Monday is for

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Sharing art—at least this Monday is all about sharing art. I’ve been recovering from full-on wedding mode. While being the mother of the groom may not have the same “trials and tribulations” as being mother of the bride (I wouldn’t know; I’m a MOB, mother of boys), there are all kinds of stresses—getting the right dress and shoes (sheesh! My sister and sister-in-law are tyrants when it comes to the right shoes! They didn’t like my “comfortable” choice) and planning the rehearsal dinner. Never mind that the rehearsal and wedding fall right in the middle of the April mod at Remington College, where I teach part-time. Add to the stress, the director of education for the Columbia Campus asked me to sub in three days a week for the first two weeks! And then, on top of everything else, I get hit with bronchitis and sinusitis.  Everything came to a screeching halt. Imagine the sound of train wheels on railroad tracks as the engineer and brakeman try to stop the train “on a dime.”

Creating and making art has been the last thing on my mind.

But, I am in create mode, sort of (still trying to get through the day without coughing). I made some images last week of the spring wild flowers (aka weeds), and on Sunday, I worked on transforming them with Photoshop using textures, overlays, and other techniques. Ever since Kim Klassen introduced me to using textures, I have been in love with the way they can enhance the mood or even transform the mood. And then came Denise Love of Two L’il Owls (beautiful textures and other design elements) and Sebastian Michaels’s Photoshop Artistry class (I keep repeating the first two modules over and over; I still have worked through the one on vectors!), and a host of other photographic artists. I keep learning more and more tools to use.

This is a long-winded introduction to the reveal of the creations from Sunday’s work.  Monday is for sharing art.

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I love the various graphic elements that come from the Graphics Fairy website. Many of them are free, and the monthly subscription is reasonable, less than $10.00 a month. The downloads are incredible. And the downloads from Ephemera’s Vintage Garden are so beautiful. In the top image, I used a cabinet card cover that was intended to be used as a junk journal cover, layered it with a photograph of a trumpet vine growing in the crepe myrtle tree in the backyard, a postcard from a collection of ephemera and design elements from Denice Love and Two Lil Owls in a bundle put out by Design Cuts, and some textures to blend everything together.

In the second image, I did a web search for a vintage postcard that had a vertical orientation rather than a traditional horizontal one, and I didn’t find what I was looking for. I did find a page of script that I liked. I used the script as an overlay over the image of the wildflower (I don’t know what it is), used a soft brush to mask out the script over the flower, applied a Denise Love texture and a custom gradient to unify the elements.

One of my business goals is to create products from my photography to sell, and I am practicing and working on the artistic elements. Another goal is develop a series of images for a gallery showing.  I think I am on the way. There is a lot of learning to be done.

Today, think about how you can share your creative pursuits. You don’t have to be a photographer, an artist, a writer, a musician to be creative. Your everyday life is “art.” When you cook and substitute allspice for the nutmeg the recipe calls for, put those fresh flowers you bought from Publix in a vase, arrange that rocking chair your mother made in just the right spot at just the right angle, you are being creative. And more importantly, share your creations with others.

Notes toward a New Course

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In a previous post, I hinted at a new course I want to develop in my “ReFrame” classroom on Teachable.com. I’m thinking about how words and images, especially paintings and photographs, seems to fit together almost perfectly, as if cut out to make a jigsaw puzzle. In particular, I am exploring the idea that writing and photography are both contemplative practices. I won’t give away everything I’m thinking in the blog entry, but I will give you some “sneak peaks.”

Andy Carr, a “contemplative” photographer and author of the Seeing Fresh website, defines the term contemplative photography this way:

Contemplative photography is a method for seeing and photographing the world in fresh ways, to reveal richness and beauty that is normally hidden from view. Instead of emphasizing subject matter or the technical aspects of photography, the contemplative approach teaches you to see clearly, and make images based on fresh perceptions.

Notice that contemplative photography is not about the subject or the technique. It is all about seeing. It’s about noticing the “richness and beauty” of things that we often overlook. We often use the expression that we can’t see the forest for the trees when we get so caught up in details. However, sometimes, all we see is the forest, and we overlook the trees that make the forest beautiful and rich. (One reason for that, I believe, is that we live in a world that is too fast paced, and beauty rushes by us.)

Simply slowing down and paying attention to what catches our eye forces us into “noticing.”

