September open studio

I’ve heard that a lot of people are moving their First Friday festivities to the second Friday this month because this is Labor Day weekend. Here in Studio 221 at the Tip Top Building, we are committed to celebrating First Friday on the actual First Friday of the month.

So if you want to pick up your Inner Beauty Passport and help kick off the marvelous Julie Püttgen‘s Inner Beauty Pilgrimage to the Sacred-Ordinary Everywhere, tomorrow is the day to do it! If you show up on the 11th, you will be disappointed because we will be somewhere else. Also, you probably will have missed your last opportunity to see my studio in 2015.

Claim your Inner Beauty Passport, and reclaim the full story of your many aspects! Remember all the places you’ve gone, and the people you’ve been. It’s like a spiritual foot massage.


Visit the fabulous Safety Closet! Turn off your phone. Sit down for a minute and breathe. Take in the fact that nobody is currently trying to clobber you.


And … see the newly moth-proofed butterfly soup!



inner beauty treatment #109

2 of the 3 sculptures that I took down for moth-proofing are back up. I’m getting ready for an open studio on September 4th. The delightfully odd and mostly harmless Julie Püttgen will be joining me in the studio to kick off her Inner Beauty Pilgrimage to the Sacred Ordinary Everywhere, and we will unveil the Inner Beauty Passports we’ve been cooking up.

Julie has a list of 108 Inner Beauty Treatments on her website. Here is one more, designed by my flinchiest Inner Tyrant:

Find a safe place to lie down, preferably on the floor. Put on some music, preferably something without too many words. Turn it up loud enough to fill your ears, but not loud enough to hurt. If it’s going to bother your cat, put on headphones.

Lie down. Get as comfortable as you can. Put a pillow under your knees, and one under your head.

Put something over your eyes – a sleep mask, a scarf, a folded-up sock. If you like, put a bag of beans or rice on your chest.

Breathe slowly, then even more slowly. Make the out breath at least as long as the in breath. With every out breath, feel yourself sinking into the floor.

Imagine that the music is washing your ears. All the things that have gotten stuck in your ears – the screeches of small children, the rumble of motorcycles, the crinkle of potato chip bags –  are floating away.

Listen. Breathe. Sink.

All of this is optional. If you feel like dancing, do that instead.

j’en peux plus

Words have been hard for me lately. There’s so much going on, and so little that seems worth saying about it all. And yet, silence also feels … not quite right.

I’ve been reading Dropping Ashes on the Buddha: The Teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn. The introduction says:

Original nature has no opposites. Speech and words are not necessary. Without thinking, all things are exactly as they are. The truth is just like this.

Then why do we use words? Why have we made this book?

According to Oriental medicine, when you have a hot sickness you should take hot medicine. Most people are very attached to words and speech. So we cure this sickness with word-and-speech medicine.

So here is an attempt at medicine for whatever sickness I’ve got. I imagine I am not the only one. May we all be cured.

Some words that I keep hearing my head, an echo from 30 years ago: j’en peux plus. Translated from the French, they mean roughly “I can’t take it anymore.”

It’s not just words that have been hard. I have come to a couple of places recently where (oh, mercy) I just can’t take it anymore. For the good of all beings everywhere – for you, for me, for my poor therapist, for that confused bastard from out of town who is stuck in traffic in front of me – it has to stop. I cannot keep doing this dance. One of those places is in the studio, with the moths.

But how? A carefully worded letter to the moths will do no good. The moths are just exactly as they are, beyond words.

And then, a miracle: it occurred to me that I could take the guts out of “i know what i know.” I could cut the guts open, remove the felted wool balls, replace them with something less delicious. I could coat the wool in “bad signal” and “butterfly soup” with something both less toxic and more permanent than insecticide.

As I got used to the idea, I grew to love the process and the added layers of meaning. I am not afraid of work. These changes are a language that the moths will understand.

It turns out that the guts have a surprising amount of structural integrity, even without their wool stuffing. Maybe they will go back into the sculpture just as they are, light and empty. Maybe I will have to give the sculpture a new title. Maybe “i know nothing”?


After experimenting with some smaller felted sculptures, I settled on an acrylic-based fabric stiffener to coat the pieces that can’t have their wool removed. Will all that liquid make the wire rust? Oh yes:


Rust is rust. Change is change. Let them be exactly as they are.

more fun with sharpies

Someone posted a picture on Facebook recently of a pair of sneakers that had been made to look tie-dyed with Sharpies and rubbing alcohol. Well. You know I love me some Sharpies, especially on canvas. On my way to the studio, I picked up a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol at the drugstore.

I have been drawing a lot of bugs lately, so I drew a bug on this scrap of canvas with the Sharpies:


The red is actually a Bic permanent marker that I bought in British Columbia in May. I’m tempted to say that from now on I will always travel with a red marker, but it was actually a lot of fun to go on a quest for one and not know exactly what I would find. So maybe more shopping for art supplies in out-of-the-way places.

Here is what the drawing looked like after being sprayed with rubbing alcohol:


The lines at the bottom are acrylic paint, dried a long time ago, which is why the alcohol didn’t make them run.

Here is what it looked like after it dried:


I like the semi-predictability of the process, the sense of motion that the blurred ink gives the drawing, and the way the colors change. I’m think I’m going to be doing more of this.

(Don’t worry. I am working on another wire sculpture too.)

mud season

I finished that little comic I started working on in February, and re-drew all the panels on one of those printed canvases. Drawing on canvas with a fine-point Sharpie is a little like driving on a muddy road. The pen gets thrown around and makes a wobbly line.


