An Art and Life Blog
Of African origin, the word MOJO refers to a magical charm or spell. I believe the arts are the best mojo out there.
My mojo went missing this past year. Thankfully, I have managed to find it again. For the most part, I’ve always been a happy lady, grateful for the life I’ve lived and open to what comes next, but Covid and personal loss left my tank unprecedentedly low. There were no magic cables to jumpstart my enthusiasm. The charge would build slowly, with some active attention. My eyes searched for anything beautiful, especially in unexpected places.
There were a few daily habits that weren’t helping, and I swapped them out for more yoga, better food, and lots of water. It’s all connected of course. My sprinter van pointed West and I let it take me. It was loaded with art books, my paint gear, and my devices. After a full day of driving I parked and started to scribble on my iPad with no active concept in mind, just me and my pen, ‘dancing’ to the music. I found it delightful, unexpectedly so. It was a magic cable of sorts… extremely relaxing, fun on my eyes, and a very simple way to get my flow going. It was a good start. Click on the image and watch the flow go…
I reached out to an artist who I studied with long ago, and who’s paintings I really admire – Quang Ho. I asked if I could see his work in person. Graciously, he invited me to his studio. I stood in front of his work and studied the flow and color and texture. He also seemed to dance around his canvas, throwing his own soul out there in a way that almost seemed random, but with an underlying value structure that was so calculated. His compositions would lead my eye in wide swaths and then direct it with a few crisp strokes that said LOOK HERE, and then lead me somewhere else, and on and on, until I was the one dancing around his canvas. I left his studio feeling grateful for the opportunity to be in it, and inspired to add some of that freedom and pointed energy into my own work.
I called another artist who I studied with years ago, and who I’ve called a friend ever since, Simon Kogan. We talked about life and art, and the passing of time. We laughed about a lesson on value he tried to teach me two decades ago that I was too impetuous and impatient to learn. Simon wished me well on my travels and sent me a tube of medium that he cooks up in batches and shares sparingly. It’s packaged in an unmarked white tube that has “shake well, don’t squeeze” hand written in Sharpie across the face of it. I think the unmarked gel must have made the post office nervous. It arrived over a week late in Lambertville and my husband sent it along to meet me in Florida. It arrived four days late in Florida and friends sent it along to meet me in Idaho. It caught up with it here.
Teton Valley, Idaho is a vast valley that sits beneath the Grand Teton Mountain Range. We lived here for almost a decade when our babies Aidan and Liam were young. They have both grown up and relocated back to this beautiful place, feeling most at home when the Teton mountain range is in sight. Seeing their sweet grown up faces again, and being able to hug them was priceless. My husband Tom flew out to meet us for a week. We spent our nights around boisterous family dinners and campfires, and our days working to help them with whatever they needed. This included some mechanical work for Tom. For me it meant FingerSmearing my first vehicle. Aidan’s uncle loaned her a camper-van for indefinite use under two conditions – get it running, and paint something cool on the outside of it. We did both. Videos on that coming soon.
Tom flew home and took the warm weather with him. The rain started and lead its way to snow and hail, interrupted by bursts of clear skies and sunshine, followed by more rain – as is the Teton Valley springtime. I called another friend and great painter who lives in the valley, Scott Christensen. He knew the weather was not going to cooperate with my plein air painting plans and he invited me to work in his studio for a few days. Scott is also working to launch a virtual workshop. We talked about the learning curve, and the opportunities this digital world affords us to teach from anywhere. I looked at the field guides he creates to farm ideas – they are filled with images, pencil sketches, simple lines, value thumbnails, and complex but oh so subtle color pallets. He’s taught me a lot over the years about dedication to practice, and he lives it everyday. Scott worked with his editing team, and offered me his easel. I ‘danced’ along my canvas feeling grateful for the warm dry place to paint, Scotts easel, Simons medium, Quang Ho’s flow, and the many masters I’ve had the good fortune to study with, and call friends.
My energy at the easel is back and my desire to turn ideas into art bubbles up higher each day. My minds chatter of indecision is quieted by the journey of making art and the practice of allowing the exploration. An infused sense of peace and curiosity has returned to my days, and my mojo is flowing. It allows me to sing out loud at the risk of looking silly. It gives me the strength to feel calm in a hectic world. It offers a love of life in the emergence of grief. It’s an affair with myself, a dance with the universe, and a deep appreciation for sight, sound, taste, and touch. My creative mojo is a witness to the grace of humanity, in spite of our innumerable flaws, and I am happy to be here, making art, and dancing on canvas.
I rambled through the private roads of Pocono Heights Lake Community searching for a long driveway and a house shaped like the one I remember from my youth. I found one that was similar in form but with a much shorter driveway. Perhaps it just seemed so much longer when I was a kid. It was the boundary line of course, and it took my little legs a bit to reach it. The tether ball and home made zip line were long gone, but the garage that held the gremlin they never drove was in the right place. The shape of the place seemed the same, everything else had changed. Smiling, I thought of Shmo, the fat cat – Brown Cow ice cream – thier coin bowl – her colored jar of rocks, and her favorite painting mantra – “don’t be shy with the paint”.
