Monday, October 31, 2011

Sugar Skulls: Part 4

The final sugar skull that I made is a reflection on my Grandma Herzog. Grandma Herzog passed away in 2009 at the age of 99almost100. She was an amazing woman who was loved by many people.

Well into old my great grandma was active and social. I remember hearing stories about her cross country skiing in her 80s. She lived in the woods in Binghamton, NY until her 90s when her second husband passed away and she could no longer take care of the home herself. She moved into a nursing home of sorts and quickly became friends with the nurses and residents.

The green dots represent the number of grandchildren Marion had. My mom and I estimated that there are over 30 in all. And she remembered all of our names! The cross signifies my grandma's Christian faith.

The red wings are for Grandma Herzog's love of bird watching, especially cardinals. She spent a lot of time gazing out of her back window watching all kinds of winged creatures feast on her back porch.

I gave Grandma two diamonds because she was married twice. She once said that her first marriage was the one where she settled down and had a home and children and the second is where she got to have adventures. 

The star represents how far Grandma Herzog's influence spread around her. Every Christmas and birthday her house contained piles of cards from those who cared about her. She made it look easy to build friendships; she was a natural at meeting people and making them feel cared about. Her influence reached far in the almost 100 years she was alive and it is for that reason that she is my hero. I've always wanted to be like my Grandma Herzog: welcoming, loving, caring, giving. I am grateful that I was able to enjoy her presence and influence for so many years.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sugar Skulls: Part 3

Paul and I had to allow our dog, Isis, to be put to sleep over the summer. She got into a fight and her injuries were too serious for her to be able to continue to live a healthy and happy life.

We, of course, were devastated. Isis was a sweet and loving dog who brought so much joy to our lives. This sugar skull is dedicated to her:

Unfortunately I couldn't get the whole piece into the scanner. Her floppy ears and part of her tongue were cut off at the top and bottom.

We took Isis on a walk one day as the sun was setting. We walked by a group of children and one of them squinted into the glare of the sun and exclaimed, "Is that a pig?!" I guess he was confused by her ears...or maybe the fact that she was a little overweight. Isis loved to eat and had a stomach of steel. She once stole an entire bar of dark chocolate off the kitchen table and lived to tell the tale.

I drew arrows pointing to Isis' nose to represent her most noticeable feature. The first time I met Isis she was wearing one of those cones on her head designed to keep her from pulling out stitches. Isis tried to poke me with her nose to get my attention but the cone got in the way and she just continued to bonk me with the cone. 

The nose poking never stopped. Isis' favorite past time was shoving her big wet nose under peoples' hands and convincing them to pet her. 

I gave Isis a big smile because she was such a happy and friendly dog. The water drops on either side of her mouth represent the slobber she left behind whenever she poked someone to get their attention. 

I was never really a "dog person" until I met Paul's dogs Isis and Floscia. Isis became my little buddy and I miss her terribly.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sugar Skulls: Part 2

This is the second part of a series sugar skulls made to honor loved ones who have passed away recently. For more information on sugar skulls and what they represent see my first post here.

I met Devin Kusse during my freshman year of college. He lived in the same dorm as the guy I was dating at that time and was regularly the instigator of hijinks. Devin was not only talented at making people smile he was a good listener and thoughtful friend. He was killed in an accident this summer when he was riding his motorcycle home from work.

Devin's death was hard to process because he was young, we hadn't spoken in a year or so, and I couldn't go to the funeral. Designing a sugar skull in his honor helped me to reflect on my friendship with Devin and gain a little bit of closure.

There's a lot of symbolism around the eyes. The flower in the middle symbolizes Devin's wife, Emily. The cross is because he was a faithful Christian. The circles and arch represent Devin's enjoyment of his motorcycle. 

I added bright, sparkly spirals to to show Devin's energetic and sometimes crazy personality. For example, Devin used to enjoy causing a ruckus in the men's dorm by walking around naked with a single object covering what the other guys clearly did not want to see. One day he came out with just a checkerboard in front of himself and asked my boyfriend if he wanted to play checkers. That story is remembered fondly with the black and white checkered squares.

