Short Pieces About Making

Talking about How: Another Way I'm Not Like Francis Bacon

Artist Francis Bacon in his studio. Which was also his home. (photo credit: Telegragh, May 2016)

Artist Francis Bacon in his studio. Which was also his home. (photo credit: Telegragh, May 2016)

David and I talk a lot about the habits that support our creative lives, and those that don’t. We even occasionally teach a class on the subject.  While our workspace aesthetics differ (he did an Instagram series last year about his), Francis Bacon’s space would never work for either of us. In fact, in the last year, I’ve adopted the habit of clearing off my desk at the end of each day. Whatever I’m working on — a print, an essay, the books for my business — I put it all away, and begin each morning, as David Allen suggests, with only decorative objects, reference materials and tools visible.  It’s become more pleasant to “arrive” in the morning, but not just that. My studio is in my house, and I’m often passing through it when I’m not working. The clutter-free surfaces have a surprising ability to soothe and energize me. A few drawers, a vertical file holder, an in- and out-box, and a lightweight system for using them mean I can create my 900 square feet of hope in fewer than 5 minutes. 

My actual space at this moment, unstyled.

My actual space at this moment, unstyled.

My in-box is actually the bottom shelf of a narrow bookcase, a few feet from my chair. It’s about a foot deep, three feet wide and two feet high. There is an actual box, for corralling small things, but the shelf provides room to also stash larger items like my, um, daily shipments from Amazon.  

My out-box is a wire basket with handles and a wood bottom, about eighteen inches long, wide enough to hold a dinner plate. It’s on the top of a set of Elfa drawers behind me as I work. I can reach it easily from my chair, and it’s right by the door. This is the spot for outgoing mail, returns, and also dirty dishes, coffee cups, and anything else that belongs elsewhere in the house. 

Because the boxes represent decisions I need to make (the in-box) or decisions I’ve made but not executed on (the out-box), I need them out of sight while I work, but I’ve discovered that I need them in view when I’m doing almost anything else. For years, I experimented with versions of what David and I called a “Tomorrow Box.” The idea was to have a discrete spot to stash anything that I wasn’t going to deal with “now.” I began with an elegant Stockholm Office Storage box from The Container Store. It sat on a shelf and had a lid. Well, theoretically it had a lid. Into it went everything I intended  to deal with “tomorrow,” which meant “not now.” The lid never fit, and after awhile I replaced it with a more functional but unattractive cardboard box. That solution eventually got stuffed in a closet, along with its contents. (This is one strategy. I wouldn’t be the first to observe that ignoring mail for months makes much of it irrelevant. Of course, then I have to deal with the fall-out of that, which is more of an impediment to creativity as I get older.) So, in this new system, I’m satisfied I’ve found a middle way through. 

I carry the out-box basket downstairs with me a few times a week. On Fridays, when I take care of business tasks and clean my studio, I touch everything in the in-box and usually empty it. The more diligently I use the tool of an in- and out-box, the less I need to rely on my schedule to remind me to empty them. Additionally, when I’m in the habit of adding to and emptying the boxes regularly, I know what’s in them, and can piggyback dealing with them on other tasks that come up.  For instance, if my dishes are in the out-box rather than all over my studio, it’s easy to grab the basket and carry them all downstairs when I take the dogs down to go outside.


When I was a kid, I had to be threatened before I cleaned my room, yet I remember the physical sensation of quiet I discovered in that ordered space. The easily closed cabinet door seemed miraculous, behind it a neat stack of board games and sketchpads, crayons in a dish.

Despite this, I swam upstream against an inclination toward disorder and chaos thru high school and into college, at which I foundered twice before finishing a degree. The third time, I bought used filing cabinets and my father made me a bookcase. Over the years, I added more bookcases and adopted the habit of clearing out papers at the end of each semester, storing them in rubbermaid containers, first stacked in my closet, and then in the basement. That version of my system held through graduate school.

When I discovered Julia Morgenstern’s book Organizing From the Inside Out, David and I owned a home and I fit my creative life in around my day job. I picked up two ideas from Morgenstern that seem like common sense to me now, but at the time were radical. The first is to begin any organizational effort by evaluating one’s inclinations, and eandeavor to work with them rather than wholesale change them. (This is the inside out part.) The second is that each item or category of items needs to have a designated place before it can be put away.  

