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A Sabbatical by any other name

It started with a leaf. I looked at a sprig of leaves I’d picked up as part of my 100 day project and knew I could almost spend six months creating work inspired by it. I also knew  that very rarely in my creative journey did I do anything remotely like that!! And then, last April, I found myself journalling about a sabbatical. Like just about everyone in the world, I had/ have the peri-COVID blahs (I’m not sure if it was Adam Grant’s languishing or Austin Kleon’s dormancy) and some kind of intervention was required. I realised while I journaled that we had nearly been in Canberra for seven years and this prompted me to ponder a sabbatical (seven years…get it?)  So I researched what a sabbatical could look like; and thought about what MY sabbatical might look like. There is a LOT out there on the internet and you can google it! However, a couple of really thought provoking links are here and here. I knew I was on the right track though when, bugger me, Brené Brown  announced that she was taking one! I took this as a message from the universe that I was on the right track. Good enough for Brené, good enough for me.

Sabbaticals used to be common for academics who would go overseas and pursue their own research interests. (Or have affairs with their research students as one of my friends told me referring to her dad!) But they (sabbaticals, not randy academics) actually go way back to Judaism and agricultural practices where fields would be allowed to lie fallow. I need to lie fallow. And like a field lying fallow, I need to be watered, weeded and enriched while I am lying fallow! Maybe even growing a totally different crop to normal. I will stop this metaphor while I am ahead.

There are all sorts of sabbaticals and, surprise surprise, people will happily take lots of your money to help you have the best/ most effective/ most fulfilling/ most spiritual one. But the one I need is not one that anyone else can dream up. My sabbatical is for me and needs to take into account my circumstances, my needs and my life.

And so it will.

It starts in July, will last 3-6 months which is to say, 6, and writing my blog more regularly might well one part of it. A long break from all but essential (aka Samunnat ) social media definitely will be. I am stepping down from over two years as Trove Chair in August and I have negotiated a leave-with-reduced-pay arrangement with my employer (easy when you are self employed). Travel is often associated with sabbaticals and mine is no different. If the gods are smiling I plan to be in Nepal in October/ November. I will still be creating and teaching but doing a bit less of it and I’ll work on projects that are spontaneous and heart directed. And possibly in the garden.  My sabbatical will evolve and it will not be one huge While I Am Not Doing The Usual Thing To Do list! Watch this space. I’d love to hear if any of you have done something similar!!

Do not be afraid to disappear, from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence. Michaela Cole (I found this in Austin Kleon)

If you are looking for something wonderful to read every now and then, I love Sage Bray Varon and I love her thoughtful blog This Creative Habit. She poses questions that make me think about my creative process and my life and that’s a good thing. She hasn’t actually mentioned a sabbatical I don’t think but she easily could.

The photos I’ve used for this post show some of the creative projects or sources of inspiration that I want to spend a bit more time exploring! Or just one that makes me happy to think about!

One hundred days of Mt Ainslie colours

I am not even going to comment on the gap between posts. Nor will I say that perhaps I will post more often again. ( I might) It is what it is. I have missed you. I long for the days of more engaged, sincere connection that I get here than I do on Instagram or FB. I feel my days there are numbered…so…maybe….just maybe….I will post more.

Just over three months ago I decided to participate in #the100dayproject on IG. I have resolutely resisted this in the past; watching instead as diligent, disciplined souls made bowls, brooches, did yoga, whatever for 100 days. Not my bag I thought. Enough shoulds in my life without adding more I told myself. You can’t do that; you will fail said the inner critic. Then the effervescent Tracy Holmes bounced onto IG and embraced the challenge.

Maybe I  could choose something super easy.

Who follows me anyway? No-one would know/ care if I failed.

Maybe I could make it work for me???

I decided to combine two passions…colour and my walks in the bush around Mt Ainslie. For 100 days, I would

  1. go on a walk;
  2. choose something I saw on my walk; and
  3. mix that colour only using the primaries of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow +/- black (K)  or White as needed and freely share that recipe with anyone watching.

The accountability of  having to share my recipe would help me to get out there and walk. That ticked the exercise box. The practice of using just the primaries (you could do one of Tracy’s courses to help learn about this!) would be fabulous practice and ticked the creativity box. And anything that makes me walk mindfully and notice stuff is good! My kind of spirituality!

And I would be sharing. I remember being tiny bit aghast the first time I saw someone selling colour recipes for polymer. I couldn’t understand why people would BUY someone else’s recipes when making colours was so fun and, for me, such an integral part of my creative expression and process. I sense a lot more possessiveness and ownership of stuff on social media these days. There’s a whole other post to be written about this but I guess I was reacting to this…wanting a bit of a return to those early, heady, exciting days in the development of polymer clay as an artistic medium when people shared rather than sold their discoveries. Obviously, there are TOTALLY times when when an idea or technique is ours and shouldn’t be copied or repeated without permission and acknowledgement. I myself ask people to pay for classes! But I see a lot of people on social media getting snippy about someone copying their technique when their technique was being shared on polymer forums 30 years ago. End of rant.

