Make Art

I’ve been singing this song since late 2016. Make art. Sing, paint, cook, sculpt or write. Knit something. Re-purpose some of the junk in your garage.

Just make art.

We need all the pretty we can get now.

Randy schooled me on art many years ago.

He’s not an art historian or anything.

He did study at the Tate in London and his teacher, a museum curator, put up a slide of a Flemish horse painting and asked, “what is it?” The overwhelming response was ‘a horse’. Next, he put up an abstract painting and asked the same question. According to Randy, the responses varied from “a mess” to “vomit”. The teacher put up both paintings side by side and said, “These two paintings are the same. They are nothing more than paint on canvas arranged in a way to create an illusion. This is obviously not a horse. It’s not alive. It doesn’t move or eat. It’s paint on canvas.”

That moment forever changed the way Randy viewed art. He was more open to different concepts and appreciative of a wide range of art.

I was not the same.

If I saw a picture hanging in a museum that was completely white with a single blue dot painted on it, I didn’t even bother to read about it. A blue dot? Okay then.

I was wrong.

In 1997, we visited the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center to see a Yoko Ono exhibit.

I was immediately dismissive.

We walked into a room and there were two large piles of rocks on the floor, surrounded by smaller piles of rocks. Again, okay then.

Randy had already read the text explaining the pile of rocks and asked me to read it. I did, but didn’t see how I could possibly change my mind that random piles of rocks and art are mutually exclusive.

The two rock piles were called “joy” and “sorrow”. The exhibit encouraged us to share our joy or to leave our sorrow by selecting rocks from either pile and creating our own. 

I spent so much time sitting on the floor in the middle of that exhibit.

I made my own joy and sorrow rock piles.

I examined, smiled and cried over sharing happiness and pain with strangers I would never meet.

I changed my mind about art that day.

I used to beat myself up that I should have come around sooner. That I waited so many years with a small mind, but honestly, that is just a stupid waste of time. I was who I was and I am who I am.

I’m glad that Randy was able to give me my very own “paint on canvas” moment.

So, I’ve been coloring on furniture, which is my backdoor into meditation.

Quick side note: I had lunch yesterday with a young woman I work with. We made a deal to have lunch the first week of every month and we’ve stuck to that deal. I do so look forward to spending time with her. She told me yesterday that her therapist told her that people with moderate to severe anxiety usually can’t meditate. I could have cried. I beat myself up for years because I can’t fucking meditate. “Give it time” people said. And I did. Turns out, my brain can wait out anything and scoffed at my attempts to clear it.

When I spend hours drawing little circles or coloring in checker board patterns, it’s as close as I can get to meditating.

My mind certainly doesn’t clear, but my thoughts are less intrusive. It’s like “Yes, I see you and that is certainly troubling, but right now? I have make art shelfto draw these little circles. I will worry about what we said to Andrea Marshall in 1973 later, okay?”

This is my latest project. I still have to complete the back of the shelf, but that will be awkward and difficult, so I am dragging my feet.

I am finding some motivation, though. I made a deal with me that prevents me from starting a new project until I complete this one. And I really do need to complete it. This shelf is where we will display our winnings (?) from the Gatlinburg trip. 

Anyway, I thought about my next project and at first, I thought I would do our two bedside tables. But then I thought, “Why don’t we go bigger?

I haven’t finished painting the inside of our new house. The office hasn’t been touched, other than quarter round has been laid down to cover up the disgusting gaps between the hardwood floor and baseboards.

Why don’t I just steal a whole wall for this? I mean, it’s only a little psychotic. And we can always Kilz over it. 

I knew Randy would be a bit of a battle. We just bought this house and I am proposing coloring all over one wall with a marker which is behavior we spent years discouraging in our children.

We reached an agreement. I won’t do the whole wall.

Randy made an excellent point. I would have to spend a lot of time on a ladder with my arms extended. I have torn rotator cuffs and coloring at all makes them ache. Just regular painting the tops of walls put both of my shoulders in agony.

Instead, I am going to cordon off a 5′ by 5′ area and work within that. Maybe a little bigger. Then, we’re going to build a frame around it.

I can live with that.

Plan to make something pretty. And it’s all pretty.

We need art.

If your brain hurts and you have a hard time finding relief, try making art, it might soothe your brain. It works for me which is awesome, because usually I’m saying “yeah, that doesn’t really work for me”.


