Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saying Goodbye – Changes in store for Open Hearth Studio

I haven’t reached out through my blog or newsletter in the past few months or so because of some big changes my family and I have been contemplating. During the weeks that our situation was most uncertain, it felt like it would be unfair to current clients to create anxiety around changes that might not even happen. It was really important to me that they be able to hear the news directly before it became public knowledge. And, to be honest, to write about anything else except the intense process of making decisions and waiting for news felt like it would be really inauthentic. So instead, you got silence, for which I apologize.

As of August 2nd, I will no longer be serving clients at my studio. The “in-person” side of my practice will be closing at that time to allow me and my family to prepare for a move to the Greek island of Crete. We first became aware of this opportunity just ten weeks ago, and we’ve opened our minds and hearts to embrace it. While I am incredibly excited about this change, it comes at the cost of having to say good-bye to many parts of my life and work here in Victoria.

My husband will have a job there, and I will have the chance to reconnect with my own identity as an artist. I will be able to serve clients via video conferencing, but not under my qualifications as a Registered Social Worker. It feels really lucky that this move came along right at the time that I completed my years of studying to become a Spiritual Director through the Anamcara Project! You might want to know more about what that means, so I’ll be writing more about it in another newsletter soon.

Even if we haven’t been in touch in some time, this change is still an ending, and I imagine and regret that it might create a sense of loss. Every new ending recollects other endings in our lives, and as I say all the time, we just don’t “do” endings and transitions very well in this culture. I’m no exception. I wanted so badly to do it well, and get the news out “the right way” (whatever that could possibly be!) that I created a lot of tension for myself and for those people who did know and have been there to support me and my family through the waiting and uncertainty. We are making the leap into public knowledge now, however, even with many questions still unanswered and quite a few bureaucratic hoops still to jump through. I figure, if nothing else, I can at least work through this change out loud from here on, and we’ll see what happens!

My hope is that you will wish to continue to accompany me on this next adventure through the newsletter and my blog. I honestly don’t know what it will look like. I hope there will be lots more of my own art, definitely lots of photographs, and maybe more writing!

My deepest thanks for hanging out with me here, and many blessings to you.

-Frances

P.S. Here is a photo of a small chapel built right on a spit of land into the Mediterranean near where we’ll be living. And some felt vessels I’ve been making, trying to catch the blues… I think I’ll get better at it once I’ve seen the colour in person!

Felt vessels

Focus and Framing in Art and Life

Framing and Focus – How we look at the picture

After a break from taking and posting photos every day for 100 days, I discovered that I missed it a bit, so I asked myself what that was about. What came to me was that I missed choosing what to focus on in each photograph. It was stimulating each day to challenge myself to look at very familiar surroundings and to find an unfamiliar way of looking at them. Certainly there were mornings when I resented the “have to” feeling that I set up for myself. But almost every time I would move through that feeling into one of accomplishment, especially on days when I managed to surprise myself with something I hadn’t seen before.

The two words that came up for me as I thought about this were framing and focus. I’m using them in a non-“art-speak” kind of way, but it’s useful to at least look at what the capital-A Art world means by them. Framing is what an artist does to bring the viewer’s focus to something in the picture. It is about deciding what the viewpoint is, for instance, a lone tree might be framed by a wide, open field in a photograph, or a figure might be hunched in the lower corner of a painting. The framing can elicit a particular emotion from us, or hint at the intended meaning of the art.

What we choose to look at

For me, both framing and focus are about asking what gets included, what gets left out, what gets highlighted or emphasized. Why

choose this view over that one? When I take a picture focused on the blossoms, I’m allowing myself to get fascinated by them and ignoring the roots or bark. By shooting a close up of the grain of the wood in a fence, I have decided that the function of the fence doesn’t matter. Context drops away because of the tightness of the frame I’ve chosen.

Even a broader, landscape view will tell only part of the story. If I focus on the mountains across the Straight of Juan de Fuca, capturing both the ocean below and the sky above, you’re going to pay more attention to the relationship between the elements of the photo. The mountains seem to emerge from the sea to jut almost immediately into the sky – it will feel grand and impressive. No matter that in reality if I were to take the ferry over there I’d have to pass by boarded up buildings, road construction, and billboards before rising into the slopes of the Olympics.

The focus we choose determines the story that is told.

Focus and framing happen in other art forms too. This is even true in written and verbal art. A novel is usually written from one particular point of view. We could call that the framing. The author chooses what to tell us, and when. Some modern writers play with this, and tell old stories from an alternate point of view! (for instance Wicked by Gregory Maguire, or The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood) But in any story, we can always ask, which perspective is the writer asking me to look at this from? What is being left out of the story?