I know that light shines through the windows at my house. There are two eastward-facing windows in my living room. As the sun rises in the morning, the room fills with light. I could be satisfied with that idea of “lightness” in the room. But one day, this caught my eye:

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This image is not technically perfect. The white balance is all out of whack. Composition is “off.” Cropping leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it is rich and beautiful and reminds me of golden light. This is contemplative photography.

Contemplative photography is not about making images for others’ “consumption.” It is about YOU, the photographer. These are things that speak to YOU, first and foremost. I share a lot of my images, and if others relate to them in some way, I am glad, and if not, that’s okay, too. Contemplative photography is all about the noticing.

Contemplate, the verb, is defined this way

to look thoughtfully for a long time at [something]; to think about; to think profoundly at length, meditate

Do you notice that first definition, “to look thoughtfully for a long time at”? When we approach photography from a contemplative practice, we don’t always just press the shutter at the first thing we see, or the first thing we notice. We look at the thing thoughtfully for a bit to see if it resonates with us somehow, and then we press the shutter.

This is one of the practices I’ll take up in the upcoming “Words and Images” course. And I’ll explore writing as a contemplative practice that also slows us down to “think profoundly at length.”

Today, take a walk and slow down. Notice what catches your eye, and then stop and look at it at length. If you should have a camera, even your phone camera, with you, make the image. Don’t worry about the technical aspects. (You will be surprised, though, that you actually become a better photographer technically when you practice contemplative photography regularly!)

Enjoy your time of contemplation.

Words and Wednesdays

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I’ve had an “itch” to write recently—well, more than recently. I’ve been writing since I was in high school. I remember giving my high school English teacher a short story I had written. She liked it. My college English profs told me that I thought—and wrote—well. One even asked me in front of the class how I had learned to write. I was between my junior and senior year in high school taking a second-year college level British lit course from Beowulf to the beginning of the nineteenth century, using the ubiquitous Norton Anthology of British Literature, Volume 1, with the famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I on the cover.

I don’t know when I fell in love with words, with reading. Mama says it was from birth. She read to me and to my sister all the time, often falling asleep herself before I did. She grew desperate and tried everything to read me to sleep: the “begats” from the Bible, dictionary definitions, and even encyclopedias. I would wake her to “finish the story.” The love of words has never worn off.

I am in a writer’s group on Facebook, and one of our regular rhythms is Wednesday Words That Work. I think about the words that work. I am not a good memorizer, but I remember things that I have read and heard that resonate with me:  Tennyson’s short poem “The Eagle,” “He clasps the crag with crooked hands. . . . “; the scene at the end of Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes” when the lovers slip through the quiet halls of the castle as if in a dream; the “unquiet slumbers” of Cathy and Heathcliff at the end of Wuthering Heights; even the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice and the reminder that every young lady needs a husband (not much has changed in the last two hundred years!) I could probably go on for a long time remembering the words that worked for me.

The words that work for me are those that I visualize. As a teacher, I have taken all kinds of learning styles inventories, and the results are remarkably similar: I am a visual learner. It is not surprising, then, that I am also drawn to photography and other visual arts. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but a phrase or two of well-chosen words can inspire a thousand pictures as well. While I devour Regency romances by the dozens (finishing one this afternoon, probably), I will forget about these novels quite quickly. The novels and books I remember are the ones that use words to create vivid pictures and scenes as I read.

As I write, I think about the poetry, too, that has been inspired by art. (There is a fancy name for that kind of literature): Browning’s “My Last Duchess” ( which may or may not have been inspired by real people or real paintings—with Browning, who knows?); “Musee des Beaux Arts,” and quite a few others.

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Pictures, words, images.  Stay tuned for more about an online course I am writing.

In the meantime, please enjoy this new-to-me blog, Words and Images by Cynthia which combines words and images. I have gotten lost in Cynthia’s writing and photography. I found her through another interesting and inspiring website, The Creativity Portal.

While I Was Not Looking

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THIS happened:

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Things started blooming.

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I have “prided” myself on being observant, of seeing the world, but somehow, all of this happened, and I didn’t notice.

I’ll blame it on

getting ready for Aaron and Sherry’s beautiful wedding on April 1.

going back to work and writing lesson plans and grading papers on March 20.

being “busy.”

getting ready for Easter.

coming down with bronchitis and sinusitis.

You get the idea. I have a million and one excused for allowing all this beauty to go unnoticed. Yet, there it is. I noticed it Saturday, the first day I went out of the house for a reason other than necessity. I saw the white bloom of the blackberries, but I didn’t have the camera. I noticed it.