The mouth is simply another representation of Devin's bright personality. I have a picture where Devin has spiky, bleached blonde hair and is wearing a sweater the color of orange traffic cones. That's how I will always remember him.

Devin enjoyed music. He played guitar and was trying to convince me to learn The Devil Went Down to Georgia on my violin.

Even though I didn't have much contact with Devin anymore his death leaves a hole in my life. I wish I could have been at the funeral to reminisce with his friends and pay my respects. I hope that making art in Devin's honor will help to make up for what I missed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sugar Skulls: Part 1

I did a little research on The Day of the Dead and, in doing so, became enamored by sugar skulls.

Real sugar skulls are made by pouring melted sugar  into molds and then decorating with colorful icing. The skulls aren't meant to be scary; their bright colors and designs are meant to celebrate departed ancestors. Each skull usually has the name of a deceased loved one written across the top.

I wanted to take part in this tradition  in part because I've lost a lot of loved ones this year. My previous attempt at making candy, however, resulted in a house filled with smoke and a pan covered in charcoal. So I decided to honor my departed souls in a medium with which I have much more experience: paper.

The first skull that I created honors my Grandma Viola who passed away over the summer:

Grandma was a beautiful 90 something lady with a fantastic sense of humor. She had a daughter, a son and four grandchildren, all of whom are represented on the skull by flowers:

The cross in the middle represents my grandma's strong faith. There are also two tiny flowers underneath the cross that represent the twin babies who died as infants. 

Grandma Viola's Italian heritage emerged in her delectable spaghetti and meatballs. Grandma's famous dish shows up around the eyes of the skull:

Yes, that is a meatball and those orange lines under the meatball represent spaghetti.

I think Grandma Viola watched Wheel of Fortune even after she lost so much hearing she couldn't understand what was going on. I watched it with Grandma when I was younger and she was always so impressed when I solved the puzzle. When I moved to Tucson I tried out for Wheel of Fortune and I thought about Grandma Viola the whole time. These little symbols represent the Wheel: 

As a whole this sugar skull only represents a small part of who my grandma was. Designing and decorating the skull allowed me to reflect on cherished times with grandma and appreciate the time I spent with her. 

I'm in the process of making three more skulls. I'll post pictures when they're finished.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This is not a Bucket Closet!

According to a greeting card I received when I was a child,  the name Emily means "industrious". (I think the card may have been mistaken because a recent internet search tells me that my name actually means "rival". I'm choosing to stick with the first definition, however, because it's what I've always believed and I'm too old to change my beliefs now!) I always thought that "industrious" was such a perfect label for me. As a child, I asked for extra homework in school and did a project on Anne Frank for fun.

As an adult, I haven't grown out of that label. I have a constantly growing list of things that I would like to learn, do and create. Last week I decided to turn that list into a motivating visual and this is what emerged:

Each scrap of paper lists something I'd like to achieve. The goals range from mundane and practical:

to fun:

and difficult: 

See my goals in a colorful, tangible format reminds me of all that I'd like to accomplish and encourages me to stop procrastinating. I have a lot to do! I'm also continuing to add to the list as the days go by and I'm reminded of more and more that I'd like to do.

The first square to be focused on is this one:

I'm already well on my way to accomplishing  my first goal!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Save the Post Office!

Has anyone else been paying attention lately to the plight of the U.S. Postal Service? It's a bleak picture, folks: they're looking at default!

I legitimately feel sad hearing this news. I love mail! I know sending letters isn't that popular these days but I've been involved in several little projects to keep my the mail people busy.

Anyone who's friends with me on Facebook has probably seen my occasional offers to send out "fun" mail. I love to create postcards, stationary and cards of all kinds to send to friends and family. Here's the latest batch:

Anyone who loves getting mail is welcome to send me their address to get some awesome mail in the future!

