Catching Up on a Tuesday

Things have been pretty busy, and time has gotten away from me here in this still unnamed studio. I’ve made a good stack of new work, and spent the weekend in East Texas doing some research and getting some more photos and other items to use.


It was nice to be home in East Texas, and my work on the Pine Curtain project made it a little more interesting to be there. The nature of it being a community history means that it gave me a lot of new things to talk about with my family, which was fun. Both my mom’s side and my dad’s side are from and still live there, a mile or two apart, and their extended families came from other parts of the piney woods. So, with those two perspectives there is a wealth of information and lots to learn. Also, as time is doing its thing with my parents and older relatives (and me!) it is important and valuable to get these stories as close to firsthand as I can, while I can.

During a break in activity, I went to the older of the two community cemeteries and walked around looking for names that matched my research. Many of the headstones from that era (late 1800s) were pretty weathered, but I identified a few who I had been reading about. It was cool to see, and to connect what I am doing to real people.


So, now I am back to the more usual routine, and that always feels good. Now that my Etsy store is stocked and up, I can look toward 2021 and work toward some of those goals!

Researching East Texas History

My research assistant, Bluebonnet, hard at work.

This week, I discovered a few new online resources to help my research:

The JStor academic database, which has a free tier during the pandemic

The SFASU East Texas Research Center online libraries

The Texas Historical Commission library

AND, yesterday, I received my copy of “They Left No Monuments,” a volume of East Texas human interest stories by the late historian Bob Bowman.

I’m just scratching the surface of these resources, but I have already learned so much! It’s really exciting to read this information, find archival images, and think about how it might fit into writing, art or both.

I’ve settled into a routine where I work and write in my studio most afternoons, and in the evenings I dig around online and read. Routine and purpose have been things I really miss about pre-COVID times when my business was stronger. If you are struggling, too, I urge you to just pick something fun to do and dive in. If you have a fuzzy assistant or two to keep things lively, even better.

Besties

“Besties, 1980” by Stephanie Khattak. Embellished acrylic monotype.

In rural East Texas, your first best friends are your cousins and your neighbors. And often, your cousin IS your neighbor! In my case, my cousin spent lots of time visiting my grandmother, who lived just one stop sign and few houses away. So, almost a neighbor.⁠

I’m an only child, and people often ask “Weren’t you lonely growing up?” ⁠

Because of my cousin and my neighbor, I really can’t relate to that question. How could I be lonely when one bestie lived at the far end of my driveway and the other was conveniently at all family functions? Plus, they’re older than me by a few years, so I don’t know what it’s like not to have friends like them.

An upside to being related to and living next door to your best friends is that they’re stuck with you for life. Lucky them! And lucky, lucky me.

Art on a Rainy Tuesday

Today is the first day of fall, and here in Texas it is finally cooler and a bit rainy. “Hygge Weather,” I call it, and for this year at least, at my house late September to late February is “Hygge Season.” No one knows what Halloween and the holidays will look like, but we can be pretty sure that being cozy at home is still the best way to go, at least for those of us city-dwellers. So, I decided to try and take a bit of control over these things we can’t control, and embrace the positive.


Yesterday, in my Instagram archive, an interesting post popped up from seven years ago. I was in East Texas at The History Center in Diboll, TX, researching for the novel I was working on at the time. (And technically still am, as I put it away with about a third of it left to finish.) My research was centered on the more salacious bits of East Texas history, not something I’d really make into a print. At the same time, that research is still very valid, as I still go back to the materials I copied to check my facts around locations, names and milestones as I create art around and write Pine Curtain Stories. I put my novel away when my professional career started to ramp up, and I didn’t have any time to devote to it. I had often regretted not finishing that story. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I have many fewer regrets because I see that time wasn’t wasted. The work I put in then is helping me now, and who knows, maybe I’ll eventually drag my book back out and finish it, too. So, if you’re struggling or feel like you’ve wasted creative time on a project that fizzled out, don’t worry so much. Put it aside and revisit it from time to time, and life may surprise you.


As I keep returning to Homer as a creative focus, the concept of Ghost Towns rattles around in my head. Ghosts of the past, ghosts of what might have been. Literal ghosts? Some say yes. And yet, to me, it never really felt sad or like it has dwelled in missed opportunities. Homer’s population is small, for sure. It has hovered between 350 and 500 for most of my life. But it has always been so busy and vibrant. At the same time, it was definitely insular, “the bubble” as I call it, and I did have a hard time acclimating as my life got bigger. So, in a way, those woods and fields are also full of ghosts I loved and then left behind.


So, how does this circle back to art? As I have mentioned before, for me, art helps me make sense of things that are hard to process and harder to articulate. When I am making a print or painting, especially for this project, it opens up new parts of my mind to communicate with, and to communicate without overthinking. At the same time, art begets art, and when I am working on a piece, thinking about the story behind it, my mind is more open to ideas about future pieces, or stories, or research I want to go back to.


Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Art on a Monday

Abstract floral monotype by Stephanie Khattak.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
― Thomas Merton , No Man Is an Island

It’s Monday in “Studio No-Name,” and I’m still thinking on what to call my creative space. It won’t be Studio No-Name!

The process of naming my studio makes me think of the saying, “you must name it to claim it.” I have struggled with “claiming” my identity as an artist over the years, for all the reasons that many people do. I’m not conventionally educated. It’s not my primary income. I’m just not “there yet.” It doesn’t feel like “work”. But art is art and artists are artists. I think it’s important to take steps to legitimize the work that we do, whether our pieces are hung in galleries, displayed proudly at Mom’s house or decorating our own spaces. I’m trying to be better at claiming my practice, and so should you! (Even if we’ve never met, if you’re an artist, I suspect that you can relate to this.)

With that in mind, earlier today, I renewed my Texas Visual Arts Association membership and made a spreadsheet for places to submit work to in the next few months. This isn’t something I have done before, and I’m excited to try! It’s not an easy season of life to be an artist, especially an emerging artist, but opportunities are still there.


I have started a series of work that will be ready for sale in October. I closed my store at the beginning of the year, but I miss having it as a goal to work toward. The sales are nice, of course, but so is the self-directed goal of making enough work to post.

Because my Pine Curtain project is so specific, those pieces won’t be for sale, at least not right away. So, that frees my mind to switch to different subject matter and processes for a while. The above abstract floral is one of a few smaller works on paper that will be available, and I am also working, for the first time, on some larger pieces!