It’s been a busy few weeks and after completing work for two events, with a flurry of finished projects and several others waiting in the wings, sharing artwork seems the way to go for this month’s post. With all the rumblings of the power of women’s voices these days, even in their quiet but assured tones, finding rest in the quiet spaces has been of utmost importance. Here’s a piece that began in one of my favorite ways of resting: drawing the human figure. Have a wonderful October.
As I write this post, it is the Labor Day holiday weekend so what better way to spend it than by keeping things short and carving time out for some R&R. Looking ahead though, I'm excited to be a part of the Memphis Japan Festival's planning and preparation. Please consider joining us for this family-friendly event that also gives half-price access to the Memphis Botanic Garden (Sept. 30th only) and the Origami in the Garden exhibit. Japanese culture provides so much awe-inspiring craft and entertainment and the Garden of course is quite lovely. The state of Tennessee is so very lucky to have so many wonderful cities with diverse landscapes and events to choose from—and we are grateful to add this Festival to the mix!
I have considered myself a life-long environmentalist. Yet calling oneself an environmentalist in this capitalist American society is a tricky thing. Hasty judgements are made that may or may not apply. For some people the label conjures the image of a tree-hugging trouble-maker. For others, it's someone who recycles and composts. For me, it just means I care deeply about the other living things that surround our world and the impact we humans have on them.
I've definitely hugged a tree or two; and years ago, before it was acceptable to ask these things, I questioned the recyclable content of a particular paper during a manufacturer's presentation. (I was shushed quickly and, as someone who doesn't like unnecessary confrontation, rarely spoke out again in professional settings about such things for years after.) Before it was commonplace, I recycled and carried reusable shopping bags and bottles when it embarrassed friends for me to do so. Those little actions didn't made a huge impact but they somehow made me feel good. I persisted.
But let's face it: few of us can really embrace the environmentalist movement fully no matter how badly we'd like to except through the small steps we continue to make each day, year after year.
Fortunately, there are people and stories out in the world who encourage us all to keep trying.
Many years ago, I attended the lecture of architect and author William McDonough at Vanderbilt University. He co-wrote a book with chemist Michael Braungart called Cradle to Cradle. Their premise was that the three "Rs" (Reduce. Reuse. Recycle."), while important, are still a "cradle to grave" approach that over time, still generates large amounts of waste. After visiting one of my local recycle facilities, I've learned why.
Much of what people are putting in their recyclable bins may never get recycled. There is still a capitalist element at play with recyclables so if, say the plastic recycleables' market is saturated or the country that our waste is being exported to is not currently accepting those materials, the "recyclables" become landfill. Or if someone throws contaminated materials into the mix (wax-lined cardboard like pizza boxes or coffee cups or even just a plastic bag), the whole sample of materials it is mixed in with may suddenly become landfill instead of recyclable.
The aforementioned visionaries McDonough and Braungart promoted the "cradle to cradle" approach in their book and their work: using nature itself "as a model for making things...a tree produces thousands of blossoms in order to create another tree, yet we consider its abundance not wasteful but safe, beautiful and highly effective." It was the first time I'd heard this concept and it blew my mind.
How to implement this approach is another puzzle to work out. But I knew if an architect could do it, certainly there must be a way for a graphic designer to begin do so as well.
As a print designer, it is rarely lost on me that many of the projects I work on have an impact on our world. The chemicals, the paper, the waste that comes from printing is hard to ignore. However, there are a few ways that I try to keep these things in mind and to a minimum. Some projects are more inclined to have success in this effort than others.
Much of the client work I've been fortunate enough to have been involved with has aspired to be longer-lasting (books; signage that is designed to be used year after year; bookmarked and hyperlinked PDFs of marketing materials posted to web sites rather than being printed because the audience is easier to reach online; removing what isn't necessary in marketing and design that needs to be printed; on-demand printing; working with printers that implement more refined environmental practices whenever possible, etc.). Admittedly not all of these are options available for every project but the hopes and intentions are there whenever possible. More can certainly be done and with other methods implemented.
Enter another modern-day hero: Turnip Green Creative Reuse was started by a friend (Kelly Tipler) years ago. This non-profit is quickly becoming a model for other reuse organizations across the country. When I was asked to help TGCR rebrand, I didn't hesitate to take the project on. It was just one more tiny step for me to take personally and professionally on this path lightening the load we humans place on our planet. Through their efforts, they have diverted over 165 tons of reusable materials from the landfill by accepting donations of materials that might otherwise be tossed without a second thought—everything from paper to office furniture.
TGCR's mission is to foster creativity and sustainability through reuse. TGCR has 4 areas of service: a retail donate what you wish ($) store, education/outreach, artist support, and a green gallery. It provides a welcoming and neutral place for artists, educators, and any creative person to connect. They hold a high priority to serve the art community as well as work with children in our community, bringing them ways to create from what they see going in the trash everyday.
Yes, I'm fully aware there's more to be done and that there are many contradictions in my practices but I will keep adding to my small steps taken. And I'm grateful that I'm no longer shushed when the three Rs are brought into conversation professionally. We can make an impact in our corner of the world with every small action we take but we have to love what we do in order for it to make real impact. I'm lucky in that regard.
There's a practice in Buddhism called "beginner's mind" that has had profound impact on my life and my creative approach over the years. It's basically an attitude of being open to ideas, thoughts, and experiences free from preconceived ideas of what you want, expect, or have experienced and/or seen others experience in the past.
To me, the approach of beginner's mind is really what creativity is all about. It allows for more possibilities and happy accidents to enter your life that some might call fate, listening to God or being open to the universe's call. I've even heard someone call it "living in the question."
Beginner's mind is not always knowing. Sometimes not knowing the outcome of an endeavor can feel like a bit of a roller coaster ride: the more we resist what "is," the harder it may be to accept the outcome and the more uneasy it can feel. Humans like to think they are in control but relinquishing some of that thought pattern can reap some seemingly magical rewards. The more open we are to the experience, the more likely we are able to enjoy the free fall into some uncharted territory.
It's been a gift to practice this openness and one of the reasons I've spent much of my life taking classes and trying on different styles in my work (and in my wardrobe, diet, fitness, relationships, etc. for that matter). Just a mere shift in perspective helps one to go into those unknown and sometimes scary places. It allows for greater possibilities and the occasional rocking of my world and often a joyful giggle.
A poem by Olav H. Hauge that I discovered a few years ago nicely expresses this idea much more succinctly that I have:
It’s the Dream
It’s the dream we carry
that something wondrous will happen,
that it must happen—
time will open
hearts will open
doors will open
mountains will open
spring will gush forth from the ground—
that the dream itself will open
that one morning we’ll quietly drift
into a harbor we didn’t know was there.
Right now I'm rocking my world once again with a two-week stay at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts as I learn new techniques in design and art. I'm sure to be sharing some of the gifts I receive from this experience once I return. You can find more details on my social media channels so please check them out by clicking the icons below. And I always appreciate those who follow my work on these, connect over the phone or drop me a line. I especially welcome a visit over tea whenever possible. It's such a great way to stay in touch. I'd love to hear what's rocking your world and bringing you joy.
It's important to love what we do and I'm grateful that is the case for me. I hope the same is true for you. If not, you might consider a dose of beginner's mind.