Then there's This site is simple but so much fun. You can send up to 6 postcards at a time and when the receiver registers that they've received your card you start getting cards in return. Here are a couple of the fun ones I've received from all over the world:
 takes Postcrossing's idea a step farther and includes opportunities to send art and packages. I made and sent this little book to someone in March:

I get excited at the end of the day when I come home from work to find something other than bills in my mail box and I know the recipients of my creations do as well. Sending letters might take longer than e-mail but it's nice to be able to hold a tangible greeting and know that someone took the time to step away from their computer and send it. I think we'd lose a valuable service if the post office closes.

I know that sending more mail won't solve the postal service's budget problem but I'd like to at least increase the trend of sending hand written greetings. Check out Post Crossing and Swap Bot, write a letter to a friend, or visit some of these other websites for mail opportunities:

Letter Writers Alliance
Save NYC Libraries!
Make A Child Smile
The Letter Exchange
Hugs and Hope
Post Pals

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Any suggestions?

I work for a non-profit agency in a department that may no longer exist in a few months. The contract with the state for this part of the agency has expired and we're currently in a bidding war of sorts to be able to renew the contract. If we aren't awarded the contract my position will disappear.

With this in the back of my mind I've been looking through job openings in Tucson this week to see what my options are if I need to start applying come November. So far I haven't found anything promising. A lot of what I'm interested in requires a degree and experience that I don't have. A lot of what I'm actually qualified for is in the field of behavioral health and requires a level of in home services that I'd like to avoid.

I need some help brainstorming ideas. And so I present to you my list of characteristics for my ideal* job:

  • Involves teaching of some sort
  • Allows me to be creative
  • Involves making art of some sort
  • Flexible schedule
  • Minimal amount of driving and any driving that I do have to do is done in a company vehicle
  • At least $30,000 a year (I make less than that now and am doing okay financially...but I know I deserve more!)
  • A decent amount of time off (Right now I accrue about 14 hours of vacation time every month. I don't expect to find that anywhere else but...something close would be awesome)
  • Being able to leave my work at paperwork to catch up on when I get home
  • Something that doesn't drain my energy. It would be nice if I didn't feel like going to bed at 8pm most nights
  • Meaningful- I'm contributing to society and/or being proactive and preventative in some way
  • Teaches me new skills but doesn't require me to return to college
  • Continuing to work with youth (13-20s)
  • Makes me smile

Any suggestions? 

*My truly ideal job would involve laying in a field of wildflowers, surrounded by friendly rabbits and kittens while eating cupcakes and reading poetry and then getting paid to paint my experience afterwards. I haven't seen a job posting for that yet so in the meantime I'll try to focus on something more realistic.

Look at how smart and qualified I am!

Tucson: A Love Affair

I love the city of Tucson. Sometimes it seems that every day that I'm here brings something new to love. This weekend Paul and I explored some more awesome aspects of Tucson:

The Tucson Botanical Gardens. I am amazed by how much can acutally grow in the desert!

CACTI! I think cacti are so interesting. There are so many different types and most of them have beautiful flowers in the spring and summer.

Historical sites. There are many here with interesting stories. Yesterday we found two more!

El Tiradito Wishing Shrine

And a park that used to have a well and public baths.


Authentic Mexican food!

And the bright colors painted on many of the buildings in an effort to combat the brownness of the desert.

Tucson has a rich culture and an interesting history. Plus, it's surrounded by some incredible mountains and has over 300 days of SUN a year. I love this place and I can't wait to do some more exploring!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Problem: creative rut. Solution: a table.

As many of you know my art supplies share a room with two extremely hairy rabbits.  This means that when I want to get creative my projects are likely going to be filled with some of that hair. It also means that I have to make sure that all of my supplies and projects are out of reach of the long toothed little monsters.

