)
I also have a growing collection of stuff, and am having to learn a different lesson. In short: Don't take it because its free and might have a use someday. (I found these two books pretty motivating in that direction.) So I've been purging my broken furniture and unfinished projects. And I cut down my scrap wood pile to make this headboard (with integrated side tables) and this coffee table inspired by Pinterest. Here's hoping I can pass up the next free box...
This is the cover for my newest board book (to be released to the public in Spring 2019!) Illustrated by Alexander Mostov, published by Little Bigfoot, Go, Bikes, Go! celebrates the variety of bikes and bikers I have seen in my rides around Portland --where an estimated 3.5% of our citizens commute by bike. (Which seems low, until you compare it to the national average of .4%.) But don't mistake me for a hard-core, lifelong biker. I grew up on a gravel road miles from pavement. No, I didn't really ride a bike until I was twenty-five. Here's the story.
When I moved across the country -- from Washington, DC to Portland, OR, at age twenty-four -- my one and only aim was to "be an artist." Thus starts my fifteen years of teaching jobs and art shows, public projects, rejections, and picture books, the building of my current life. On that fated journey West, I made the very bad decision to buy a new car -- a silver Honda Civic whose interior I can still almost smell. In my second year of "being an artist" and all the part-time, low-paying jobs it entails, I couldn't pay my debts. My student loans got deferred, my credit cards got cut up, and my cute little car got... repossessed. (A relief, by that point.) A friend gave me a bike.
I remember my first ride, guided by my friend Beth through Portland's streets. I remember her saying, "don't weave in and out of cars, stay straight and in the view of drivers." I remember wavering when I turned corners, sweating profusely, and generally hating it. That was before the rainy season. I don't remember if it took weeks or months to really enjoy biking. But I spent the next three years commuting solely by bike (and bus and borrowed friend.) Those rides are some of my great moments in Portland. Once I found a free drawing table that I balanced all the way home. Once I felt like I was riding straight into the moon (the basis for the painting below) and it was magic. Many times I felt connected to my fellow riders, strong in my own skin, and just happier to be alive. (Something I've never felt in a car.)
I am on my third bike now, and the first one I actually paid for -- $150 on Craigslist. These days, I share a car with my husband and turn out to be naturally lazy. I bike less than I should and gripe about how busy Portland has gotten. But sometimes still, I feel the magic. Go, Bikes, Go!
Its taken five years to create a completely functional studio. Starting with the blank box of an attached garage, I enclosed the narrow ends with floor-to-ceiling storage. Then came the fun stuff, like these efficient design projects.
Easiest to Make: These picture ledges hold canvases and work in progress, and were made with 1x3s and 1x4s.
Most Trial-and-Error: This large magnet board. Metal sheets were too small to hold much, and magnetic paint was too weak. But lots of recycled jar caps glued to a piece of free shower vinyl --and spray-painted white -- is both strong and cheap. Plus I'm really impressed with myself every time I look at it.
My massive worktable holds paper files on both sides, with drawers built into the top. Key to the design are large wheels that make it movable, and the 36" height, useful for standing work or a bar stool.
And here's a Before Picture of the same view.
I had many fears when I got pregnant, but the biggest and scariest was this: I thought a baby would usurp my creativity. Not in the practical sense of taking up my time and energy — more that the process of birth would shift something inside, and I would trade some essential part of my artist soul for motherhood. I didn’t tell anybody about this fear, but I carried it around with me those eight months. Read the Post here.
What age does drawing start? I have always admired the art of young children, and consider age 5 the creative peak of life. This is when kids start drawing people with big alien eyes and stick arms coming out of their cheeks. But while watching my daughter grow up, I've found that creativity starts even earlier than I imagined. Since she tried painting at 18 months or started scribbling around age two, I have watched quietly as she learns and invents --without censor or fear. Her "loose" style of drawing gets harder to create the older and more experienced I get -- though Picasso and Seuss retained the ability. For myself, I am stealing lines from my daughter and turning her scribbles into large full-color paintings, which remind me of a child's reality-- abstracted, joyful, unbounded.
"HOORAY!" says Ramona. Beverly Cleary was born and raised in Oregon, and we are especially excited to celebrate her 100th birthday with lots of book-loving fun at the library. My art classes (listed at right) are inspired by Ramona, one of my favorite literary characters and a true creative. Since Ramona always made art and adventures from things she found around her house, we will make tin-can stilts, tambourines and shakers, ring-toss toys and more from completely recycled materials.There are many more free events at all the Multnomah County Libraries this spring, including a big party at Central Library on April 9th. Don't miss it!