On my way back to the house (coughing, short of breath, thanks to the bronchitis), I saw the yellow and red of the trumpet vines (or whatever they are). I noticed it.

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And the red Knockout roses are in bloom.

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I noticed it.

This morning, I went out with the camera, and I noticed other things—holly berries, wildflowers, dandelions, even some honeysuckle. It’s all there.

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And today, I noticed it.

What did you notice today?

A Year of Living the Dare—the Second Quarter Begins

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It’s April already.  It’s the second Saturday in April, in fact. Last Saturday, I was getting ready for Aaron’s wedding, eating breakfast in a hotel in Greer, anticipating the afternoon.

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(Handsome couple. Photo credit to Grady, the proud father of the groom)

Three weeks ago, I entered into a new season of living the dare, or perhaps living the dare. As a member of a “mastermind group” of women who desire to create a business for themselves, I began dreaming again of answering a call that I’ve felt for some years—to take control of my living, to step out on faith, to envision the life and work I want to do.

I have to be honest: taking dares, even the ones I give myself, is scary. What’s even scarier than taking the dare, is owning that dare. And now that I have accepted the dare, I am in the process of defining the dare.

So. . . . I’ve written before that one of my goals is to create a “space” for photographers, women especially, to gather to practice the art and craft of photography, to share the images we receive and make, and perhaps, most importantly, to realize that private dream of being an artist, of living the creative life. For me, photography is often a contemplative practice, of way of orienting me to the world around me, to see what is here right now. Looking through the lens of the camera (my Canon 7D, aka “the big girl camera”) reminds me to notice things. I’ve also written before that more often than not, when I don’t have the camera with me, I see photographs to receive and make.

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There’s another element, though, that pulls me. The little girl who wanted someone to tell her that she could be an artist if she wanted to keeps calling to me. I know that day was a long time ago in that third grade classroom at Dutch Fork Elementary (the old one that burned in 1976 or so), but I still feel the weight of the criticism and the implication that I was not, nor would be, an artist. I want others to know that we are all born with creativity and artistry in us. I may never draw realistic horses the way my third-grade friend could, but I can still create.

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I am not sure where my creative business planning may take me this year, but I am exploring and thinking. I am creating space and time for this. And who knows to what this dare will lead?

Me and My Big Ideas

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I’m afraid I have not been keeping up with my 365 turned 52 project very well. Some weeks I’m lucky if I look at the camera, much less pick up it and press the shutter button. It’s all good, though. I won’t beat myself up.

Have you seen the magazine Bella Grace? It’s a quarterly magazine published by Stampington, and it is gorgeous with a capital G. The articles are wonderful and often uplifting and inspiring. The photography is beautiful. I try to pick one up when I go to Michael’s. I bought issue 11, the spring edition, this week, and I’ve read about a third of it. There are some “journaling” pages to accompany some of the articles, too, and these pages are thought-provoking.

And article caught my eye: “30 Days of Smiles” by Ginny Kubitz Moyer. She wrote about how she sent uplifting emails to her mother as a birthday gift since her mother was in the process of downsizing her life. The emails contained pictures or graphics or links to videos that she thought her mother would enjoy. Her mother said that she saved each email it a separate folder and often returned to those emails when she needed a lift.

Lately, Facebook has been depressing me. Honestly, I am tired of political dissension and disagreements. I am tired of negativity. I am tired of the divisiveness that I see more and more often. Even movies are causing arguments (have you seen the discussions surrounding the movie The Shack?)

I am thinking that perhaps I need to think of at least one uplifting thing each day for the next thirty days and post it to Facebook or something—if nothing more than to say that I refuse to be pulled under by the negative things that surround me. That could be my April focus (it will be April before I know it, really. It’s already the midpoint of March!.

Here is one thing that made me smile this week. We’ve had some interesting weather—snow, rain, wind, clouds, COLD, freeze warning (it was 19 degrees this morning!). The other evening, the clouds were gathering in the eastern sky, and the sun was still shining in the western sky. The light was interesting. Of course, I picked up the camera and dashed out in the backyard to receive some images of that magical light. It made me smile.

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Beautiful light. . . . Yes, it makes me smile.

