In the spirit of trying new things in the “social distance” era, I’ll be posting some work as affordable coloring pages to purchase on Etsy. There are three up now, but I’ll add more over time so “Favorite” my store and check back often.
They follow the style of my other work, a little whimsical, a little magical, a little real. The first series is similar to my “Brilliant Disguises” pieces from years ago, and combine drawn portraits and digitally collaged pattern. (The Watermark won’t appear on the purchased files.)
It’s not a 100-percent match to my other work, because I had to draw in and reference styles that would translate well to coloring by someone else. I also had to draw and edit digitally, with stronger lines and inking vs. sketch. But the work is mine, originally drawn with some sourced digital collage pattern. I love it and hope you do, too!
It’s so important right now to support independent artists and keep a bored world entertained, haha! I am sure we will see an uptick in participatory art like this. It’s important to me to make quality work and keep it affordable, and coloring pages seem like a good way to do that.
When I was growing up, our church hosted First Friday potluck dinners. They were a chance for all of us from the satellite communities around our town to come together outside of Sunday services, and they often went late or included an activity for us kids afterward. For at least a few Decembers, that activity was a Bird Tree, balls of peanut butter, bird seed, sunflower seeds or other treats that a bird would like, plus soft yarn for nests and other things. We took our work very seriously, and hung each finished ornament with great care before devolving into slap fights and wrestling as was per usual. We weren’t a church that volunteered in soup kitchens or anything like that, but we were a country church that loved and served our community, even its feathered members. (And probably a few furry ones that enjoyed a spot of birdseed now and then.)
December is marketed as a time of joy, and of course it is. The birth of Jesus! The season of light!
To quote Lucy Van Pelt in A Charlie Brown Christmas: “You know, deck them halls and all that stuff?…You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.”
At the same time, it is a dark season for many people, including me. There’s a bittersweet feeling that comes each December. A coming to terms with the year that was and the present that is. A sense of an ending.
But I think that is normal.
After all, it is an ending. And if there wasn’t an understood, collective darkness, then we would not have so many songs, verses and stories about bringing light. The new year itself is a promise of light. The manger story is one of darkness and light. The two coexist at this time of year in almost every cultural touchstone that define it.
We are wired for the mixed emotions that many of us feel as we drink cocoa, sing carols and also miss our loved ones or feel apprehensive about the year ahead.
So, what’s the solution, then? I think the solution, as with many things, is to accept it. Lean into it and feel your complicated feelings. Know you’re not alone.
Look around you and see who you can serve, where you are and with what you have. Make a bird tree. Watch them flock to enjoy it, and then let them fly away.
In my other life, I have an art blog and work in the art sector. This means that I have spent the past few years being practically submerged in the art world, learning about it and how people find, engage with and collect art. I don’t really mix the two streams because I am not looking to be a professional artist in that respect. I am happy to work to help others engage with and discover art, and keep mine just for fun with the occasional transaction.
With that said, sometimes the inspiration does overlap. Particularly when I see a beautiful piece hung on the wall and think how it might work in a different way.
These thoughts have inspired what I call the “Gallerinas.” They’re mixed-media pieces that incorporate fine art pieces as collage, either repurposed or just reused. I take the images from magazines, ads or promotional brochures and cut them up to form new shapes.
Here’s the first “Gallerina.” If you look closely, her dress is a collage of David Park paintings. I saw Park’s retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth earlier this summer and loved it. (It’s up until Sept. 22 if you’re near D/FW or can get here.)
We were never afraid of cemeteries. In rural East Texas, they were often tucked into curves in the road near our houses, set against our properties’ back pastures and in other ways integrated into our daily lives as just somewhere else to be. The cemetery, while always a place of respect and to be treated as such, was also place to walk safely, to contemplate quietly, to “visit Grandma” and in our older and more mischievous years, to pass through on hayrides, and to park in and kiss boys. Now, I don’t like them after dark, but back then it felt normal to be there.
Our town’s biggest cemetery was just on its edge, past the local community college and in between the “ritzy” neighborhood and the evangelical campgrounds. It was alongside a major highway, and spread across many acres. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was larger than any of our city parks. It was certainly nicer and safer.
Late at night, we would visit this big cemetery, park our car, and walk. Reverent, careful to stay on the footpaths, we would scan the headstones as we talked. “Looking for Our Names,” we called it.
It was 1990-something and “Michelle” and I, with our friends “Renee'” and “Mallory” had just discovered The Smiths, particularly their “The Queen is Dead” release. We wore out those tapes in our cars: “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “Boy With a Thorn in His Side,” and “Cemetery Gates,” among other tracks.
We were fairly privileged teenagers – middle class, stable families, no real barriers and no real experience with the malaise that Morrissey sang about.
But, by the time we were 16, we had already started losing young people – classmates and church friends and peers from other schools in our area. Just as cemeteries themselves were integrated into the fabric of our lives, so was the circle of life itself.
As we “looked for our names” we sometimes encountered the accidents, overdoses and suicides who had once sat beside us in Algebra class.
I’m pretty sure that “Cemetery Gates” was the theme song behind this activity, but now I think a more accurate soundtrack would be “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”
Looking back as an adult, I wonder if our seemingly-cavalier relationship with graveyards, through this activity and others, was a way to normalize what was happening around us each year. Or if it underscored how normal it felt to be in such a place. I’m not sure that we lost more peers than other school districts, but our world was a lot smaller. Regardless of how well we knew the person, we did know them, almost every single one. There was a very defined hole in our daily lives after each midnight phone call. And back then, I don’t remember any special counselors, after-school vigils or anything like that. We went to the funerals, hugged grieving parents and siblings, and were released back into our routines to figure it out on our own.
There is a light and it never goes out.
When I think of Michelle, Mallory, Renee’ and myself, I think of us at that age, almost exclusively even though I am still in touch with most of them and am fully aware that they’ve aged as I have. (And by that, I mean with strength, grace and beauty of course.)
There is a light and it never goes out.
My lost peers, acquaintances and friends, too are in perpetual youth. We’ve outlived them by so many years. What would their lives be like? When we were still in the “same timeline” it wasn’t something we really thought about. Now, looking back over 25+ years that not everyone got to have, seeing my friends’ children approach the ages etched on some of those headstones, it brings a greater depth and a profound sadness.
There is a light and it never goes out.
Our relationships with cemeteries may seem strange, or even disrespectful to some. But there was also a message in the familiarity. It said “we remember you,” “we aren’t afraid,” “we can still be where you are.” It said, “don’t be lonely.”
It said, “one day, our names will be here, or somewhere like here. But for now we are as alive as we will ever be, and in this moment, within this light of memory and shadow of loss, so are you.”
*This was a story I really wanted to get right, so I had a few versions of the art. While the top piece is my top choice, I liked this little messy one, too: