The Road: Part 8, The Long Road Home

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

Monday, March 16: Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California

The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California

Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.

Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California

We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.

Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona

Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.

Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.

Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument

Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.

We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.

We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.

We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.

Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.

I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”

We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.

New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.

Or… a wildlife refuge.

Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska

Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.

Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.

Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?

Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.

Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?

We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.

Hoped to shower. Dashed.

Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.

My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.

News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.

Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.

News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.

Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.

News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.

Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.

Essay: Understanding

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, Thoughts

If you have followed along this far I’m sure it is clear I struggle with my identity as an artist. I’m using both my time traveling across country since October 30th and the 100 Day Project to focus on developing my artistic voice and understanding my motivations. And along the way completely muddling up my website. Your welcome reader.

Today I had a breakthrough. It started two days ago really. I posted a piece of bird wing on Instagram. At first I was going to stop myself out of fear of losing my audience. Instead I went ahead. I decided I need to be authentically me and that includes sharing my inner world. I added a caption about how I saw beauty in life cycles.

That started it, but I didn’t know it.

I’ve been reading books about artists, following art blogs, going to galleries, museums and listening to art related podcasts. You know, immersing myself. Out of this came the idea that there is a thread in my life, specific to my experiences that can inform my work. Other artists could point to childhood memories that easily intertwined with their adult artworks.

I just could not see it.

I always felt like I had to make a choice. And each choice would be leaving behind an aspect of creating that I enjoyed. If I chose painting, I’d have to let go of blockprinting. If I chose drawing I’d never paint. If I did trees, I couldn’t do animals. If I tried a new medium it wouldn’t fit with the rest of my work.

I was missing what my work has been about entirely.

Entirely.

From dead trees, ravens, crows, up-cycling, cats, decaying buildings, dying saguaros, desert vistas, water, spiral symbols, animal bones, skulls, gardening, seasons, the mysteries of world religions, even attention to textures and certain aspects of Japanese culture it’s been about life cycles. And importantly life out of death.

But why?

Perhaps because the day I was born, October 30 (the same day we departed) was the one year anniversary of my Grandmother’s murder. I grew up with that as the dinner conversation for years. My father never got over it. My aunt wrote a fictionalized book inspired by it (absolutely worth reading: available here!). I’d say it was the single most defining event of my childhood.

Then during my twenties, when I most needed to lean on my father for support to go back to school, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He made poor life decisions, leaned on me, and I spent five years watching him die slowly before the real end when I watched him suffer for weeks and eternal days. He didn’t know where he was, let alone who I was. I had a complicated relationship with my Father. It took time to understand his imperfect humanity. When the time comes to say your final goodbyes to a parent or someone with a terminal illness, you too will find complex feelings hidden away to deal with.

After that I chose to work in home health for two years and a nursing home for over four years. (After college I felt no inspiration to do art, until the ink doodles started compulsively taking over and I couldn’t ignore my creative needs anymore). I wanted to give to others the peace I had from knowing my father was cared for. Being close to death was somehow being close to my father. Giving comfort and kindness to the sick and dying was giving it to him, in a way.

For a long time, unconsciously, my art work has been about life after death. Life from death. Beauty in death. I just didn’t know it. I don’t need to change what I’m doing. I just needed to understand it. I can accept and embrace the materials, media and subjects that speak to me. And know I’m giving something to the world uniquely mine that I can be proud of.

Social Media For the Artist: A Personal Campaign of Learning or Sharing Tools

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, process, Thoughts

In this age no business can ignore the uses of the internet and social media. I don’t believe artists should either. They would be leaving too much free knowledge on the table. I began using social media for promoting my art work about four years ago, around the same time I decided to get serious about creating and thrusting my work into the world. I’ve had my frustrations and trials with different social media venues and how to make them work for me. There was this grand time when everything was chronological and everyone was happy. Then they started with the bedeviled algorithms. I came into the game after those.

Instagram:

Instagram is the big one for artists. (Your welcome, your friend Captain Obvious). How do you grow your audience without playing the games or joining a pod? (A pod for those of us not in the know is a group of people who get together and pledge to like and comment on each others posts. You can find them somehow on Reddit.) The games I refer to are liking a bunch of accounts hoping some will like you back and then deleting them a few days later. Or the ones who create ghost accounts. Some people have a lot of time. And now you know why your numbers randomly drop. You were followed by ghost accounts and/or accounts that were playing a numbers game. And who knows what other reasons.

What am I doing? I’m not getting thousands of followers. But I am getting genuine engagements and slowly growing my audience. Does this matter?

  • Art Sales: People reach out when they see something they love. The more people I’m reaching the more potential for this to happen.
  • Driving Traffic Back to my website: I’m Building towards this. I want to make it easy for people to find it and go there.
  • Instagram Stories: Many artists use these to effectively show behind the scenes of their work. Artists Brook Shaden and April South-Olson use their stories effectively this way. Lately I’ve been showing vignettes from my travels and things that interest me.