Would you like to start a movement on Facebook to crowd out the negative? If I can remember, I’ll use the hashtag #30daysofsmiles to designate my part. It may be become a habit. I think the rules will be simple: post anything that makes you smile—photograph, a graphic, a joke (Chris Copeland will surely have a pun or two), a video—anything that is uplifting to the spirit.

21 Days

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“They” say that it takes twenty-one days for an action or practice to become a habit. “They” also say that if you repeat something to yourself three times you can memorize it, but that didn’t necessarily work for me when I had to learn Latin! Still, repetition helps to instill habits.

I have been working through Sebastian Michael’s Photoshop Artistry class for a couple of years now. I love his approach, and I have learned a lot about using parts of Photoshop that I wouldn’t have learned on my own. Every so often, I have to go back into the class for refreshers—how to blend textures, how to create different effects, and so forth. I haven’t gotten the knack of using brushes and vectors for effect yet, but perhaps one day I will.

So, today, when Sebastian sent his newsletter with information about new postings on his Quill and Camera website, I began reading. And there was the mention of his twenty-one day course “21 Days to Creative Abundance.” I need some abundance in my life right about now. I think it’s the winter doldrums or something, even the spring is blooming all over the place down here in South Carolina.

I am just getting started with the class. I am looking forward to it. There are some habits that I need to change and develop, especially when it comes to creative work.

Today’s assignment had three or four parts, depending on how you look at it. The first is to get a journal. I keep blank composition books all the time. I get them from the dollar store, from Walmart, or any other place I can find them on sale. They aren’t pretty, but I can fix that! I have a ton of patterned scrapbook paper and Mod Podge. Instant pretty covers! The second assignment is all about the goals for my artistic and creative work. What do I want to accomplish?

This year, I some work in January to make a plan for one year, five years, ten years, life time. That is hard for me, and I need a way to keep the goals front and center so that I don’t forget them. After all, it’s no good making goals unless there is a plan to follow through.

These are my goals—again—in front of me:

1. To engage in photography regularly, whether it’s every day or not. My realistic goal is to engage in some kind of photographic experience every week. To me, that means either making images with the camera or working with images in Lightroom and Photoshop to create something “artistic.”

2. To write regularly. I already “do” morning pages, daily writings in my personal journal, but I want to expand that idea to focus on creative writing or at least writing more creatively.

3. To publish blog entries regularly. I guess that could go along with number 2 above, but I tend to write for the blog when I feel like it. I may need to go in and do a total revamp of the blog to figure out what it is supposed to “be.” But that’s another thing altogether.

4. To have a gallery show of my photographic art. Lately, I have been doing “stuff” with my images. For Christmas, I gave my father- and mother-in-law a photograph of the old barn that still stands on their house place. I had doctored it up in Photoshop. Then I mounted it on a 13 by 12 piece of board that I had stained. I gave my children the same thing! Last week, I attempted to do a photo transfer on a canvas.  My goal is to get my images off the computer and into the world. I suppose I should start looking for some kind of venue for the show.

5. Along with number 4, to get some photographs in the State Fair in October.

Sebastian said in the video for today, that telling others about goals forces accountability. So, by writing these words where people will read them, I suppose I am asking that you all, the readers, be my accountability partners, to hold me accountable for following through on some, if not all, of the goals I have in mind for this year.

So, for the next twenty-one days, between now and March 21, I will be working toward creating the habits that will help me achieve these goals in my creative and artistic life.

He Said, She Said

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I posted some pictures of “spring” that I received during my walk through the Dreher Island State Park on Thursday. Folks, it’s FEBRUARY, and I was wearing a short sleeved T-shirt. Temperatures are almost 80 degrees! It was gorgeous. My “fan club” appreciated them; I received a few “likes” and “Loves” and “Wows” and a couple of comments. And then, there was this:

You are an artist, lady.

This comment came from a colleague with whom I had taught for quite a few years. He taught chemistry and physics, and, interestingly enough, he has degrees in theology as well. And he said, “you are an artist.”

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My first response was (in my head), “Boy, do I have you fooled!” My written response was, “Well, thank you. It’s a passion.”

Like so many others I know, I have trouble accepting that label: “you are an artist.” I tend to compare my work to the work of other photographers, both amateur and professional, friends in-person, and friends on-line; and I feel that I come up short.

