Uncharted waters ahead


Because the summer heat around here is so oppressive, I spend the summer months indoors staying cool with the air conditioner. It isn't until sometime in October that I venture back out into the garden for the next 8-9 months until the heat drives me back inside again. So during the summer months, I do an awful lot of soul-searching and pondering. I do a lot of pondering while I garden the rest of the year, but it is often a different kind of pondering that is more spiritual in nature. My summer pondering is that of a woman in "hibernation" and often has a "cocoon effect" on me so that by the end of summer I'm ready to burst forth like a butterfly ready to take wing.

This summer, I've done a great deal of soul-searching and self-evaluation during my months of hibernation. And in counsel with my best friend (who is also my sweet spouse), I felt brave enough to take a step into uncharted waters in my creative journey. So I applied to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to the Master of Fine Arts program in Illustration. A large part of me expected to not get in, but I knew I needed to at least go through the process of taking the risk.



My creative journey has been a circuitous one. I've been creating with a pencil in my hand since I was old enough to hold one (my mom has the home movies to prove it). Through some wonderful serendipitous circumstances, I was able to attend a public school in first grade that had an art program with a dedicated art teacher who taught her students (me included) how to draw still life at age 7! Now that I reflect back on it, I realize was an amazing and rare experience that was. As I got older, I plugged along through various public schools (we moved frequently during my childhood). By junior high and high school I was choosing to take art as an elective no matter what. I learned sculpture, pottery, drawing, painting, and just about every other medium you can imagine.

After high school, I dabbled in a few college majors before settling on Commercial Art and earned my Associates of Arts degree at a community college. I walked out of that program with the training to be a graphic artist and the portfolio to prove it. I went to interview after interview for creative positions. But no jobs materialized. My dream had been to work for Disney, so I even trekked down to L.A. for a couple of months trying to get a job there. It didn't happen. It seemed I was not destined to be a professional graphic artist. I ended up working in secretarial and data entry capacities in order to earn money (good thing my mom had strongly encouraged me to take typing and 10-key in high school).

After a few unfulfilling years working in administrative jobs, I decided to go back to school and earn my Bachelor's degree. I was drawn to Mills College and ended up in their Art History program. My two years there were an awakening for me as a 26-28 year old woman. I gained a lot of confidence and self-assurance there. I did a lot of writing for Art History and enjoyed it immensely. My professors said I showed promise and hoped that I would go on to get my graduate degrees in Art History as well. But I didn't. I had to go back into the workforce and earn money again.



"Corporate America" was a bit kinder to me after I had my Bachelor's degree. I was able to get work in project administration capacities. I tried to carve out "creative" niches in my work as a technical writer and computer trainer. I was always the one that got to do the office newsletters and flyers.

But my "real" art still remained in a portfolio and in a secret place in my heart. My creativity found outlets in the privacy of my own home. I never earned a living creating art. And it always seemed like a very sad disappointment that I felt I needed to hide. Sometimes I'd get brave and send a set of slides to a greeting card publisher. I even invested in having some cards printed up professionally but couldn't sell them to retailers. I let my inner artist slowly go to sleep in a place deep inside me.

I got married when I was 31 years old. Within months of getting married, my physical health deteriorated rapidly. I had been burdened with chronic pain since I was 15 years old, but no doctor was able to diagnose anything other than PMS. By the time I was 31, I became completely incapacitated. So my husband became the soul breadwinner in our home. I stayed home and thought it was a good opportunity to try to get creative again. I tried my hand at cross-stitching. Once (at the prompting of my brother when he gave me a beautiful wooden easel as a gift) I brought out my paints and a canvas and painted one painting. I gave away most of my art supplies to my brother who was in art classes at the time. I figured I was passing the torch on for good. All my creative pursuits were limited and very "safe" like embroidery and sewing. I couldn't venture to the place where I had taken risks a decade before. That was too scary.

A couple of years after I got married, we bought our house and I delved into the adventures of remodeling and renovation. My creativity found an outlet in home construction as I tiled, sheet-rocked, taped, textured, laid hardwood floors, and installed trim. It also found an outlet in the garden as I took our dried up lot and made it bloom into a drought-tolerant cottage-style garden.

After a few years of working on the house despite my chronic pain, I finally found a doctor that listened. A month after my 39th birthday, I underwent the surgery that revealed I had been plagued with a crippling case of endometriosis for over 20 years. I was given my life back. For me, life really did begin at 40. I spent the next 1-2 years healing my physical body. But my inner artist was still fast asleep.




It wasn't until the spring of 2007 on a vacation, when I started shooting photos on the beach that I realized there was a creative artist in me that, like Sleeping Beauty, was ready to wake up. However, because I have to allow myself to be slightly vulnerable when I create, I had to take things slowly and ease into it again. The more involved the creative method is (like painting), the more vulnerable I have to be to create. I had to take baby steps. I couldn't just jump back in with both feet. It was too scary.