What am I doing?

  • Frequency of posting
    • This does seem to impact engagement…
    • I post every day
    • Friday and Saturday have less engagement, I still post
    • There are apps to assist with scheduling posting, I enjoy putting it out in real time.
  • Using hashtags.
    • Liking other peoples posts that use the same hashtags I’m using. Commenting. Engaging with them. This often results in solid follows and I follow back.
    • Check out other hashtags. People follow hashtags. Explore your options.
    • Create your own hashtag. I used my name. No one has my name. Now all of my posts are searchable under my name. I learned about this from following marketers on LinkedIn. (More about that later).
  • Likes
    • When a new account likes my post I check out their account in return. This organic engagement also results in new follows and follow backs.
    • I continue to make sure I’m supporting my followers by liking and commenting on their posts. Especially artists. These engagements are so important to us and help us reach our audience thanks to the algorithms. Think of the algorithm as a fog, and the engagement as a way of clearing up that fog for our work to be seen.
  • Location
    • I started putting my location in as well because people search by location.
  • Tagging Instagram Photos
    • If you tag them, they’ll show up under another account. Another way to be visible.
    • I just tagged my most recent post with Kitt Peak National Observatory
  • The Facebook Link
    • I have my Instagram linked to my Facebook Page, two for one posting
    • I don’t worry about having different content. They are generally a different audience.
  • Who am I following?
    • Big Galleries
    • Small Galleries
    • Call for art #
    • Gallery #
    • art gallery #
    • Michigan artist #
    • Art Critics
    • Artists
    • Accounts I engage with
    • Friends

Facebook

Love it or hate it our friends and family are there. I set up a separate page for my art at the start. I don’t know if that was for the best or not. I have 400 followers and less than 100 see an average post. This is why engagement matters and means so much. When 6 out of 100 people like that post no one new sees it and FB offers me the chance to pay for people to see it. Do you want to turn to give aways and gimmicks? For now I’m letting it ride.

How do I use Facebook:

  • I engage with everyone who comments. I like their comment and try to comment back.
  • I shamelessly like my own post. I do this on Instagram too. Something I’ve learned from LinkedIn.
  • If I put the location in correctly in Instagram it’ll tag the correct FB page when it posts. More than once I’ve had a reposts from places we’ve been enjoying my photos. Which lead to growing my audience.
  • I also try to support my artist friends on FB. We are all just trying to make our work visible.

LinkedIn:

Undervalued Asset that I am diving into.

How am I using it:

  • LinkedIn is a digital business card: My information is complete and up to date.
  • I post my blogs and other content. I’m still feeling it out, so far I’m learning more from following people than getting engagement back.
  • Follow, connect, engage with professionals.
    • Who? For me I’m interested in people I can learn from:
      • Gallery Owners
      • Artists
      • Art Critics
      • Art Directors
      • Marketers
      • Digital Marketers
      • Brand Strategists
      • Artist Mentors
      • Art Managers
      • Gallery Curators
      • Job Recruiters
      • Kristy Bonner… incredible content for anyone
  • I just recently started feeling out LinkedIn as more of a resource. And there are professionals on there foaming at the mouth to connect with others. Sharing brilliant information. You just have to be willing to block a few shirtless men and bitcoin miners who want to send you private messages.
  • LinkedIn Learning: They also have courses. In whatever interests you. If you are lucky you can nab one for free as they come along. Or, you can do the free month trial. The ones I’ve watched were great.

Pinterest

Pinterest has fallen by the wayside for me. I did enjoy collecting images and ideas. Once they started advertising I stopped visiting. At one time I was inserting images of my art onto my boards to see if they generated any sales on Etsy or lead back to my website. They did make it onto some boards. No sales. Something I experimented with, but wasn’t for me.

Twitter

I do not use twitter for art. I attempted. It went nowhere. I made one artist contact through Twitter. They periodically take commissions amidst their political comments. This works for them. But they also have thousands of followers. I had 22. I have since connected with them on Instagram.

Tik Tok

Word on LinkedIn from the Digital Marketers is this is it right now. Get on board. I don’t know how for a 2-D visual artist…

Blog

The blog is a way to collect my thoughts together in an accountable way I wouldn’t otherwise do.

The blog can be shared on LinkedIn, on Facebook, in different Facebook groups, Instagram, and email.

A blog doesn’t have to be complex. It is whatever you want it to be. But it is your content to share to your social media to bring back to your website. Your original content.

Other

It’s important to continue to test the waters of new platforms. They may not work out. I’m going to tell us all right now sticking with Facebook and Instagram because that’s where everyone is now, is not going to serve us. Artists go to the roads less traveled. They go were the neighborhoods are less hip and make them hip. Why would it be any different for us online?