In that first home, I used a spare bedroom about 15 feet square as an office/studio. In it were a desk, shelves, filing cabinets, meditation cushion, and a cozy chair for reading. I removed the sliding doors from a long, shallow closet and lined it with Elfa shelving, then added a drafting table and chair to create an area dedicated to visual art. The bones of my organizational system were good, but my life had gotten more complicated and my system needed to adapt. I don’t remember the specific issues I was having, but Morgenstern’s ideas made sense. I recognized them, and I recognized my sensibility in them. Adopting Morgenstern’s principles has been a committment to a way of living rather than a once and for all change. 

These days, I have 900 square feet of space, three rooms, in which to do the same things, plus a whole lot more. For one, my art is assembled from many different source materials. I have to manage both the original sources (which are sometimes large), and the scraps (which are messy). My process requires both that my materials be visible and that I can get them out of sight. Then there’s my printer, spare ink and large rolls of paper, and prints in progress. Finally, I’m also running my business, Kimberly McClintock Studio, out of this space.

In my business, I play a number of roles, and I’ve not yet landed on a perfect system for managing the energy, respective task lists and planning required to do all of them well. A few months ago—similar to three decades before when I was becoming a serious student and again when I began my career in industry—my lack of strategy began to hurt. Or, rather, I became aware of how much it was hurting.

But, that’s really the point: human beings change the status quo when it’s uncomfortable.


A significant productivity challenge for me, consistent and baffling since I was a kid, is a disinclination to do what I plan even when it’s what I most want to do. Gretchen Rubin framed the problem with her personality classification system, the “Four Tendencies.” She introduced this in Better Than Before—a book that is part survey of the habit-specific performance science literature, part memoir of her experiments trying the findings out on herself. It was helpful to recognize that according to her system, I’m a “rebel.” The rebel’s motto is, “You can’t make me, and I can’t either.” I can’t overstate how helpful it’s been to have the problem framed in this way. Before, I was in a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” situation, but as I practice viewing myself through this lens, and learn to live with proclivities that years of belligerent berating, earnest resolving, therapizing and self-help have not eradicated, I’m more equipped to recognize and utilize the strengths. This metaphor of The Rebel informs a lot of the practices I’ve adopted in the last few years.

Putting away my toys at the end of each day is not only a strategy that helps me to subvert my worst tendencies, it has become a keystone habit. The effect of this small change—it literally takes me 5 minutes—ripples out to positively impact the quality of my work, my productivity, my sense of what’s possible, my ability to think, and my sense of competence in rest of my life. The result is noticeably less anxiety.

But, how? Why?

I’m not sure, but I can speculate.

  • Walking in to a tidy office makes me happy. Not in a big way, but in a small, significant, daily way. I feel more open hearted. I can see objects I’ve collected that represent my purpose; I’m free to notice the light, the view, the thriving jade plants I prize, the art I’ve made, and that I’ve received as gifts. My Dear Sugar poster. My big teal couch. Small pictures tacked up of my beloved niece and nephew. The aesthetics of a space, of daily life are themselves a composition. My room is a picture space. Just like the principles of good composition require that a piece of art communicate in the simplest possible way, so does a space make similar demands. I need to be reminded why I do what I do, and my environment can do that, if I can see it. By cleaning up my mess, I control the picture space and the movement of my eyes and thereby the movement of my thoughts and my imagination. When there’s space, there’s literally possibility. (And the opposite is true, too.)

  • It’s not just aesthetics. My “intimate interrupter,” to use the label Mary Oliver coined for the part of ourselves that begins to obsess about trivialities when we sit down to write, (from “Of Power and Time,” collected in Upstream), thrives on chaos. My intimate interrupter is The Rebel, and vice versa.

  • When I arrive to a clear work surface, it is as if I’m choosing my work for the day rather than having it imposed on me. The Rebel requires this.

  • Because middles are dull and often the slowest going part of a project, it’s energizing to pretend I’m just beginning. 