Last night, I stepped back a bit. I looked at the images I created. I thought a bit about what art is. And here is what I’m thinking this morning, at the edge of a weekend. Art is the way we share our vision of the world. For some, that sharing comes through painting or sculpture or sketching and drawing, through cooking and recipes, through musical compositions or performance, through writing poetry or novels or essays or nonfiction or drama; through acting, through designing and building—I’ve discovered there is an art to hammering a nail straight into a board! (I don’t have that art.)

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I choose to see beauty in the world, and my photographs receive that beauty. I, like so many, can get caught up in the “big picture”—the sight of that majestic pine that has stood in place for years and years and years; the expanse of water where it meets the horizon, a whole field of sunflowers or grain. . . . But then there are the details, that cluster of “baby pine cones” (did you know they are pink?), the end of the stamen covered with thick yellow pollen standing out like spider legs, the amazing depth of blue sky, white clouds rimmed with gray (for contrast!).

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I suppose I am an artist. I have “the art of seeing” and receiving those images reminds me that there is beauty everywhere.

“Traveling” Light

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In the first chapter of The Soul of a Pilgrim, Christine Valters Paintner recommends that the pilgrim travel light. I’m not sure you’d call a walk through Dreher Island State Park a pilgrimage, per se, but I tend to travel light when I do walk through the park. Today was no exception. My only “baggage” was my Canon 7D with the battery grip and the very lightweight Lensbaby Composer Pro with the Sweet 35 optic installed. I did carry my cell phone and car keys as well. No camera bags, no other lenses. Just those items.

One of the challenges I give myself when I walk with the camera is to limit my gear to what I can carry on the camera and/or in my pockets. There’s a reason for that, really. I have to figure out other ways to get the images I want. With a zoom lens, I can stand at a distance and use the lens to capture the image, but with a fixed, or prime, lens, I have to move. I have to step closer or farther away. I have to change my position physically rather than rely on the camera and lens to do the work for me. The results can be better as a result.

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The Lensbaby optics add still another challenge. The Lensbaby is fully manual—manual focus, manual settings. And it’s a soft-focus lens as well as a tilting lens. The sweet spot of focus is not necessarily in the dead center of the lens. It takes a bit of practice to get acceptable results from the Lensbaby system. I deleted quite a few  images before I was satisfied.

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One of the things I especially enjoy about the Lensbaby system is that it sometimes yields results I didn’t quite expect. By shifting the lens to the extremes, the results can be abstract. At least the results are not quite realistic.

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The credit card commercial asks, “What’s in your wallet?” I’m asking today, “What’s in your kit?”

Being Daring Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Yeah. It’s hard work.

After sitting with the word for a month, I felt as though I needed to do something with the word. I’m an introvert. I don’t do things to call attention to myself. I much prefer to be on the sidelines. You know—just kind of blend in and let everyone else be the spokespersons.

But then, I had to DO something. I mean, the call is there, and I have to answer it. I have to be put myself forward and be in the spotlight for a bit. I have to “take chances; get messy,” as Ms. Frizzle encourages her science students in the Magic School Bus series on TV and in the books.

My first real dare to accept is to write and promote a photography curriculum. I am in the midst of that now. It’s called ReFrame: The Thin Places. It is contemplative in nature rather than technical. I’m not teaching anyone how to take better photographs, but rather how to “live in” the process of making images, of receiving the gifts the world has to offer—when we take time to see. Christine Valters Paintner calls this seeing with the eyes of the heart.

And as I take this dare, I find that I am reluctant. No, that’s not right. I’m just plain scared witless! The procrastination habit kicks in, and I find that I would prefer to vacuum floors, clean bathrooms, wash dishes, do the laundry, sweep the kitchen, clean out and organize the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom closets, go to the dentist/doctor/mammographer, etc, than write the curriculum for this class! (I hope I am not the only one who has this kind of crazy going on internally!)

In the end, though, the “dare” comes back, and I find myself drawn to that corner of the couch next to the window where I can see the birds at their feeders, see the pond in the back yard, listen to the wind chimes, and pull out my notebook and begin to plan and write. The camera calls me to pick it up and use it. And I accept the dare and take it on—until the fear and anxiety and reluctance to put myself out there for the world to see kicks in. Then, I will take five deep breaths and hold the oxygen in my lungs for a bit, allow “spirit” to enter, and take on the dare once more.

Join me for a journey to find our thin places where heaven and earth come close. I am offering ReFrame: The Thin Places, a free contemplative photography class on the Teachable website. You can join the ReFrame school and the Thin Places class here. I look forward to meeting you in the classroom!

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