Sometimes worrying about the rabbits makes creative action into a chore. If I look away or lose myself in the project -even for a second!- my fuzzy little pets swoop in and start eating something. Sometimes it's a colored pencil, sometimes it's a piece of scrapbook paper, sometimes it's whatever I'm working on at that moment. This often inhibits my creative process.

Thankfully, a few weeks ago, Therese at Arts Marketplace gave me an old cabinet/table that they didn't need anymore. It's a small metal thing with one leg that's shorter than the others and it has a few dents. BUT! It has doors! Metal doors that my militant mutants can't chew through. AND! It has a table top! A table top where I can leave a journal open without worrying about it being detroyed by hundreds of tiny bites.

I treated myself to some expensive paper to decorate the top and this was the end result:

A pretty metal cabinet full of not quite finished projects protected from the gaping jaws of the domestic rabbit.

Plus! Now I have an actual workspace. It's small, but it does the trick. This weekend I accomplished the following:

I was more productive than I've been in months, all because I felt I could get lost in my art journal without worrying about my curious critters getting in the way. What a nice surprise that a simple table could bring such inspiration!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How To Be Alone: Viola Version

*Inspired by this poem.

First, accept that you were never as much of an extrovert as you once thought you were. Realize that you are energized by the time you spend alone and give your batteries enough time to recharge before going back out. Teach yourself that there is nothing wrong with spending so much time alone and that, in the long run, you're a better person for it.

Remember that for years you've wanted more time to spend on creative endeavors. That time is now being provided to you. Use it wisely.

Start a one woman campaign to learn to love yourself because you might as well enjoy the person you'll be spending so much time with.

Indulge in self-reflection. Start a conversation with yourself and listen to what you have to say. Begin to dig out the truths that you've always hidden and allow them to see the light of day. Spending so much time with other people has allowed you to hide too much for too long, and you're beginning to hunch under the weight of all those lies. Lose that weight.

Stop turning to food to fill the void that you created.

It's okay to weave a cocoon and incubate for a while, as long as you finally emerge as a better person. Instead of getting caught up in the fear of being alone, take the time to grow your wings. Invest in yourself, love yourself, learn as much as you can and eventually you will be ready to come out again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Emotional Eating

I am going to tell you that I am trying to lose weight, and you are probably going to tell me I'm crazy.

So let me phrase this in a different way: I am trying to change my relationship with food.

I don't have an eating disorder but I've spent some time in therapy recently talking about food. I don't see food as a necessary nourishment; I see it as something to fear. I fear eating too much food and becoming unhealthy and overweight; I also fear eating too little and having to deal with the shaky nauseous feeling of being too hungry.

On a related note, I've been learning about how much extra emotional weight I've taken on over the years. I worry too much. It seems that this extra weight has taken on a physical form in my stomach and legs: I'm physically heavier than I've ever been. I eat to assuage my fears and emotional concerns, and the heavy emotional burdens I take on begin to show.

This is not a diet. My goal is to be able to utilize food in a healthy way and in doing so have a healthier body and self image. In the process, I hope to lose unnecessary emotional burdens and develop healthier coping skills. This is another step toward self love.

Food should be enjoyed, not attacked.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Letting Out The Poison

I recently started re-reading all of the journals I've kept since I was about eight years old. I've laughed, I've cried and I've learned a lot about myself. One of the primary patterns I noticed is that I tended to hide any feelings that I deemed negative or potentially bothersome to others. In middle school I pretended everything was fine and throughout high school I developed a wall thick enough to hide my real feelings from everyone, including myself. In college I was so far removed from how I felt that my friends actually congratulated me during the one or two times I cried throughout those 4 years.

All of these unexpressed negative emotions are still sitting inside of me like a poison, causing me to feel constantly dizzy and distracted. I'm starting to learn healthy ways of expressing myself, and one of those ways is through art. Last week, I created the following page in my art journal.

A few years ago, I wouldn't have shared this with anyone. I wouldn't have told anyone that I felt sad because I was so focused on creating an image of myself as a strong person without any needs or reasons to burden other people.