  • When a project I’m working on feels like a tangled necklace, when I can’t find the loose bit, and I’m tugging and worsening the snarl, I sometimes want to go to bed, or begin something new, or eat cupcakes. Doing one small thing while I wait out a solution almost always helps, if only by not making things worse. When I’m in an orderly space, I’m more likely both to know what one thing might be, and, mysteriously, to have the willingness to do it. And once I do that, other small tasks get done. I might still be vexed at the end of the day, but I don’t feel as awful as I might had I given in to resistance and overwhelm. 

  • I live and work in this space. Four days a week I eat breakfast, lunch and often dinner at my desk. So, while tidying up is a way to mark progress, enact a small ritual of completion in a large project, it’s also a way to signal the end of the work day, a small space, however artificial, between my personal and professional lives. This space allows me to recharge.

  • By requiring myself to open folders and page through the contents each morning, I give myself the opportunity to consider details I might otherwise have overlooked. Details pertaining to the work, but also to my process, my systems and my schedule. I see it all freshly. 

  • Perhaps most significantly, though, picking up is a gesture, one that expresses care. I’m leaving behind loveliness for the sleepy woman who will arrive tomorrow in the dark to make her coffee. Regardless of how she feels about her work, I’ve left a message there is a clear path in. I’m reminding her that the work she’s doing matters, and that, as recently as last evening, she felt ready and willing to meet it. 


Francis Bacon* worked in the studio space pictured above for most of his career, and he lived there, too, until he could afford a larger, separate home nearby. Opinions abound about how to live a good life, but the genesis of an individual’s impulse to make art is mysterious. And the terms required to honor it differ for everyone. I have an obligation to myself to be alert to what supports my work, and what sabotages it. To be attentive, honest, and to tell the truth. To take the time to know, and to act on the knowledge that what works for you, or for Francis Bacon, is not necessarily what works for me.

After awhile, Bacon returned to living primarily in his studio. Perhaps he suffered no guilt or second thoughts, as I might. Perhaps he didn’t struggle with the decision, didn’t feel ridiculous for needing it, for not being able to work except under very specific conditions. I may be projecting and I’m certainly guessing, but I doubt that. I am the agent for my creative life, negotiating on its behalf with the greater world. Making art is a calling as honorable as that of a teacher or a doctor and, given that, if I’m harming no one, is there a wrong kind of thing to need? 

I don’t think so.


*For more detail on Francis Bacon’s work habits, here’s an article in the Guardian:

Talking about Making: What are the rules?

Rules (1 of 2).jpg

Often I refer in posts to one or the other of my few rules, so I'm posting them here together for reference. 

  • Nothing's precious ... When I privilege one scrap of paper over another, organizing the composition around it, the whole tends to go awry. For this reason, I tend not to use materials that have sentimental value for me. Note I am not claiming to believe that there is nothing in the world too precious to tear to pieces for the sake of art.
  • Go fast ... I have a higher rate of success producing interesting work when I move fast rather than deliberate over how best to use this or that bit. This means I take pieces apart occasionally to reuse materials, or rearrange them.
  • Don't think ... William Carlos Williams said, "No ideas but in things." In context, this dictum refers to ideology trumping imagery in poetry, but it's stood me pretty well as a rule of thumb in my art, too. When I leave deliberate intention out of it, and work in the most focused manner I can manage, engaging with the materials themselves, I consistently get better results. 
  • No reproductions ... Many companies reproduce vintage materials. I don't use them. All of my collages are made from original source material. 
  • No tricks ... The digital aspect of my process is confined to making the scan look as much like the original, and as much like paper, as possible. I don't digitally enhance any of my collages, and I don't add elements or delete them. If a collage isn't working as a scan, I may take it apart and rescan it, but I don't digitally reassemble them.

Talking About Making: What takes so long?

I posted six new pieces on this site last week. It’s been 18 months since the last set.

What takes so long? 

Of the dozen or so originals I typically generate in a week, most are clearly not printable. I can count on five or six contenders in an ordinary month. Of those, about two thirds seem as if they’ll make good prints. What's good? Good is subjective at this point. Often others believe a piece has possibilities I don't see ("Fires of loss" exists in the world because David loves it. I probably would not have printed it.). I have a print of "Black Rising" tacked to my studio wall and if I can’t imagine the new piece hanging beside it, the new work probably won't make the cut. I leave the best candidates laying around for a week, two, considering them intentionally and incidentally as I make other prints. If my attention is drawn to the same few over and over, those make it into the queue. 