First, I ventured into photography again because that was the safest place to start. I could shoot what I saw. With a digital camera, I didn't even have to worry about wasting film. If a shot didn't turn out, I hadn't taken a huge creative risk. I could just delete the image. I started dabbling in some post-processing techniques using Photoshop to get a little more creative with the photographs. But things still remained pretty safe. And it helped that I shot a lot of my images in my gardens and places that I loved.

Then after about a year of that, I started playing with some digitally produced art. I doodled using my computer and a newly acquired digital tablet. Creating that way was pretty safe too, because I could always hit "undo" or erase something. Nothing was really permanent.

I did that for a while, until I felt safe enough to get my sketchbooks back out and started sketching in them. One sketchbook hadn't been touched in over 10 years. This step was pretty hard. I found myself wanting to make every sketch be perfect. Sometimes, I would find myself paralyzed and unable to sketch anything because of the fear of sketching something wrong and not creating a "masterpiece" every time. It was very hard to make myself take risks in that sketchbook (it still is).

I also invested in a new set of watercolors (my original tubes from 20 years ago had dried up). I brought out my unused watercolor paper from 15 years before and started painting in watercolors again. I successfully took that step into a more vulnerable place.





Then my father-in-law passed away in April 2009. In his spare time, Dad was a very talented painter in acrylics and oils. After the funeral, my mother-in-law gave me all Dad's blank canvases, his vast collection of exquisite brushes, and his entire set of paints. I drove home with a mini art supply store in the back of our vehicle. I let the canvases sit for a couple of days, but they kept "calling out to me". In the midst of my grief, I knew Dad wanted me to paint something with everything I'd been given. I brushed the dust off that wooden easel my brother had given me 10 years before (it still looked brand new), and I made myself put a paint-laden brush to canvas. That was really hard. I couldn't hit the "undo" command when I was painting. It was just me, the brush, the acrylic paint and the canvas... and Dad, who I could feel quietly prodding me on. But once I got into the groove, boy, did it feel good.


Every step of the way, I felt myself getting closer to my artistic core--the place where I had to be willing to be vulnerable in order to create.

At the same time as I was taking up painting again, I also started taking floral design classes at our local adult education center. I am an introvert with some social anxiety, so going back into a classroom setting again with strangers was a huge step for me in my creative journey. I had to learn all over again how to allow my creative work to be critiqued; how to create in the midst of others observing my creative process; and how to make mistakes in front of an instructor and classmates. It was hard at first. But I persevered and can honestly say that I welcome those aspects of the creative process now. I actually thrive off of it.

It seemed inevitable that my next step would be to revisit the idea of pursuing my graduate degree after I had put that goal on hold for 15 years. I chose the Academy of Art University in San Francisco mainly because of it's online degree programs. Only a few years ago, the idea of being able to get an MFA in Illustration completely online was unheard of, and now the Academy of Art University is the pioneer in making it happen so an artist can earn an art degree and live anywhere in the world.

After I sent in my application, I braced myself for rejection, because rejection is what I've known when it came to the art that came from my core.

To my pleasant surprise, I received my acceptance letter to the Master of Fine Arts in Illustration last week! I will start the program the Summer semester of 2010 (just after I've completed my floral design certification program). This past week has been a week of letting it really sink in that this is real. The artist in me is finally fully awake again.

And now I'm taking a maiden voyage on uncharted waters. I hope you'll join me as I do. I'll continue to chronicle my artistic journey at the Dusting in Pearls blog while keeping this blog devoted to my adventures with home improvement and the garden. And I hope that somehow as I share, my experiences will benefit someone the needs to awake their inner Sleeping Beauty as I did.

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Harvest Moon

"Harvest Moon" Crescent Arrangement

Last week, my floral design classes started up again after a 2 month break for the summer. I was glad to get back into the swing of things. As my instructor and I reviewed what I had and didn't have in my beginner's certification portfolio (I had 24 arrangements and I need 30), it became obvious that two key arrangement types had been left out of our instructional packets--the "Crescent" and the "Hogarth Curve". And since vase and basket arrangements are the bulk of the demand at a florist, my instructor indicated I should do two more of each of those two.

So when I went to buy flowers for today's class, I had my mind set on doing a vase arrangement with a mixed bouquet of whatever looked good. But then when I got to the grocery store, they had these cool looking branches called "pumpkin tree" with little baby "pumpkins" dangling from them (I think they're a variety of pepper). That got my imagination churning and before I knew it I had come up with the idea of using a carved out pumpkin for the container instead of a vase.

