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March 14, 2014: Artists at Work

To live with artists for a few days is a wonderful experience. I wish everyone could experience this. Fran and Sarah have added to this experience by talking at length with me about their work and their creative processes.

A month ago, I wrote about artistic drive and commitment. I mentioned Fran as being a good friend and also wrote about the wonderful work she does. I did not write about Sarah, who is equally driven and talented. This is because I did not know her as well. I am now as appreciative of Sarah’s work and good spirit as I am of Fran’s.

The two are artists, and their place is reflective of this. Their house is full of artwork, theirs and that of other artists. Birds, chickadees especially, are everywhere. Walls contain paintings, and cupboards contain mugs and plates.

Mother and daughter both work in several media and are both accomplished in working in these media. Several years back, I discovered that Fran was a photographer. At clinics, she’d stand quietly in the arena and take photos of the horse and riders. And a year or so later I discovered that Sarah’s artistic area of expertise was tundra wildflowers.

Pete and I visited the pair during winter of 2005. I then learned that Fran was also a Woodcarver. She showed me a kestrel she’d recently completed. I then did a double take for the bird was so lifelike that I momentarily thought it was real.

Fran’s artwork continued to materialize in other places – she did a beautiful painting of a friend’s horse that had recently passed away. And her artwork was prominently featured in the local birch bowl shop. One was of a muskox, another of chickadees.

I commissioned her to paint a kingfisher on a plate for my sister Eleanor. And most recently, she painted Siggy’s portrait on a plate, for Pete.

Now I am at their place, watching Fran and Sarah create. Fran is working on a salad bowl sized bowl – muskox will, when she’s done, ring the outside of the bowl. The muskox are all facing outward. They appear to be peaceful, gentle creatures. I have taken the bowl in hand, and turned it – what comes to mind is a herd in a circle, watching bystanders and watching out for their young.

Fran began her carving career by carving a wooden rocking horse for Sarah. She later carved two more, and eventually she moved on to birds, beginning by first making a wooden duck.

Sarah has been (as of late) working in polymer clay. The process of creating multi-colored earrings, necklaces, key chains, and the like is a very time consuming and exacting process. Sarah spent considerable time attempting to explain to me how she does this, and even gave me a demonstration. I still don’t fully understand the process, but it’s generally like this: she rolls and shapes the clay, then puts it through a pasta maker. She then makes rolls and combines rolls. Then she cuts the resultant slabs cross-wise. The resultant designs are quite beautiful.

Sarah also does photography, beadwork, and watercolors.

I felt at home amongst the pair because I enjoy being around artists who are committed to doing the good work they do. I also understand why they do what they do. Money isn’t and cannot be the determining factor. This is because we live in a world where mass production prevails. The payoff for living in a frugal fashion is that one gets to keep doing what they love to do, and also do so well. There is also a certain sense of self-satisfaction that comes in creating something that one initially envisioned.

I don’t have the literal or figurative three-dimensional vision of artists who work in differing media. Rather, I have the literal or figurative two-dimensional vision that’s needed to one medium, which is writing.

Fran and Sarah probably aren’t aware of it, but I, an outsider, got to see how the collaborative aspect of the artistic process feeds one’s work. The two were constantly commenting on one another’s work, and providing one another with very useful feedback. They were also, at the same time, very encouraging. So neither is working in a void. Here, I run ideas past Pete and vice versa. However, he is a technical writer and I am a creative writer, so we aren’t as are Fran and Sarah, close in terms of our artistic endeavors.

Neither Fran nor Sarah have taken formal art classes. However, both have biology backgrounds, which of course comes into play in both their powers of observation and their resultant work. They have figured out (on their own) how to work in the various media, which I find to be quite impressive. Fran says she goes by books quite a bit; this is how she figured out how to carve. Sarah says she gets a lot of ideas off the internet – but I noticed that she was equally bookish. Together we looked at a book by a woman who sculpts figures in clay. Unreal. The principles for sculpting, they are the same as for working in ice or clay.

Ice (I remarked) would not be as forgiving a medium as clay, nor as warm or pliable in the hands, to which Sarah readily agreed.

The pair’s lifestyle (fortunately) lends itself to what they are doing. Both Fran and Sarah have time for self-reflection and comptemplation, which enables them to figure out what it is that they want to do. This affirms what I’ve been thinking for some time, which is that art doesn’t just happen – rather, it’s the end result of inner work, which manifests itself in an exterior form.

This is all very complicated. I am fortunate to be amongst friends who are totally committed to and engaged in the creative process.

Next: 74. 3/15/14: The Writing Life: Meeting the Editor