Focus and framing are everywhere. When you paint a picture, you can compose it in such a way that the eye naturally wants to settle somewhere in specific. And of course there is the actual framing of a picture, or the cropping of it. And this is something that can be great to play with in our own art.

Here’s a fun focus and framing exercise!

If you’re like me, not everything you make comes out the way you wanted. I always have have a number of pieces lying around that, for one reason or another, just don’t quite satisfy me aesthetically. Here’s something I sometimes do with them other than toss them directly in the “cut up for collage” bin or paint over them.

  • Take a piece of art that you perhaps don’t like so much as a whole. If you don’t have one, you can also do this with photographs in magazines.
  • Make two L-shaped pieces of card stock or cardboard. You might even want a few                                                   pairs in various sizes.
  • Play with using them to isolate certain parts of the art.
  • Can you find a focal point you like best? Can you frame it in such a way that it has a new or different meaning to you?
  • You can cut a segment out of your piece and use it in a new way – if it is small, perhaps it can be the front of a card, or put in a smaller frame, or used as an inspiration for a whole new piece!

Sometimes our lives need this kind of attention too. Are there places in your life that you need to “zoom in” on and see more closely? Are there situations that need more context included? Or that need reframing from a new perspective?  What do you habitually leave out when you tell your story? Is there something hiding just out of sight of the lens that could use your focus?

If  loss or change has knocked your life out of focus and you need help finding a way through the turmoil, I can help. Click here to contact me for a free consultation. You don’t have to cope alone. Video appointments available.

 

 

What Clay Taught Me About Shame

I’ve been rehydrating some clay

ClayIt has been sitting in my supply cabinet for over a year. It was once a gorgeous cube of perfectly wedged high-fire clay with the potential to become anything. Due to some serious laziness, inattention, procrastination and denial on my part, it eventually became a solid, bone-dry lump of something fit only to hide in the back of the garden until it washed away with the rain (along with my shame.)

FrancesBryant-Scott Clay SculptureThe resuscitation process is not a pretty one.

There are appallingly biological sounds as the lump slurps and farts while it absorbs the water it’s soaking in. The part of me that resembles a 9 year old boy finds it hilarious. The rest of me is a middle aged woman who is mostly embarrassed at having left the task so long, and feeling the burn of old shame because, once again, I let an artistic pursuit drop that used to give me a lot of joy, before ever getting really good at it.  Old messages like “Frances never finishes what she starts,” and “I’ll never be more than an amateur at ANYTHING,” burble up to the surface, squishing and popping like the bubbles in this clay.

Of course, that’s what shame is like, isn’t it?

If we don’t deal with it, it sits there like a lead weight in our hearts. We tuck it away in a cupboard, hoping that if we don’t look at it, we won’t feel it. Unfortunately, that just never works. We walk around with it on our shoulders, like a heavy, tantrum-prone toddler, and if anyone notices or asks a question, “Gee, is that clay? Do you make pottery?” we’re liable to bite their head off. “Leave me alone! Stop pressuring me!” We’re afraid to deal with it head-on, because we’re afraid it will make a whole lot of noise (and sometimes a smell!) when we bring it out into the light – or in the case of my clay, into the sink.

Healing Shame

Well, you know me and my love of metaphor. Working with this lump of hard clay over a long, messy week, I started to get into it. It’s great stuff! I got to remember what I liked about it in the first place, and the voices of shame began to back off a bit. My wonderful realization was that there was nothing essentially wrong with the clay. Once rehydrated, it is what it always was – good, clean, simple earth. And just maybe I’m what I always was – a simple human being. I start things and finish some of them. I’m always going to be a learner – and “amateur” means “lover,” and there’s not a darn thing wrong with that!

I’m so happy I pulled it out of the cupboard and didn’t hide it in the garden.

Poetry as a Meeting Place

heartswirlPoems have the capacity to be so many things.

From silly limericks to the grand historical sonnets, to the rawest spoken-word poetry-slam creations, they are used to communicate an incredibly wide array of feelings and intentions. I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately. I use it frequently in my small groups and in my own life as a starting point for thinking, talking, and making visual art. It’s a beautiful way to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside of us, without staring straight at ourselves, and maybe scaring ourselves off.

While the writer of a novel can take hundreds of pages to say what needs to be said, a poet is trying to distill the essence of a feeling, thought, or experience into something small and concentrated. Imagine a mad scientist hunched over a bunsen burner, watching liquid in a flask bubble up through coiled pipe until a mere dribble of something more precious comes out the other end.