Once I got to class, I asked my instructor what arrangement she would like to see me create to round out my portfolio. She suggested that I challenge myself and do a "Crescent" or "Hogarth Curve" with the pumpkin as the base. Well, I knew I had to do a crescent shape with all the autumnal flowers. It would look like a "harvest moon"! So that's what I did and I'm so glad I did--even though it did take me over 3 hours to complete it.
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Worth a second look...

Glowing azalea

"Glowing Azalea"

I've mentioned in previous posts how I'm very careful not to trash photos that seem to be "mistakes". I archive the "mistakes" along with the photos I like at first glance. Then very often, I will revisit one of those "mistake" photos (sometimes months later) and see it completely differently than I did the first time when I thought it belonged in the "mistake" category. That's what happened with the photo that eventually became the piece "Glowing Azalea" (above).

Here's how the shot looked "straight out of the camera" (also known as SOOC):


I passed it by as a "mistake" because it was too dark and the color of the azalea wasn't true to what my eye was seeing at the time I shot the photo. But over time, I've forgotten what the azalea really looked like and when I looked at the photo again I thought it looked promising because all my original prejudices had been forgotten.

So I processed the photo in Photoshop and increased the exposure to get this:


With just one setting adjustment the photo already looked presentable. Then I decided it was a great candidate to be altered into photo art.

In a CS3 Photoshop file , I had the azalea photograph as the first layer and then on top of that layer I added a new layer--a photo I took of a sidewalk:


I turned the sidewalk layer 90 degrees counterclockwise so it matched the azalea photograph in format. Then I re-sized the sidewalk layer so it completely covered the azalea photo.

With the sidewalk layer still selected, I went in the Layers menu and selected Screen. Then I reduced the opacity of the sidewalk layer to 30% opacity so it became more see-through. The texture of the sidewalk made the azalea photo look like a pastel drawing.

For final touches, I set my eraser at 10%. Using my digital tablet and digital pen, I gently erased small areas of the sidewalk layer to accent edges of petals and the stamens of the flower. And the final art photo "Glowing Azalea" was complete.

Moral of this story

I'm finding that lots of things in my life besides just the "mistake" photos are worthy of a "second look". Something I may have dismissed earlier in my life may have a different meaning, application, or relevance to my life now. Sometimes it requires a bit of tweaking and work, but the re-visiting process is often very worth the effort--both for photos and for the things of life.
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Battle of the Bougainvillea

Click on image above to view larger
"Bougainvillea" photographic art created using my own texture "Plum-berry Jam"
Click here to download the texture for yourself


Along the south side of the white picket fence that borders our front garden, grow a few bougainvillea plants. Every winter when the frost comes, I'm sure I've lost them but this particular one (above) has always come back even if it's had to send out shoots from the ground. When the radiating heat from the adjacent concrete driveway begins to intensify during the late spring, the bougainvillea rewards us by growing in waves and billows of tropical pinks and sherbet oranges. It reminds me of Hawai'i, icy sorbets, and things that make me happy.

The only problem is that those waves and billows also have 1 1/2 inch thorns in them AND they grow right into the driveway space where Hubby parks his car. For years, it's been an ongoing battle with the bougainvillea. I try to let it go as long as possible to get the gorgeous billows of blooms. But, eventually, Hubby starts to grumble because the long fast-growing branches are encroaching on his parking space. Then I finally acquiesce, and give it a "haircut" just as the flowers from the first bloom of the summer are fading and blowing away in the breeze like pieces of colored tissue paper.

The "haircut" never lasts very long. It always comes back and begins to impede on Hubby's car once again. This goes on repeatedly until the frost comes some time in December or January. If we didn't have a frost in the winter, it would bloom non-stop year-round. For the longest time, I've secretly felt like Hubby was happy when the winter frost would nip as the bougainvillea and make it retreat for a few months of dormancy.

This summer I finally found a solution so that Hubby and the bougainvillea could be friends. I put trellises between the picket fence and the bougainvillea so now it grows up instead of out. I don't know why I didn't think of this years ago. I guess I just didn't put my "thinking cap" on. Now I no longer have to deal with the battle of the bougainvillea.
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Waiting...


We've had artichoke plants in our garden for a number of years now. They grow as perennials here. Even though the harsh summer heat of August may make them die back to the ground, they'll sprout again as soon as the winter rains begin to replenish the thirsty soil. I've even seen artichokes growing wild on the hills around town, and they go through the same cycle that my own have done year after year.

It wasn't until I had artichokes plants of my own, that I discovered what an artichoke bloom looks like. If an artichoke isn't harvested to eat, it eventually blooms with a soft feathery center of electric blue. The bloom lasts a long time (several weeks in fact) before it turns white and downy so the seed can take flight in the wind.