Headed down the mountain and over the creek, I pointed west to the farmlands of Lancaster, PA. Letting my eyes soak in the rolling hills and the whispers of spring aching to shout out their beauty, a calm filled me and I sang along as the tires rolled on.
Harvest Host is a platform that lists farms, wineries, and breweries where you can park an RV for the night. I’m seeking out the farms this time around, as avoiding the beer and wine is part of my own personal Mojo rejuvenation program. Tannery Run farm hosted me for two days. They grow corn, sunflowers, and wheat. I woke up and walked the fields of last years sunflower crop. The crops of corn and sunflowers are rotated and the beautiful flowers, in their demise, nourish the soil for the following crop of corn. So many parallels here…
The owners mentioned swings that hang from a tree in the old grove down the creek. My early morning stroll through the sunflower fields landed me there. The sound of the birds seemed hypnotic, as if I had slipped into a time long past, a guest in a secret scene. Their songs grew into a vibrant cacophony as if they were all singing to a different song, and then they abruptly stopped. Perhaps they were putting on a show. Perhaps they were warning of my intrusion. I let the swing sway me, closed my eyes and listened as they slowly resumed.
My paints were in my bag but I wanted to eliminate any expectation of creating something great. The shapes created by light coming through the trees and warming the spring ground were so beautiful. I decided to keep it simple and just play with the shape of things.
The exercise was peaceful, and without any harsh judgement. I simply set out to please my own eye. That’s all. Free to erase. Free to copy nature, and free to shift the shape of it if that’s what felt good to me. This balance of dark and light is the skeleton of any great painting, and I’ll move on to that eventually. Technically, it’s called the NOTAN of a painting – it’s like the poetry of it in its most basic form. For now, that’s enough for me. I’ll find my own poetry as I play in the simplicity of shifting shapes in what ever way pleases me.
Part of this journey was to understand how I could teach a painting class for beginners in an online environment. How could I translate the desire to see and create more beauty, and teach the technical steps to help minimize roadblocks – over the internet? Generally, I can throw out that vibe in a wonderfully contagious way that inspires students to grow more joy by using the arts. The added challenge of my own mojo feeling flat made this prospect seem daunting, and I questioned my ability to do it. But I’ve shifted the shape of things and my vision is clearing up. My mojo is surely growing.
My pour-over coffee seems like heaven, and I have no real agenda today. Not one that I have to stick to anyway. I would like to head over to the Poconos and try once again to find the little house my grandparents lived in. It was not fancy, but it was surrounded by trees, and there – my grandmother introduced me to paint. Her husband Luther died in 85 and my parents moved her to a facility because a stroke left her without the use of 1/2 her body. She was still strong-minded, and she was pissed. She lost her husband and was moved out of her home against her will. I tried to fight for her independence. I suggested she move in with me. I was living in a small row house in Lambertville, NJ and I wanted to help. It would have been more than I bargained for, I’m sure. My father said he would never come to visit me again if she was living in my house. She abandoned him as a kid by divorcing her alcoholic husband and leaving my Dad to live with him, while she kept his older brother Jimmy. Still something I can not fathom… but she did it. My mother forced a reconciliation for the sake of her kids – and I’m grateful for that, though I’m pretty sure my Dad would have been equally ok leaving her in his past. She took to me, and I took to her. She was creative and fun. She helped me make things. I felt special around her. She died in a nursing home. So did my Dad. I hope I’m fortunate enough to break that cycle. I would rather die in my van – not for a very long time of course. But free. As free as living can be, anyway.
Right now I’m surrounded by things that make me feel safe. They are manageable and in order. Everything I need is at an arms reach and I don’t have to wonder if it will be there tomorrow. It will be. There is no long-term plan in here. There is only me, and my books, and my paint – and my MacBook, which in its modern way keeps me connected to you. It’s nice to know you are there or imagine that you are and that I’m talking to someone other than myself.
I lost my mojo this past year. I know I’m not alone. Covid took a lot, so did our political landscape. It’s nearly impossible to know what’s true anymore, and our gut is not always right. I used to wake up excited to see what the day would bring – to build things. Lately, I wake up tired. Frustrated. Sad. Full of self-loathing and bloated by the after-effects of a little red wine for too many nights in a row. Connection? Perhaps… Still, I manage to get a move on and produce, so it must not be that big of a deal. But it is, because it’s pervasive, and in modern life – nearly impossible to get away from.
My big ass van is going to help me soothe my soul for a bit while I give myself the time and space to focus on growing something small – my mojo. I’ve called myself an Arts Crusader for many years because it is the through-line in all that I do. I’ve been sticking up for the power of art and the importance of play my whole life. I like the way it feels, and I think feeling good is important. I’ve seen the arts shift the landscape of communities all over the world. It’s time to employ them more actively. Not just for my sake, but for the sake of peace and happiness on this planet. Let’s share some color, harmonious and delicious color. Xo