Black Rising

Black Rising

And that's when the process becomes a little less predictable. "Tiny blue flowers" is one that made it through the initial culling stages, and ultimately did not work. I first posted images of it in a blog post in the summer of 2016. A proof at 24”x36” leaned against the wall in the studio all winter. Many nights, I went to sleep looking at it. When I thought I understood what needed to happen next to make it a good print, I resumed work.  

Here are some photos I took when I decided it wasn't going to work as a print:

Twenty-seven proofs and seven digital versions. I only keep the numbered proofs; many interim proofs were discarded. Still, I couldn't make it work.

I have a couple of stories like that from the last year. Most of what I've learned is still hard to articulate precisely. But I can say a few things. I'm sometimes uncertain how to think about what I'm seeing, and rather than sitting with that uncertainty until it clarifies, I hurry, make a guess, then blast ahead in what may turn out to be a wrong direction. Tenacity does not always serve.

One of my rules with originals is: go fast. Another: do not overthink. A third: move on. Making an original is a process of choosing individual scraps of paper, putting them together and then waiting. One day, when I look at it, I see a whole rather than elements. I try to apply these principle to printing, but it's thornier, partly because the prints are what I share, and it’s urgent they be worth the viewer's attention. 

The paradox is that when I summon the patience to just look until I see, my output is steady. So, that’s my project these days: thoughtful, patient viewing of my own work in progress.

Talking About Making: You Can't Suck if You Don't Try

At a conference I attended a few years ago, a speaker recounted a dark period in her professional life, one she attributed to a few habits of thought and patterns of behavior that felt uncomfortably familiar, including:

  • A reluctance to attempt tasks she didn’t already know how to do.
  • An inability to complete projects because it meant neglecting other, equally important ones.
  • Compulsively “raising the bar,” such that no effort she made was ever satisfactory.

For more than twenty-five years I’ve had a thriving art practice, but prior to 2012, I rarely shared my work with editors, collectors, or even close friends. The speaker gathered her challenges under the rubric of “perfectionism.” While the self-congratulation implicit in that term trips me up, I began to pay a different, more generous kind of attention to my thoughts as I approached the business aspect of my work. Here’s a list of the most typical, and stymieing thoughts I discovered, along with alternatives I've been working with:

  • I don’t know what I’m doing / Maybe I won't know what I’m doing until I do it
  • I hate making mistakes / If I make the mistake once, maybe I won't make it again
  • I’ll have to redo it / There is always a next draft
  • Timing’s not right / Timing’s never perfect
  • My ideas stink / My ideas are good enough for a first draft
  • I’ll be embarrassed if I fail / I’ll hate my life if I don’t try

I remain unconvinced, honestly, by the alternatives to “I don’t know what I’m doing,” and “I hate making mistakes,” because often I don't, and I always do, respectively. But I push ahead as often as I can, in the hopes that iterating enough on them will create a shift in time.

Leveraging the idea of drafting, however, has been very useful. Drafting is essential to making art, obviously, but it can be a useful approach to support tasks as well. This week, I applied the idea of drafts to a newly shelved closet in my studio. As I returned items, I was aware that I also ought to purge, and I stalled out. We’ve just moved, and I don’t have the decision making resources to purge right now. I remembered that purging was not part of the original plan: draft one of a usable studio closet did not include purging. Reminded of this, I finished the task as initially defined, and moved on.

My alternatives help in other situations, too. If I have a list of phone calls to make, I choose the lowest stakes call first. By the time I’m working on those that matter most, I’ve warmed up. I question my inclination not to make mistakes by asking myself what the stakes are in any given situation. Occasionally, I may apply the whole list at once. For instance, if I have to interact with a professional I respect. My ego insists I present as infallible, my work as flawless. It serves me to run through the alternatives, then remember I’m human, as is the person I’m about to approach.

“Raising the bar” is the most insidious, I think because it calls itself ambition. There are days when I know, from morning coffee, that regardless how I spend my day, I'm going to feel I ought to have done something -- anything -- else. Days like that are compromised before they've begun. I’ve come to see this not as ambition, but abscessed self-protection. When I capitulate to this indecision, the result is chaos.  Hence the title of this post. I created the silly, but effective tool pictured at the top of this post, my chaos box. It's remarkably useful -- when I remember to use it.