Today, however, I recognize the importance of self expression. I'm beginning to understand how negative emotions are a normal part of life and that it is sometimes okay to be vulnerable. This journal page was a way to let myself feel something real, and to assert that I don't need to hide what I'm really feeling.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Make Up is a Lie -or- "I haven't touched a mascara brush in almost a decade, but I still managed to snag a boyfriend who looks like Brad Pitt."

I began wearing make up in sixth grade, right about the time when my mom told me I wasn't allowed to wear it. Sixth grade was a year when I put much effort into hiding my true self so that I could fit in with everyone else, and make up fit perfectly into that plan. Make-up made me feel less like the nerdy, tree hugging hippy book worm that I am and more like the dainty, flitatious, air headed girls who surrounded me.

Fortunately, my mom started selling Mary Kay and I continued to be rebellious. I stopped wearing make up at first because my mom suddenly became so enthusiastic about wanting me to wear it. Over time, however, I realized I truly hated the concept of covering my face with powder and goo. Why, I thought, should I pay money to cover up something that is already so freakin' gorgeous? I even became a little angry when I realized the cosmetics industry makes millions every year pointing out our supposed imperfections and selling us ways to hide them.

That anger resurfaced recently when I heard that WalMart will soon be selling a new line of make-up aimed at 8 to 12 year old girls, more commonly known as "tweens". The line is called GeoGirl and it's products are named in text message lingo (J4G for lip balm, QTPi for blush) and designed to be "environmentally friendly".

I could write an entire rant just on the annoying, cutesy, text message lingo, but that's not what's most important about this product. Yes, it can be fun for young girls to play and experiment with make up. This make up, however is not just for play. Joel Carden, the vice president of marketing and sales behind GeoGirl, was quoted as saying, "It's the first door to beauty for the next generation. These are real cosmetics with natural ingredients that will create return purchases and create a true beauty consumer." [Emphasis added]

GeoGirl is instilling in young, impressionable girls the value they don't already possess beauty; no, beauty has to be purchased. Marketing cosmetics to 8 to 12 year olds tells them that their bodies are not okay just they way they are but instead need to be covered with beauty products in order to be acceptable in society.

Instead of marketing make up to young girls (or any women!) we should be instilling them with self confidence and teaching them that their bodies are beautiful the way they are. Young girls will have plenty of time to conform as they grow up; let's encourage them to be themselves while they still can.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Changing myself through altered books

There's a chance that I might appear on the entertainment schedule for the 2nd Saturdays event here in Tucson. Not my name specifically, but the demo that I'm doing for a workshop on altered book art that I'm helping to promote through a place called Arts Marketplace.
I'm doing the demo and promoting the workshop because, along with my fabulous friend Lauren, I am leading the workshop.

This might be as much of a shock to me as it is to you. I have a degree in social work, and all of the art that I've created has been for my own personal use. My experience with teaching art is non-existent. Yet somehow I am finding myself being paid to teach other people how to create something beautiful. I am beyond thrilled, incredibly excited, and terrified.

I stumbled upon this opportunity in February when I saw this altered books sign hanging in Arts Marketplace. Therese, the woman who runs Arts Marketplace, was thrilled when she saw me taking a picture of the sign and discovered that I was interested in this workshop. Despite having only know me for about 30 seconds, she eagerly petitioned me to take a leadership role in the workshop. I told her I would think about it.

To make a long story short, Therese was elated when I officially agreed to run a workshop despite the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing and I don't have any experience with altered books. She even told me that she screamed when she received my e-mail acceptance.

When Lauren, Therese and I met last week to plan, I literally began shaking at the thought of having a group of 8-15 people watching me while I create something and looking to me for instruction on how to do the same. Not only will I be teaching something new, I will be sharing my art with people who I only just met. I will be making myself vulnerable by sharing something that has previously only been shown to people who I trust. That, my friends, is a recipe for a panic attack.