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  • Make something, yes! My thing to make is knitting. Socks, mostly. Think of all the warm feet! Think of the magic of transforming a piece of really long string into cozy toes, or fingers, or heads or whatever. And it really settles, if not totally silences, that sniping anxious critical whiny voice that likes to screw with me.
    Thank you for writing so cogently. I always read but don’t usually manage to comment (hey, I’m snatching the time for reading and thinking from other things that are clamoring for my attention)

  • LOVE this article!!! I am a CZT (certified Zentangle teacher) and would love to (with your permission) read this – or at least parts of it – to my students. So well said. PM me and I’ll find you a CZT near you

    • Yes, of course! I would love for you to share this! My mom got me a zentangle book and I have been doing this ever since. I’m not technically very good, but it calms my brain.

  • Oh, Michelle, I love love love the bookshelf! This whole concept, this is how I’ve been dealing with my cancer/depression this year. I am currently on baby blanket #3 and just finished a batch of ornaments for coworkers. I had to look up Kilz but that supports my “try it, it can be changed” philosophy. When I first moved into my condo, it was the first time owning the walls so I went a little overboard on saturated wall colors. I painted the main wall of the living room this dark marine-peacock blue. It was amazing at first but after about six months the wall was leaning towards me and making my eyes bleed whenever the sun hit it. After a can of cover primer and some elbow grease, the whole living room is now a lovely Serene Green that was the hit of HGTV in 2004. But I am glad I allowed myself to paint a “crazy” color instead of censoring myself. I’m itching to do a big wall mandala but I want to move closer to work in the next couple of years after treatment so I think a panel/canvas is in order so I can take it with me. Hugs and thanks as always for the wonderful post!

  • Okay, when you first said coloring on furniture I was worried. I was picturing a nice sofa with scribbles. But this shelf is incredible!! Very beautiful work. Someone gave me an adult coloring book and personally, it stressed me out way too much. I struggle with the color choices. I guess I need color by number. But I love to knit and it totally does so much for my brain and peace of mind. Keep at it girl, you are very talented.

  • You are right about the meditation thing. Can’t do it. Love the bookcase! Once you find some kind of creative outlet that you love it helps to calm so much. You know people sell those pieces (just in case you can’t stop).
    Thanks for the post!

    • Well, it takes a while to complete something like this, but sooner or later I’ll have a surplus. I plan on giving away what I don’t keep to anyone who wants them.

  • The first few paragraphs had so many amazing thoughts swirling around my head and then I got to the bookshelf and thought, wow, you painted something that’s a perfect representation of what you were saying. There’s beauty in there that someone might not see unless they’re looking at it from the right angle, and really you have to stick your head in the sections and look around to fully appreciate it.
    I’ve always been fascinated by and loved art. I’m not an art historian either–not professionally, anyway–but I’ve taken art courses and still read books and reviews and go to museums. Years ago I had a brief job writing reviews for a small magazine and the first exhibit I went to I didn’t like the paintings at all. But I had to write something so I kept looking and the more I looked the more I liked the paintings. I saw things I would have missed if I hadn’t been compelled to look.
    Thank you for giving us something to look at.

  • <3 <3 <3 love this post, it made me happy! and the picture! lovely work.
    Right there with you — I did "walking meditation" for years. That just means I go for a walk around the block, and my brain slows down to match the rhythm of my feet.
    Since I'm an art-artist now (I used to be a commercial-artist) I get the meditation part a lot more than used to when I work-worked. I have made a double bed wool blanket (crochet), so many hats and scarves people don't want any more, tree ornaments, etc. All to keep from thinking!
    I apologize in advance for the know-it-all I am about to post: Try putting a coat of varnish or other protector on the shelf, at least the flat surfaces, so they stay nice! And I worry about your shoulders with the mural. Murals can be really tough on the body. Experience. Try an art supply website to buy cradled board(s) or canvas to paint on, and then hang it. Then you can work flat or angled and at different heights. Or get a piece of gyp board or ply from the home supply big box, and prime it before painting. You can mount it to the wall, and remove it when you want to do a new one. Your shoulders and back will thank you.

    • Wow! THANK YOU for the advice. So far, the oil based sharpies hold up. I have a cedar chest that I did months ago. It got dropped in a driveway, it went through 2 moves and I don’t see any degradation (other than the corner that hit concrete haha). But I can see how a protective coat would be a good thing.