I made all sorts of preparatory good enough statements to my IG follower about how I was human and would miss days and make mistakes. I was essentially lowering everyone’s expectations. And setting realistic expectations for myself. A very useful life strategy! And off  I set.  I was totally unprepared for how many people would be interested in the journey and encourage me along the way! People even beyond the world of polymer were following…telling me how much they looked forward to my daily photo and recipe. I missed days and the world kept turning. I made mistakes and no-one hated me. And now I have got one hundred (+) fabulous colour recipes and a palette of colours from my place…a place that grounds me and welcomes me and nurtures me.

La, enough for now. Feast or famine. It has ever been thus. Love you gentle reader. Enjoy the colours. Email me if you want the recipes!!

Should I make polymer clay jewellery in a world damaged by plastic?

A version of this post was published on the Samunnat Inc website

Plastic is definitely one of the bad guys in any discussion of the world’s environmental degradation, with good reason. The huge quantities of plastic that scar our lands and oceans

© Daniel Müller / Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/15882/every-minute-of-every-day-the-equivalent-of-one-truckload-of-plastic-enters-the-sea/ under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

are the direct result of single-use plastic items, packaging and other indiscriminate use. We should do as much as possible to limit its potential impact on marine and human health.

Polymer clay is plastic mixed with pigments, features that it shares with acrylic paint. I have been challenged about the appropriateness of adding to the world’s plastic burden by making polymer jewellery. I take this question extremely seriously. Like all questions, it contains nuances and relative risks and benefits. I’ve thought through the issues and believe that my polymer use is principled and responsible.

Plastic is easily vilified because it is most often associated with single use, disposable materials, and packaging. The problem lies as much in the way we use the material as the material itself. Necklaces made by world-renowned artisans using polymer clay sometimes can sell for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. True, they can’t be composted but they are not designed to be composted or worn only once. I use this material to make pieces that are designed to be treasured and even passed down from generation to generation.  I work with the women of Samunnat Nepal who also make polymer jewellery. The funds they raise from their art contributes to positive social change in their community and supports many women in difficult circumstances.

 All artists should constantly evaluate their impact on the world. I do several things to minimise the impact of the material we use on the environment.  For those interested, these are outlined at the end of this post.

In an ideal world, all art would be biodegradable. However, I do not create my art to be composted. In an ideal world I would not own a car, or travel in a plane, but I do. In an ideal world, a bicycle would have no plastic components, but it does. These things might change with new technologies. When a suitable alternative to polymer clay is developed then I will embrace it.

Many of us share the goal of reducing and eliminating single-use and disposable plastic items. I am not creating these. As with the use of all materials, it is not always possible to make black and white statements about what is and is not a suitable medium. It is our task to chart our course mindfully and thoughtfully through these difficult questions.

My Material Use Manifesto

  1. I create beautiful, unique pieces that are designed to be treasured, not disposed of.
  2. I use a brand of polymer (Kato) that is phthalate free. Most polymer clay is now phthalate free.
  3. I minimise wastage of clay in the following ways:

    I mix all my own colours in small quantities, only mixing as much as I need for a particular range or pieces.

    I recycle ALL scrap clay. It is either remixed to create new colours or used to create the frame (not seen) of pieces. For example, the core of every single bead, and many bangles, is recycled scrap clay.

    I never cure ANY piece that I am not happy with. This means I am not putting cured clay into landfill but using and recycling raw clay as described above. If cracking occurs, I try to recycle elements or, if suitable, donate for use by community groups. And you should see my recycled garden art and polymer mosaics.

  4. I always cure pieces at the recommended temperature in an open, well-ventilated setting, separate to my workspace. Let’s call that outside!
  5. When sanding pieces, I dry sand over a paper towel and the dust is collected is thrown into landfill. I also take great care in the preparation of pieces PRIOR to curing so that I sand as little as possible. Shavings and drillings from carving etc are mixed with translucent clay to create speckled clay which I use in a recycled jewellery range.

    I am sure that more ways to help will occur to me over time and that this manifesto will evolve. Like me.

Five Senses

I haven’t forgotten my poem for the month. Actually I haven’t learnt it so I can’t forget it!!  I do know what I WILL learn. And I still have a couple of days to learn it! I need to read more poetry. The poems I thought I had rattling around my head that were meaningful seem to hold less meaning now. And I don’t want to learn something just for the sake of learning it. And TBH, some are way too long!!