New Years Intentions (Resolutions) For the Artist:

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, process, Self Reflection

Organize

One of the best things I did was organize for living on the road. I was sort of organized in my studio… sort of. But now everything is in repurposed tackle boxes and tool boxes and everything. goes. back. where. I. found. it. It has absolutely has to, and I hope these habits continue. I lie, I’m sprawling a little bit into one drawer in the main part of the trailer, but still organized!

Purge

We artists are always collecting materials. Now is a good time to let go of the supplies we know we are not going to use. Some communities have art swaps. Help an artist out?

Plan a body of work

Why not sit down and plan it out. A new body of work. Or try something like the 100 Day Project to get you started.

Write

Reflecting on your thoughts and working through them intentionally will help any artist to really articulate all the thought going into their work. Journal when you’re working and then use that to help with your artist statement.

Read

As artists, we need to know about business, trends, art and find inspiration. I say make it a point to read across the spectrum. Read something to develop you professionally then read something just because it is interesting. I am also on GoodReads. I like keeping track of all the books in my head.

Find Galleries/Venues for potential shows

If you are like me there is this wall here. Let’s make this the year we put together a new thoughtful body of work and while we are doing that let’s look for those venues our work will fit. It is easy with Instagram and LinkedIn to find galleries and get a feel for what they are about.

Above and beyond venues I dare you to dream? I challenge you to look into fueling your creative soul. Are there residencies out there for you? Further education? Destinations with workshops. Are there new skills you want to learn?

Attend Art Events

Just do it you social butterfly you. Opportunities come to those who are present.

Social Media

Figure out how social media can benefit you. Choose your platform, or whittle down platforms and focus on putting quality content out there. It’s free advertising that can bring people back to your website or even generate sales.

Website

It isn’t as bad as you think it is. They make it easy now with tools like WordPress. It’ll be a learning curve, but I promise it’ll be fine. If you have a website this is your reminder to update it.

Get it Together Checklist

  • Bio
  • CV
  • Artist Statement
  • Business Cards
  • Website
  • Social Media
  • Current Body of Work: Documented for Web & Portfolio Use

Do you have any intentions set for yourself as an artist for the coming year or decade? Is there something you think I can add?

Thoughts from the Road: Self Reflection

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, process, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

The question is does travel change you?

We were thrust into a situation where our options were all less than appetizing so we went all in on the idea of traveling. Go West to find some future, like so many people before us. In the beginning it felt like we were merely fleeing the brutal winters of home. Then it felt like an extended vacation. Now I’ve reached a tipping point.

I go West. I go West in search of something more than. At the crest of this tipping point I find my head and heart. The true being in my form sizzles at my skin longing for its release from the long prison. Somewhere in this life I put away my truer self. I put her away. I contained that wild artist child. I tried to be many different people. I put on different masks hoping to blend into environments I never quite understood.

As a child I was wild. And creative. I ran unsupervised in a pink dress and sparkly jelly shoes. I trashed clothes because my whims decided My-Little-Ponies needed outfits. I drew cats with long tails and white tips. But I hid that child away. I grew up in a home where alcoholism and anger reigned hand-in-hand. I took that wonderful wild child and hid her away because I wanted to fade into the background. Instead I quietly continued to grow stronger in my creative abilities.

Long term travel by truck and travel trailer is slow. Well, we (my husband, two dogs, a cat and I) are slow. We stop for the dogs. We stop for the sights. We stop for lunch. We stop because we want to spend a few days somewhere. We decide to see half of Texas when we didn’t even want to go there in the first place. Instead of a vast dangerous wilderness filled with indigenous tribes; I’ve found reservations marked on maps, old roads, weathered abandoned houses, rusted cars, forgotten towns, endless fences, rampaging cities, tourist holes, scenic campgrounds with all the modern conveniences and whispers of the wild and savage past trampled by docile tourists.

I also find myself with this time. Finally, the time to think. Throughout the years I always wanted to take time off of work to just think, if I could just take those days I could figure it out. IT. Whatever it was. What I wanted? What I was thinking? There was this something I needed time for. Hours, days and apparently even weeks were not enough for me. I needed to be removed entirely from my life.

Wherever you go there you are.

Finally…

There I am

A complex damaged resilient creature with a drive to create….

What have I learned about myself in these weeks?

I feel a budding inside of the artist. She’s almost ready. Almost done cooking. The elements are all there stewing. I’ve seen works in small galleries, big galleries, and museums. I’m feeling more confident that there is something particular to me. My artist voice is about to mature. This time of travel and reflection is a gift I cannot ignore.

Subjects/Themes/Topics coming into sharp focus:

  • Melancholy over what the earth has lost to human inhabitation and the perpetual growth economy
  • Celebration of nature reclaiming man’s work
  • Appreciation of nature: wonder, joy, awe
  • Sadness over human sprawl across the landscape and a yearning for freedom from modern human artifacts
  • Enjoyment of the living creatures around me plant and animal
  • Capturing the essence of my subject in medium/media available (photography, acrylic, ink, color pencil etc.)

The answer:

Everything changes us. I came West to be changed.