Ray Bradbury said, “The important thing is to explode with a story, to emotionalize a story, not to think it… If you start thinking, the story’s gonna die on its feet. You either feel a story and you need to write it, or you’d better not write it.”

I gave a lot of thought to the structure of this thing, but the first thing I did was feel it explode in my heart. I don’t expect anyone else to feel it. I am not that good a storyteller. But I still feel it, and am glad to have written it.

What I feel:

dim fumbling fishy thoughts,


intermittent mind-blowing joy,

the itch of new feathers.

more cleaning

More cleaning today. Took down all the small felted sculptures in the back room.


Some of them went in the trash. Others are in my freezer.

One of “birdhouses” had a pair of moths in it. I hung it from a lilac bush in my yard, and will try to photograph it every month so we can all watch it weather.


If you look closely, you can see one of the moths inside.

Other things that are in the freezer include Lindsay’s wig and necklaces.


The freezer is very full.

A couple of the smaller sculptures got thoroughly sprayed with insecticide. The bigger ones in the front room too.

What really bothers me about this whole mess is the hat I made a couple of months ago. It is out there in someone else’s life, possibly with moth eggs in it. I feel sick.



spring cleaning

The moths are back. They are almost definitely Tineola bisselliella, in case that matters to anyone. I set traps last summer, and I caught a lot of them. Then the traps stayed empty for a few months, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But now they’re back. When I sit down on the sofa, I inevitably disturb a moth or two. They skitter across my mat while I’m practicing yoga. I actually kind of love them. They are quiet, and they don’t bite. The adult moths don’t even have mouths. If only their children weren’t eating my work…

This time around, I can see the evidence of them in my stash of fleece: eggs, frass, the web of a cocoon. It’s easy to miss in a big fluffy pile, especially when the wool tends to have little bits of leaves and grass in it. But it’s there.

Their favorite food and nesting material seems to be the pre-felted fleece that I used to cover “butterfly soup.” Someday maybe it will be okay with me if her skin gets eaten away. There’s a little part of me that thinks it would be interesting to watch. But not this year, please.

So every day I go into the studio and do a little more purging. I have thrown out the first felted wire sculptures I made. Small experiments, not much bigger than my fist.

I threw out a lot of fleece. Sorry, sheep! Sorry, farmers! Sorry, past versions of me! On the other hand, think of the birds and rodents and (yes) moths that may get to enjoy it now that it’s not in my studio anymore!

The things I couldn’t bear to get rid of are stashed in my freezer,where I am hoping the cold will kill any eggs that might be hidden in them. I am looking for good airtight containers to store them in when they come out of hibernation. And I am hoping I haven’t accidentally brought any eggs home with me.


Most of my large figural sculptures begin as ritual objects, driven by a need to transform my relationship with some difficult fact. The repetitive process of building the figure is meditative, and the making and placement of “innards” and other embellishments is something I put a lot of mental energy into.

This latest piece seemed like it might be especially fraught with meaning and pain. Not just because of the difficult facts I was wrestling with, but also because hanging it would necessitate moving one of the older sculptures to the back room.

But as it happened, the ending was as surprisingly easy as the beginning. The very first sculpture I made went into the back room without a fuss. I think it helps she’s still visible from the front room. This photo was taken from the steps:


Bad signal ended up hanging next to I know what I know. They are not identical, but I think of them as twins.


You can’t really see her “heart” from the floor, but it’s worth seeing so here’s a close-up:


Part of the ritual of this piece was cutting a single wire in front of the hole in her heart every day. There were four wires covering the hole, so it took four days. Every time I cut a wire, I’d think about things that I’m needing to let go of. The letting go is not without difficulty and pain, but it’s not as bad as I feared. And wonderful things are afoot (I hope).


seventy-five percent

I’m almost finished with bad signal. I’ve been rolling the IV stand around the studio and studying her from different angles while I read and practice yoga and goof around. Here’s an angle that I found particularly pleasing this morning:


Sometimes I love looking at her on her own, but all of my newer work is uncomfortable for me to see next to the old work made with Serena (who is a department store mannequin). Even padded, Serena is tiny compared to me. The hardest part of the work, these days, is hanging it up in the front room when it’s finished.

This afternoon I came home and found this juxtaposition of the average American female mannequin vs. the average American flesh-and-blood female body in my newsfeed:


It’s from a photoshoot for Cosmopolitan Latina by Victoria Janashvili. The model’s name is Denise Bidot.

And then Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminded me:

“Seventy-five percent confident will do nicely. Seventy-five percent is a goodly amount. Remember, we say that a flower is blooming whether it is in half, three-quarters, or full bloom.”

Good enough, then. Thank you, everyone who helps me stay at seventy-five percent.

goofing around

A while ago, I found an Instagram feed full of photographs of people in outrageous costumes holding taxidermied animals. Like this one:


When I don’t feel like doing my daily drawing, I bribe myself by using one of those photos as a model to draw from.

More recently, one of my artist friends has been playing with Yupo paper (which is not paper at all, but smooth plastic). Another has been doing blind contour drawing, where you don’t look at the paper or lift your pen while you draw.

All of that, plus my ongoing carpal tunnel issues, has resulted in my doing things like this:


I’m not particularly attached to these drawings, but it delights me to make them. There’s something magic about the process. It’s like being six years old again, but with less fear and loneliness.

I dream about someday facilitating collaborative art playgroups for grownups and sharing the fun I’ve been having with other people.