This month’s is a heartfelt choice for a number of reasons. It is by Judith Wright, a prolific Australian poet who was also a fellow lover of nature and being in the bush.  Judith spent the latter years of her life in Braidwood (not far from here), and, spooky coincidence, started going deaf in her 20s!! The reason I chose this Judith Wright poem is because there is a wonderful labyrinth up on Mt. Ainslie which is named after this poem.  I wandered up there creek chasing. There are no permanent creeks on Mt Ainslie but after rain there are several and I love finding them. The bark on the trees almost glows and you see more roos and wallabies. And the birds….so many foraging for grubs in the muddy ground. I collected some curls of bark and am letting ideas of a bark shards/ curls necklace rattle around. I hope that before next month I can post some photos of my polymer bark shards!!

And now the poem! 

Now my five senses
gather into a meaning
all acts, all presences;
and as a lily gathers
the elements together,
in me this dark and shining,
that stillness and that moving,
these shapes that spring from nothing,
become a rhythm that dances,
a pure design.

While I’m in my five senses
they send me spinning
all sounds and silences,
all shape and colour
as thread for that weaver,
whose web within me growing
follows beyond my knowing
some pattern sprung from nothing-
a rhythm that dances
and is not mine.

Ultimately illuminating…Grey and lemon

Did you know that each year Pantone Inc chooses a colour for the year. Or in the case of 2021…two! In 1963, Pantone revolutionised the printing industry by developing a tool that could reproduce colours consistently and accurately. The tool organises colours into numbered chips (both hard copies and online) and every year the company makes predictions about trends and provides the fashion industry and paint people with ideas about what will be IN!

In response to the challenge of 2020, the good folks at Pantone decided we needed two colours for 202. Leatrice Eiseman, a colour guru and the ED of the Pantone Colour Institute said: The union of an enduring Ultimate Grey with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid, but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted. This is essential to the human spirit.

As regular readers know, I am slowly using yellows more in my colour palettes but they have been under represented. So I LOVED taking up the silver grey and lemon challenge I set myself in response to the colours of the year!!!  I had stacks of fun making simple but calming pieces and can you imagine my delight when, this morning as I dropped in a blurb about this collection, a Trove customer was purchasing some Colour of the Year earrings!!!! She knew all about the Pantone choices and was thrilled to know that this small collection was inspired by this. I hope she feels encouraged and uplifted. I know I did.

 

 

I confess…

No. Don’t be scared. I am not going to burden you with horrible dark secrets. This is the name of the poem I am learning by heart this month. Older readers, and by that I mean those darlings who have been with me here for ever, might have come across references to this poem in previous pages! I hesitated about choosing it because I thought I should choose an Australian poem next but this has been one of my super loved and yet unlearnt poems for a long while. I have been this women in the supermarket…watching a serenely mindful being transcend the  ordinariness of the situation and wonder how she does it. Maybe this was the beginning of my silver journey! So, with no further ado and thanks to the wonderful Alison Luterman here it is…

I Confess

I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
watching
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her
basket,
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years or how to live
alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to
possess
some knowledge that makes the earth turn and
burn on its axis—”
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”

When asked about her biggest struggle, Alison once said Being in the goodness of the present moment, rather than in all my stories about it. So good eh?

The images for this post have nothing to do with this poem but are the result of being in the goodness of the present moments of my Materiality course.

Too much of a stretch?

Just quickly…

….thanks to my darling Cath who sent me this quote from Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files. On receiving her email I took some time to stand still and be astonished. So much. In a post on creating shitty art he says:

Creating art is about growing the world and increasing its reach, and it has more to do with the act of creation itself than what is actually made. Anything that animates us creatively in a positive way — be it the grand design of a great architectural wonder or the Big Bang of a child’s drawing — is a re-enactment of the original creation story. Whether we realise it or not, making art is a religious encounter as it is our attempts to grow beyond ourselves that energise the soul of the universe.

Gosh. Yes. What he said.

And why is this such a short post? Two reasons:

Sometimes I just need to learn to shut up and let others say stuff…even though this is my blog so that won’t happen much;

and I have been having an excellent time doing the courses I mentioned here; truly savouring and learning. Another context for standing still and learning to be astonished!

I attach my reflection on the bark shedding yellowbox trees on Mt. Ainslie and smooth, speckled stones.

Learning to be astonished

I can’t imagine that anyone of a certain age still does New Year’s resolutions. I don’t. Even intentions freak me a out a bit. I have…things that I might do….

But here’s one I REALLY want to do. I was in a bookshop and saw Clive Jame’s Fire of Joy, his final book-a collection of poems to learn by heart and say aloud. Yes! I plan to become that embarrassing relative who recites poems at the dinner table! No. Not quite. Mind you, having been exposed pretty regularly to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as a child, being that embarrassing (but beloved)  old person is in my DNA.