      Yeah, it’s not going to be easy. The bookshelf killed my shoulders but it’s because the inside is so awkward. I like the idea of a big piece of plywood…but on the other hand, I am stubborn and will probably still just paint the wall.

  • My husband starting painting (on canvas) a few years ago. It seems to really calm his brain. He’s going to start working with oils this winter. I wish we had enough room for him to have a real studio 🙂

    • We are turning a room in our basement into an art room. I mean, after I get the rest of the house painted and we actually unpack all the boxes that currently reside in the basement.

  • I always considered music as my art form, but I found there were times when I couldn’t get to it to make anything creative, for one reason or another.
    One of those times was when we were living in “Fort Apache” (the bottom floor of a three storey building that had the upper two floors badly fire damaged, behind the MacArthur BART station at the height of the crack epidemic. It was crazy, dangerous, and we lived in a 4′ tall loft above the hallway that led from the kitchen to the bathroom.) I had all of my equipment there, but we just didn’t play very much. I spent most of my time doing odd jobs for an income, and teaching myself how to build and work on electronic devices, which seemed at least peripherally music related.
    Then, while laying down in our “loft” staring at the ceiling so close to us, we decided to get out the fluorescent paints and decorate it. Drugs were involved, as was a small black light. After we got kind of bored with that, Briana found a can of prussian blue paint, and we began using it to darken all of the negative space.
    It came out nicer than I had imagined it when we began, sort of like a phantasmagorical night sky, but we soon grew used to it and didn’t pay it any attention.
    After we all had to move out of there, I found out that the construction crew refused to paint over it, and removed the three sheets of drywall it was painted on and replaced them. I never found out what happened to those sheets, but as I had larger problems to attend to at the time, I didn’t put much effort into finding out.
    Larry, a professional artist I know, once told me that art is in the doing of it, and the things it produces are just artifacts of the experience. I kind of already felt that way as a musician, but that sort of colored my attitude toward visual art ever since, sort of like Randy’s paint or your rocks. I found that I did enjoy the effort I put into making the things I did presentable, but never really worried whether I was any “good” or not, the way I did when I was learning guitar.
    I really like the shelves you did. Briana says to put a UV protectant on it if you want the colors to stay the way they are, but that sometimes they way they fade can be beautiful also.
    My laptop is broken and I’m writing this on Briana’s computer, and she has spell check turned off, so if anything is really badly misspelled that’s probably why…

  • The bookcase is a masterpiece! I’ve asked my daughter (an artist) to paint me something like that- small table, wooden chair…. still waiting. I guess I’ll have to do it myself! Keep painting!!!

  • As I said in another comment thread, I’ve been crocheting for Christmas – 9 kids and 5 adults – scarves, caps, mittens… it’s both a “focusing” task as well as calming. I love it.

    I tried coloring, but I do stress about doing it “right”

    • I stressed about it when I had a coloring book, but for some reason on furniture, I don’t care. I just took the attitude that I can’t make a mistake because it is what it is and that worked for me.

  • I write and make jewelry, but a) I’m mostly making stuff to sell and b) since I’m doing that, I feel like I have to be conscious that I’m doing it “right”. Oddly enough, I’ve found that making paper beads is a sort of meditation for me. It’s repetitive in the extreme but somehow never boring. It feels like productive goofing off. And I sell them too, but somehow it doesn’t bother me to throw out the “imperfect” ones.

  • This is so so so so TRUE and I’m so thrilled to know that I’m not alone with my inability to meditate. Or organize.Or, well, be normal. But normal is overrated, right? But rediscovering my artistic side has made me feel more “normal” than anything I’ve done in years and years! It relaxes me. It inspires me. It soothes and comforts me. Now I know why I used to see so many old ladies at local art shows. And here I just thought they were bored. I didn’t know they had found a wonderful secret for those of us over 50: the joy of creating just for the hell of it and having no need to prove anything to anyone, but just making something beautiful. Just doing what makes me happy. How awesome is that? Thx Michelle! I love your blog and your articles!

    • O M G!! YES! There is so much joy and relief that comes from creating. Sometimes the act is tedious and I just want to be DONE…but the benefits are still there.

      And thank you so much, I am glad you are here.

By Michelle


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