Unfortunately, like many perennials, our artichoke plants got older and weren't producing the same quality produce as they had when we first planted them. I've waited and waited, putting off the day when I'd have to take them out. I let them bloom one last time this summer before I dug down into the dirt to pull out the massive roots to make way for a raised garden bed that I will be installing in that location.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll end up planting a new artichoke in that raised bed once I have it installed. Because for some reason, I find the prehistoric leaves framing the electric blue blossoms quite beautiful.
I've thought about the symbolism in an artichoke applied to life. Sometimes I think that I have to have something according to my own time line--a time line I've somehow figured out is the best timing for whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish. I have to "harvest" according to what I think the optimum time is to "harvest". But I've found that very often if I slow down a bit, apply some patience (very hard for me to do, by the way), and wait past when I think the "harvest" should be, I'm rewarded with a serendipitous outcome that is even more wonderful than I had envisioned when I was pushing for a self-imposed and self-constructed time line. Sure, I could have gotten a perfectly satisfactory result if I'd pushed for my original timing, just as a green artichoke freshly harvested is perfectly satisfactory. But the brilliance of the electric blue blossoms of life almost always require the patience to wait. And I've always found them to be worth the wait.
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The former "Danger Room" that is now the "Tiki Room"



To see photos of what the "Danger Room" looked like when we first bought our house click here.

Because the "Danger Room" was such a horribly ugly room when we first bought our house, it seemed fitting to transform it into a room that was fun and playful instead of a dark dungeon. Early on in the renovation process, I decided that since one whole wall of the room was the sliding glass door that exited out to our back garden, it should be decorated like a sun room or conservatory. The idea eventually grew into a post-WW-II-Hawaii themed look. As the room transformed, the name of "Danger Room" also needed to transform. Being huge Disneyland fans, Hubby and I ended up calling it the "Tiki Room".


Yesterday, I finally had the wherewithal to tackle sanding and resealing the floor in the Tiki Room. Although we installed oak floors years ago, they had been pretty beaten up with construction traffic over the years. So it was time for a spruce up.

I got a quick drying finish at Ace Hardware that dries to the touch in an hour (sometimes less). With a small hand-sander and this quick-drying stuff, I did the floor in patches so I could move the furniture around as I went. At around 7 pm last night, I finished the last patch (much to Hubby's amazement). Now I just have to do the same thing to the stair treads.


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"Our" hill


I've spent the first half of this week in a lot of reflection over a dear friend who passed away unexpectedly in the past week or so. I've had a chance to reflect on the amazing blessing of having others touch our lives. I am certain that, as individuals, we are often unaware of who we have influenced, inspired, and touched just in the course of living our lives. I think it is particularly difficult for quiet unassuming individuals to realize how much they may impact others just by being who they are.

When we first moved in to our house, we were particularly enamored with the semi-rural location. Even though the house is situated on a regular suburban street, the street actually ends in a cul-de-sac up against a hill. At the base of the hill is the county canal that carries water from one part of the county to another. And above the canal is an open rolling hillside that is owned by the oil refinery as buffer land around their storage tanks. Just over the hill are the waters of the straits that run out to the San Francisco Bay. Over time that hill has become "our" hill. With the security and protection it provides, it has become something we feel a fondness for and rarely take for granted.

The first spring we lived here, we were pleasantly surprised when we heard the lowing of cows up on "our" hill. We went out into the front garden and looked up the street to see the livestock grazing up there. Some were bellowing quite loudly. I was particularly thrilled to be so close to a rural setting--something I had longed for since I had spent time in a rural setting as a child.

Every spring, the cattle have lowed and sometimes bellowed. We've always welcomed the sound with an exchange of words like, "The cows are talking again."

It wasn't until just a couple of years ago that we were to discover that the cattle we were hearing belonged to a friend of ours. He told us that he leased the land from the refinery and used the pasture for a holding place for half-grown steer that had been weaned. The lowing and bawling would happen each time a new group of "teens" were moved into the pasture and would last for the first couple of days. Once we were aware that we knew the owner of the cattle, our fondness grew deeper for both "our" hill and the cattle grazing on it.

But for the past year, "our" hill has been quiet. The cattle have been absent. Our friend told us the refinery imposed added security restrictions on access to the land so he had to pasture his cattle elsewhere. "Our" hill has remained empty, and we've missed the lowing of new residents.

This friend is the friend that passed away in the past week or so.

Now that our dear friend has passed on to the other side "our" hill is a reminder of a meaningful friendship built on simple things like kindness, trust, a smile, and a handshake. The silence on the hill is even more poignant now. Every time I look up the street at "our" hill I will think fondly of a dear friend that led by quiet example, that loved without strings attached, and that epitomized the ideal of the western gentleman. And he would have humbly and unassumingly denied being all those things.

Just as we will never take for granted the security and protection "our" hill provides, we will never take for granted the blessing of having this man's life touch our own. Thank you, Bob.

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