Last year I came upon this definition of professional in Alyson Stanfield's online course Art Biz Liftoff:

Professional artists are committed to a regular schedule of studio practice, which might include earning money from art sales, teaching and other such art-related income. They are interested in setting up their business so that it's legal and financially sustainable. They have a healthy respect for their artists' community and do not copy other artists' work. They don't complain about that hard work because they know it is part of owning any business and they are no exception.

I'll speak for myself, but not much about being an artist and writer has prepared me to think of myself as a professional given that I've mostly done it in the cracks of my other life, and I seem to be routinely ashamed by my inability to cure something or be otherwise truly useful, so this, too, is a practice. It helps to consider any aspect of my work that I find challenging part of the "hard work" associated with conducting myself as such.

A last, significant shift has been to gauge my success by my level of ease and satisfaction. If I’m anxious, I correct. While success on the world’s terms is, of course, desirable, I don’t believe there is any shame in not achieving any external recognition or audience. And it’s largely out of my control. If I truly want an audience, I owe it to my work to step aside and let it be seen.

Routinely I fall short of this aspiration, so it’s critical for me to think in terms of continual, deepening practice. An all or nothing approach results in a whole lot of nothing.

Talking about Books: The Grace of Great Things

That inscription in my copy of The Grace of Great Things by Robert Grudin is in my own handwriting; perhaps I gave it as a gift to myself. I'd have turned twenty-six that month, the fall before I earned my bachelor’s degree (seven years, part-time). I was freshly divorced and living in a room rented from my parents, waiting tables grave shift Thursday through Sunday and taking classes Monday through Thursday. It’s a toss-up whether I had less time or less money: buying the book was an indulgence, as was reading it.

Twenty-three years later, the pages are soft from rereading, the spine taped. I come across phrases I’ve long had memorized. The passage of time is evident, too, in the evolution of my handwriting and the nature of my marginalia. I cherished this book for its beauty and for its message, completely novel to me at the time, that an “ethos of inspiration” can be cultivated. That what appeared to me on the biographical surface of the lives of my heroines to be genius, was in fact a compilation of characteristics held in common. And, most encouragingly, that ...

many of these characteristics are less inborn virtues … than plain habits, difficult to cultivate perhaps, but nonetheless far from superhuman.


Talking About the New Series: Indifferent Garden

Working on Grey Pansy. On my monitor is a detail from the scan, and on my desk is the original in my notebook. Underneath it is a 13x19 proof.

I love a moody floral. With a couple of exceptions, the flowers in the current series, "Indifferent Gardens," I've harvested from old greeting cards. In addition to the gorgeous colors, liberal use of this delicious almost matte gold, and half-tone dots, the flowers are embossed, which presents a particular set of challenges -- first, capturing the extremely subtle depth and shadow in the scans, then rendering those critical characteristics in the prints.

Here are a couple of details. "Grey Pansy" is on the left, a detail from "If the Tiny Blue Flower" is on the right: 

Typically a lacquer coats the cards that is either cracked, or cracks the instant I start working with the paper. Terrifically pleasing to me in the original, though very difficult to see, I was curious how the cracking would scan and print. I'm thrilled to say, though I'm very early in the process, the cracks are coming up remarkably well, both in the scan, and printed at scale. 

The series title connects in my mind to Louise Gluck’s book The Wild Iris, but the connection may be pure association, I haven’t gone back through the book (both copies we own are still packed) to suss it out. The book is one of those lodged in my fundament, the poems are full of literally moody flowers and lines from them recite themselves in my mind — I tell you I could speak again: whatever / returns from oblivion returns / to find a voice. That's the titular Wild Iris speaking, by the way. And I happen to think Gluck's spareness and punctuation are exquisite. For instance, say that's not a beautiful colon — 

I tell you I could speak again: whatever

And the confluence of idea, language, and arrangement in the next line —

returns from oblivion returns

is poetry.