So few words, to express something immense like love, or loss. The fascinating thing is how much space there is – infinite universes of space – between those few words. They allow me to see my world, and you to see yours, all the while also containing the poet’s world. I think poetry is a lot like visual art in that way. I can draw something – let’s say a flower. What I might mean by that flower, and what you might feel or understand on viewing that flower, can be miles apart, and yet we can be together in compassion while looking at it.

I’d like to share a poem with you here, one of my favourites. It’s called Love After Love, and was written by Derek Walcott. It was published in 1976. Here it is.

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I read joy in this poem, and a promise that I can find myself – that I am always, and still, there to be found. I’ve read it different ways on different days. For today, I’m mostly playing with the idea that I’m reading it at the same time you are (or pretty close!) I’m enjoying the picture of an imaginary space where all our possible meanings are meeting together for a moment. Hmm… I wonder what that might look like?

mixcolours

Acceptance and the Unexpected

audreynov2016I’m pretty sure I owe you all some news. I’ve been asked off and on for the past few months, often tentatively and apologetically, whether my dog Audrey was still alive. I wrote some months ago about the expectation that she would die soon because of an inoperable cancerous tumour. It’s a funny thing, expectation. When a vet (or a doctor in human medicine) tells you that illness has taken hold and that death will come immanently, you tend to make plans based on the numbers given. “You have about six more good months; you should do what you can to wind up your affairs and make every day count.” “She’s close to the end, you should come and visit now while she’s still lucid.” Or in my case, back in March, “July’s a really long time from now, for her, I don’t think you will be needing a pet-sitter for that trip you have to take.”

July was four months ago, and while I still think in terms of “will she be here for (whatever the next holiday or visit is)?” I have become pretty used to Audrey still being here. We joke that she is “the dog that never ends, yes she goes on and on my friends…” like the children’s song that goes around and around (and never ends). Under the joke though, is the sure knowledge that one of these days we’re going to have to go through whatever her death will look like. I am reminded of a line in an obituary (and I’m not sure if this is a real memory, apocryphal, or from my own imagination) that says someone died “suddenly, after a long illness.” That’s what it feels like. We can expect the inevitable, but no matter what, somehow it still manages to sneak up and grab us by surprise. And so we waver, caught in that gap between expectation and acceptance.

So I’m writing this little piece to simply let you know, Audrey is still here. She’s even slower, has the same temper, and the same sweetness that lies just under her skin if you take the time to let her show it. I have to help her up and down the stairs, but she still seems to be happy to be a dog, despite her limitations and occasional limp. For whatever reason, she perfectly happily munches up her various pills without needing the bribe of a treat. We suspect she’s trying to make up for her old habit of snapping before thinking. Good dog, Audrey.

Musings on Autumn Changes

The smell in the air, the changing colours, the shorter days, all reminders of the inevitable turning of the world…

And of our own changes…

OneLeafWhen I walk on these cooler mornings with my dog, I am finding myself unexpectedly grateful for her advancing age. She doesn’t pull ahead, and has the patience to allow me to fiddle with the camera in my phone, as I try to capture bits of beauty.

I have not always appreciated autumn changes. In fact, I think I’ve had whole decades where my only emotional association with the  fall is dread at the coming winter. Possibly that’s because I truly despise being cold. More probably, though, it may be because sometimes I’ve simply been less open to the whole notion of endings and letting go, and as you know, I’m a very metaphoric person!

 So today I made a conscious effort to look for the beauty of change on my walk.

Autumn Fungus

I saw some things I just don’t notice during the summer months. I’ll probably do some searching on Wikipedia later to find out whether that fungus is always around, or if it’s just a seasonal guest at the bottom of the tree in the dog park. But regardless of the biological reality, for me it’s something new in the midst of all the other things dropping away like the foliage. It was a chance to get on my knees and really look, to take the effort to see if it was more than “just brown.” When I’m not paying attention, I risk seeing everything in our Pacific Northwestern fall as “just brown” and end up feeling blue! (Isn’t colour-language yummy?)

New among the old, ripe fruit next to fallen leaves, life living itself in full colour!

DewDandelion

 

I wish I had successfully captured the blackberries this morning- a word painting will have to suffice. Everything is on the same branch. There are berries that have already dried into darkened husks, ready to drop their seeds for next year’s crop, right next to some that are still pale, hoping for a last burst of warmth to bring them to ripeness. When I find one that looks still perfectly full, I pop it into my mouth, oh so conscious that I may be disappointed by bitterness or the fuzzy taste of over-ripeness! But daring to try. A good one today! Was it my last chance? Maybe. I’m glad I dared.