But it is also a move in an exciting direction. I will get to meet new people who share a love for all things crafty. I will get paid for making art. I will get to teach! And, most importantly, I may have the opportunity to teach further workshops. When Therese mentioned to Lauren and I that we could teach other workshops of our choosing, I began to develop plans for teaching children and teenagers how to use art to manage stress and express hidden emotion.

Since I officially agreed to this and began planning, I have been alternating between breathless giddiness and trembling anxiety. One moment I will be imagining myself retiring from social work and making a living as an art teacher without ever returning to college. Then, one hour later, I will be close to tears thinking about how inexperienced I am, how many other artists are out there, and how terrified I am to teach, even with Lauren by my side.

Paul reminded me that this opportunity could go as far as I want to take it. It could stop with the altered books workshop or it could grow into more art and more workshops. It could be a realized dream or a realization that art is not something I really want to do. No matter what happens, I will be proud of myself for taking a risk and stepping way out of my comfort zone to do something that makes me happy.

To learn more about altered books, check out this website. If you're in Tucson and want to join in on the workshop fun, contact me. The actual workshop will be taking place on April 9th from 3pm to 6pm. We would love it if you would pre-register- in fact, we'll give you a discount if you do! The cost is $10 for pre-registration and $15 for drop in the day. Price includes supplies and refreshments.

Friday, March 4, 2011

How We Hate Ourselves

I have a confession to make: I entered the career field of social work partially because I don't like myself.

I do love helping and empowering people and improving my community, but that is only the surface level of the story. The deeper aspect is that I've struggled with a controlling sense of guilt for as long as I can remember and I felt that I needed to spend my life being punished or making atonement. I don't know why I feel guilty; that is puzzle that will take years to solve. What I do know is that, for most of my life, I've felt that I don't deserve more than to be a poorly paid doormat for society's neediest members.

Self hatred is a sneaky bastard. It hides behind noble causes such as a career of service and destroys it's victims from behind a mask. It takes on personas such as a strong drive for success or attention, criticism of others, and dependent relationships. It is for this reason that many of us spend our lives hiding under a blanket of self hatred without even realizing it.  We may spend years subtly hurting ourselves or unconsciously believing that we don't deserve anything better.

The self injury awareness group FirstSigns notes,  "People find their own unique ways to hurt themselves." We hurt ourselves by overworking, severe diets, and allowing others to push us around. Self hatred could take the form of denying ourselves something we enjoy or becoming so enmeshed in a romantic relationship that we no longer have a personality of our own.

My career choice is an example of how self hatred can lead us astray. I'm going to continue with this job, but in the mean time I'm exploring a field that makes me feel fulfilled and is good for me: art. Sometimes my art is really selfish, but it is so good for me. It's like standing on a mountain breathing fresh air instead of sitting inside smoking a cigarette. It's another step toward true self love.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Art Journal Self Love

Connie Hozvicka of Dirty Footprints Studio gave me an introduction to art journaling last year through an online workshop. This year, she is celebrating the one year anniversary of her workshop launch by having a giveaway for anyone who creates an art journal page about LOVE. How perfect, I thought, for a month in which I am focusing on loving myself!

Creating an art journal page takes a lot of self love. Self expression through art is a scary process. Sometimes it involves losing control and diving in to disorder. Sometimes I discover things about myself that I didn't really want to know. Sometimes (ok, most of the time!) I make mistakes, and I have to be willing to forgive myself and push forward.
Creating, to me, is like opening up my chest and spilling my raw self on to a piece of paper. It is coming out of hiding. It is scary, yet exhilarating. And in the end in is like giving myself a giant hug. It allows me to connect with the real me and to learn to accept that part of myself.

With that in mind, here is what I created in honor of loving myself:

 It's messy and it looks much different from what I originally planned, but that's okay because it truly reflects who I am.

My hopes for all of this focus on self love is that I can learn to accept myself the same way that I accepted this collage.