Gluck's lines as she made them, and as they exist in my life, and the phenomenon of intuitive, mostly unconscious connection over decades, speaks to me of the essential mystery to making: how, if anything interesting happens at all, it results from collaboration rather than control. It results from the independent life of the made thing reaching back to the vehicle of its making, and out into the world, and back again, to assemble itself. 

Which is to say, were I to go back to Wild Iris, I may not find the literal thread. But I'll insist it's there nonetheless.

The full scan, in process, working title Grey Pansy. Candidate for my new series, Indifferent Garden. Obviously, all rights reserved by me, Kimberly McClintock.

Sneak preview ... not mentioned elsewhere, this is an uncorrected scan of "onli" (working title), also a candidate for the Indifferent Garden series. In it, too, the embossing is visible. "onli" (or whatever its title ends up being) is a bridge piece between Indifferent Garden and the next series, Strange Maps. Again, all rights reserved by me, Kimberly McClintock.

Talking About Art: What's the Story?

Recently, I read an article on Artsy that mentioned "Whistler’s Mother." I didn't know until a few years ago that this was not Whistler's title for his painting. James Abbot McNeill Whistler spent a lot of time objecting to "meaning" in art, and he famously objected to the insistence that a painting be about more than what its surface indicated. Though he was a crank, his title, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” supports his claim that composition and color, not subject matter, were the impetus for the piece. Knowing this, I have nonetheless persisted in thinking of the painting by the popular title, rather than the artist's. 

When I got my BA in literature in the early 90's, the "New Critics" were at the end of their influence. A class called “Approaches to Literature” taught us to read from Freudian, Feminist and a few other perspectives, but the most respected professors still insisted a "text" be encountered independent of any biographical, cultural or historical context. That the most beloved story be Read as if you found it lying open on a table in an empty room. That image left an impression, though I believed then as I do now that the reduction of reading (and writing) this way is an understandable, but ultimately wrong-headed, attempt to get control of a made, so essentially wild, thing.

These days “reading like a writer” classes abound, the antithesis of New Criticism. I was reading like a writer then, because I wanted to be a writer, more curious as to why the writer made certain choices of emphasis and proportion than what her system of symbols might connote. The latter conversation, in the absence of biographical, cultural and other information, struck me as pointlessly subjective — exactly contrary to the intent of New Criticism. Think of Picasso’s use of blue. Or the tidbit I picked up recently that whatever his aesthetics, Picasso’s Cubism was also a convenient way to disguise portraits of his mistresses from his wife. That’s fascinating, plausible, human. The artist’s decisions are more objectively verifiable, too, because the artist may have stated his or her intention, as in the case of Whistler. 

It's true that makers are sometimes least aware of what they’re truly up to. That doesn't disqualify the story they tell themselves or others about their work, but it does argue for viewing the artist’s account as one resource among many. Before we assume Whistler’s tempestuous relationship with his mother influenced the palette in which he rendered her, we should consider that the fact that his model failed to show up that day. (But his mother did live with him, insinuate herself into his artistic life, was perhaps a bit overbearing ... coincidence?)

The point is, human beings obviously not only enjoy, but need story. If we don't know the story behind a thing, we'll guess at it. If the story we are told doesn't fit -- as with Whistler's title -- we won't remember it and we'll put another in its place, like a name that doesn't suit an acquaintance. You can bet I have a clearer sense of Cubism after that anecdote about Picasso. The human informs the critical. Whistler claims to have made one thing; and while we may see that clearly, our wiring may dictate that we also see another. 

I don’t think what I have to say about my own work is any more or less relevant than what Whistler said about his. All I can ever report is which decisions were conscious, and, for me, that is deliberately not many. All art is abstraction, the rendering of worldly things into "simpler, more evocative and organically final terms,” to quote John Graham. From three dimensions down to two; Whistler’s mother as an arrangement of white, grey and black blobs. This simplification has to do with clarity, not wishful thinking. This is where the meaning lies. 

And, here’s something else worth saying — more often than not, the answer the artist gives is disappointing. Read Jackson Pollack's interviews. The spectacle of what he made is so much more engaging than most of what he said about it. "Don't expect writers to be interesting people," Stephen Dunn told us, his students. I think this is exactly what he meant. The most eloquent version of what the maker has to say may well be what they struggled to say with paint, on the page, or with torn up postage stamps.