No…I just remembered that there was a time when I learned by heart poems that I loved. And that knowing them might be more helpful and comforting on my death bed (as they were for Clive) than lying there and saying Oh, you know the one. About the woman with the hair. By whatshername. So, each month this year I will might remember and say aloud (to myself unless asked) one poem. And this month’s, remembered from heart, is:

My work is loving the world. Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – equal seekers of sweetness. Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young and still not half – perfect. Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are there, which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, and the sleepy dug up clam, telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.

Mary Oliver

I love my walks in the hills and I am learning to be astonished. Lately I have been astonished by the bare limbed, bark shed gorgeousness of the yellow boxes…everywhere! And the tiny fringe lilies…hardly anywhere. And dainty mushrooms which I have never seen before but that might be because I’m still learning.

Doing Courses and keeping Calm

Over Christmas, which became disappointingly quiet thanks to the Sydney lockdown,  I compensated by making calm, quiet veneers for some pieces for Trove. Some necklaces to sit calmly in the shop after the frenzy of  the pre Christmas period! But thanks to that frenzy, I am treating myself to some courses!  Strangely enough, I didn’t do many courses last year and apparently that’s what many people did! For an introverted artist, some aspects of lockdown were normal…dare I say enjoyable. I could relate to this!  I know my Victorian friends really suffered though!

One course I did last year was Tracy Holmes’ Breakthrough Colour which continues soon. This is not a specifically polymer course and one of the strengths is the connection with artist from various backgrounds. Tracy turns your basic understanding of colour mixing on its head in a fantastic and practical way. For me anyway. Looking forward to a deeper dive!

I am also doing a course with  Christine Dumont who is, fortunately for me (whose High School French would not cut the moutarde), offering her online Materiality course in English!  It has only just started and already I am buzzing. This is one of the many things I love about this medium. I have been working in it for 30 years and am constantly surprised by how it can be used/ pushed/ treated/ combined. This course is taking me way outside my familiar places and I am loving it!

I am also virtually doing Signals, a Clayathon workshop with Anke Humpert!  I am intrigued to learn how to make a necklace that uses polymer clay for ALL the components. Anke is a master at exploring this kind of constructional stuff!! No need for generic chain, cords or ties! Or even my beloved coloured O rings! I love the ones in the necklaces photographed here. Just so….calm.

Anyway, enough for now. My own classes will start again soon and I have, in a burst of somewhat uncharacteristic organisation drawn up a 6 month program. I know. Incredible. Let me know if you want me to email it to you!!

Red and Green but it’s not Christmas…it’s my Tingri necklace

Hello you gorgeous, patient people and welcome to any of you who followed me from Instagram . I have a complex relationship with IG but that is very boring to read about so I won’t burble on! Suffice it to say this is a trial break that I may not return from.

I have completed a third necklace in the Tibet range. Regular (incredibly patient!!) readers will know the I have been creating some jewellery based on a trip we did to Tibet 20 years ago. You can read about the other pieces here and here. This one is the most traditionally Tibetan looking one in that it incorporates faux turquoise, coral and bone/ ivory.  I used faux techniques that are a mish-mash of those by darling Tory Hughes * and Irene Semachuk Dean.

One indelible image I have from the trip is arriving in a dusty highway town called Tingri. The road had been rough and we were all tired and suffering with varying degrees of altitude sickness.  We were craving a wash of any sort** and the sense of surreal that marked much of the trip pervaded. There was a moment of stillness when no Chinese trucks grumbled along the road and into that bizarre stillness, a rider on a horse suddenly thundered. A long turquoise earring dangled from one ear. One hand held the reins of the horse and the other was raised and out to the side in what seemed a caricature of Tibetan rider. He was so self assured. So effortlessly cool. and quite probably thinking about being neither of those things! He was most likely just wanting to get the shop before closing time!

I toyed with the idea of making myself a single long turquoise earring (and looking effortlessly cool and self assured) but how practical (or realistic) was that? There is still a potential necklace lurking in my brain but the necklace pictured is what emerged from lurking!  I wanted to incorporate a cloud motif…these Tibetan clouds are characteristic of the thangkas (religious paintings). It is a motif I use repeatedly. Clouds pass, sometimes we love them, sometimes we want them to disappear…but they just are. In meditation practice, clouds are often used as the image fro thoughts that pass through our mind as we sit. If we let them pass, they will.

I also wanted to include faux versions of coral and turquoise. I was inspired by the faux bone decoration of Kathleen Dustin and Luann Udell . I had a lot of fun making this one. I actually made 5 decorated hollow bone beads but decided three were enough for this piece. And I have worn it (and the matching earrings) quite a bit!! Hope you like it.

*Tory was a dear friend who died much too young. Read a little about her here.

**As it turned out, we had a suitably bizarre washing experience sharing a warm shower (the bliss) in a concrete box lined with pink fabric with the surprisingly clean looking Frank and Rachel from the Netherlands. They told us that Golden Earring was still popular. Listen to Radar Love and know why!