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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.

Monday, January 29, 2018
Back in mid-summer my younger son, Ross Ticknor, came up with an idea for something he wanted us to do together--a podcast about art, the creative process, travel, and art business. He envisioned each episode as a conversation between the two of us, with an occasional interview conducted by me with a guest artist. With his knowledge of digital recording and editing (he has produced several audio books) he believed that we could do a professional sounding job. He felt that it would be a new way for me to connect with other artists and people who appreciate art. 

Ross is a convincing person and always has been--even as a little kid, he would go after things he wanted--not by whining or demanding--but by stating his well thought-out case calmly and reasonably. Although my reaction to his idea was mixed, and a bit hesitant, he won me over. I worried about coming up with content every week, and felt a bit of stage fright even considering the thought of my voice going out to unseen listeners, but I loved the idea of having an ongoing, collaborative and challenging project with my son. 

An early task was to find a name for the podcast. I half-jokingly suggested The Messy Studio (anyone who has been in mine or seen photos knows that is quite descriptive). We didn't seriously consider it though until we'd run through a number of other ideas that all seemed dull in comparison  At some point Ross said, "You know, I actually like The Messy Studio" and I realized that I did too. Although it's a bit quirky it also has some depth; while lots of artists manage to have very clean studios, in the big picture the creative process itself is rarely tidy or well-organized. And so the name stuck. 

Our first recording was made in August with both of us crowded into the walk-in closet at our house in Wisconsin (fabric is good for the acoustics). That location is still our main recording studio. When I'm in New Mexico, and Ross is back in Wisconsin, he uses the closet and I drape blankets around a corner of my bedroom. As Ross commented, "who would imagine that making blanket forts would be part of your professional life." Of course, we're hoping to upgrade to a more permanent recording location at some point. But it's good to realize that everything doesn't have to be ideal in order to launch a project. 

The New Mexico recording studio/blanket fort

The recordings that I make with other artists are less controlled in terms of background noise -- a truck roared by outside when I spoke with Jeff Hirst in his urban Chicago studio, the Irish wind and rain can be heard faintly in the recording with Joanna Kidney, and Kai Harper Leah's dogs occasionally added their comments from the next room. But for now, Ross and I accept these quirks and hope they add to the atmosphere and reality of the setting.

As I write this, we have six episodes available for listening, and the response has been very gratifying. We are approaching 2000 downloads, with over a quarter of these coming from more than a dozen countries outside the US. My talks with Jeff, Joanna, and a round table discussion with Randall Exon and Una Forde at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ireland are now online, while other artist interviews with Janice Mason Steeves and Nuala Clarke are in the pipeline. 

I've gradually begun to relax about the idea of my voice being heard by so many people--at first I sometimes lay awake at night after a recording wondering anxiously if what I'd said made sense, or if I might have offended someone or overstated a point. Fortunately, it is not a live show! But the truth is that is difficult to change the content. So far, what you hear is the total of what was recorded, minus some edited-out coughs and false starts.  Ross and I did ditch one entire episode in which we both sounded tired and unfocused. Our format is conversational, but we want to stay on topic, so we now use a rough outline of what we want to cover. 

Podcasting is a challenge in terms of allowing a conversation to evolve naturally while also keeping it on track. Making it coherent is very different than when I write, my usual means of online communication. When I write a blog post, I do a lot of deleting, cutting and pasting to produce a coherent flow. Obviously, in a recording, that cohesion has to happen in the moment.

Another thing I'm learning to be aware of is that in ordinary conversation there is a lot of drifting and rambling. People also tend to interject "OK" and "right" too often, interrupt each other, and laugh at odd moments. When you are caught up in a recorded conversation it can be hard to remember to not only keep it on track but to limit "ums", chuckles, and other unnecessary vocalizing. These can be very distracting in a podcast. 

My official Messy Studio portrait

Those are some of the practical challenges that we've been working on. However Ross and I both feel we're off to a good start, and overall the recording sessions are satisfying and engaging. Once things get rolling in a podcast session, I find that I enter an intense state of concentration in which I can almost see ideas as they weave together. Whether it is Ross posing questions to me, or me speaking with other artists, the focus on what is being said needs to be very strong. The conversation at times enters deep and revealing territory, with surprising insights that the people conversing had not realized. 

I find a special pleasure in interviewing other artists--hearing their unique stories and perspectives. It makes me realize how seldom in ordinary circumstances we take the time to ask questions of other artists, listen intently, probe into their process, explore their ideas. As one artist said to me, "how come we don't talk like this more often?" 

One of my goals for 2018 is to learn from other artists, past and current, through reading and watching interviews and documentaries. I can see that my own podcast will also be a way toward this goal, as well as helping me to be more articulate about my own art life. 

I invite you to listen to The Messy Studio and if you enjoy it, to subscribe, and to leave a ranking and comment on ITunes. We also appreciate your suggestions for topics that you feel would be if interest to a general audience of artists and art appreciators--just leave a comment.. 

Sunday, January 07, 2018
  memory and presence

Worn Away 
16" X 16", oil/cold wax/mixed media on pan

This morning I was immersed for awhile in Maria Popova's excellent weekly newsletter, Brain Pickings, a compendium of philosophical musings by writers from many perspectives, their common thread an investigation of what makes our lives rich and meaningful. Her post this week featured one of my favorite writers, the Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue. Clicking on one of the links, I was led to an excerpt of his writings on the role of memory in our creative lives. He wrote: 

It is crucial to understand that experience itself is not merely an empirical process of appropriating or digesting blocks of life. Experience is rather a journey of transfiguration. Both that which is lived and the one who lives it are transfigured. Experience is not about the consumption of life, rather it is about the interflow of creation into the self and of the self into creation. This brings about subtle and consistently new configurations in both. That is the activity of growth and creativity. 
I love this quote, acknowledging how closely my painting is tied to memories of wild places in the landscape, and the feelings I associate with them. It's the basis of the visual language that I've developed over the years, and has grown and changed with new layers of experience. 

What is it that allows some experiences to become integrated into one's deeper self--and so to become part of an ongoing and growing creative process? It may seem like a contradiction, but I think there is a connection to another philosophical belief, expressed by writers such as Eckhart Tolle--the importance of the moment, of the Now. When you're truly present in a moment, it seems to me that moment then becomes--as memory--part of your creative journey. 

I'm not thinking here of the kind of memories that are so significant they have an obvious imprint--a wedding, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one. It's the mystery of why some memories stand out in the more ordinary flow of life. As an artist, I'm especially curious about those that lodge in memory as visual impressions, combined with inner response of pure emotion. For myself, I realize that many of the memories that feed my work happened as a result of being very present, in the moment, and allowing what I was experiencing to push aside other thought and interpretation. Simply being and experiencing. 

I love it when what comes through in my work is not only conscious observation of colors and textures in nature, but also the more mysterious source of memory, a by-product of O'Donohue's "journey of transformation." Accessing these memories in a way that allows for creative interpretation, rather than literal depiction, is an ongoing challenge. It seems to happen best when I shut off inner narrative and enter a more intuitive flow. Memories can then become their essence of visual impact and feeling, They can also intermingle, form new connections, cross barriers of time and location and the constraints of labels and verbal descriptions.


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       Rebecca Crowell