Talking About Making: Layers

I think beauty in made things results from layering because layering creates complexity, complexity creates interest and the illusion of depth--literal, metaphysical and metaphorical. Satisfying meals layer flavors, successful relationships layer selves. A good haircut requires layers, at least for me. Seems I've had this thought before, and probably read it, too, though I can't think where just now. Interestingness definitely accrues in the visual art I make as a result of layering. 

I’ve been listening to myself answer questions lately about this work--variations on the question "what are they": how and why and what were you thinking; and "what do they mean." I’m amazed at the range of conversations I'm having as a result.  

With my friends in technology, and with photographers, the conversation tends toward the quality of the scans, the scanner, the printer, the depth and texture in the reproduced images; the illusion of dimension in the prints is so strong, viewers invariably reach out to touch them. Painters and gallerists mention Lichtenstein’s painted half-tone dots. The many writers and designers in my life often cue in on pieces of words, or the paper itself, want to see and play with the typewriters, talk about typeface. A friend’s former husband and I, he a veteran of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, talked about maps; contemporary and ancient maps, Tolkien's maps, those of his own invention. 

Do you make your own maps? Do you think in those terms? That's what poetry is, for me, has always been: shows me where to go, and where I am. These are definitely maps. A series I hope to work on printing soon is called "Strange Maps."

My friend the Tarot reading mystic "read" piece after piece, telling stories until she found her own. Stories are a theme that comes up again and again. What's the story is a common question, and one I'm working to answer in other essays as its own question. I'll say for the moment that they are that, too. Meaning, they are fill-in-the-blank; clouds passing overhead. A therapist at the Atlanta show said they are lovely Rorshach tests.

Not least of all though, these pieces are very simply the sum of my engagement with the materials. They are layer upon layer of paper. Paper foxed, and burned paper, paper stained with cherry juice, and the bodily fluids of bugs; fibers of its definitely-not-lignin-or-acid-free materials; handmade papers from around the world. Typography from gone eras, ghostly handwriting; illustration, ink. Paper removed from context, rearranged, juxtaposed. As a reader, paper and type were my first loves. 

Removed from context, then reassembled and rendered overlarge. An object like a Japanese postage stamp, its Kanji lettering inches high, cannot escape notice. 

What are they? A stage set or plinth for pieces of antique printing that would otherwise go utterly unnoticed.

What are they? Pure product of a curious human interacting with adored materials. Materials made and, more importantly, handled and loved, or not, maybe just used, doodled on, for very different reasons, by other humans.

So, the layering began long before the materials piled here on my table. Before they became, for me, a way to make contact with the present, with the day, with myself and something tactile; a way for a busy person to inhabit silence and solitude. What are they? Letters, prayers, meditations. Guardrails, too. And ransom notes! 

Complexity is a station on the way to mess, and artfulness is partly just in knowing when to stop.

Have I just described life?

"On New Ground" -- Exhibition Opening April 15

Seven of my prints -- including "XK" at 44 in x 56 in !! -- will be on view (and on sale!) indefinitely at Marietta West Cobb Counseling Center in Marietta, GA beginning the week of April 15.

I've traveled once already on behalf of this project, to meet and work with the framer, the charming, erudite Shae Avery at Avery Gallery. Terri Abraham, my good friend (and premier east coast dealer!), and I had a rather magical Valentine weekend. We encountered the astonishing Ilia Varcev making pictures on the street. (He photographed us, though I see that work has yet to make it onto his site.) I was introduced to the concept of a "pop up" store. Don't laugh; there's always more to learn. 200 Mill, run by Terri's friend and neighbor, Dana Poor, said store, is a studio that opens one weekend a month to sell items made and discovered the previous month. I smuggled home a few treasures that I'd picture here, except they're Christmas presents. For more on 200 Mill, and the pop-up concept, here's Dana explaining it. After a spectacularly good meal at The Butcher The Baker, Terri and I attended the opening of dk Gallery's "Romance of the Nude and Figure," where we met glass artist Lori Schinelli. Full couple of days!

But the weekend wasn't all play -- beginning April 15 at 3:30 -- my work, gorgeously framed, hangs on the walls in Marietta West Cobb Counseling Center's lovely new space. Come celebrate!