Person of the Week
I can choose a mission that of course is perfectly aligned to who I am. My mother has a joke about how I came out of the womb with a box of sixty-four Crayola crayons in my hand. I’ve been drawing and painting and making everything. I can’t not do it.
1. What led you to the mission of being an art maker?
I have practiced art my whole life. My mother has a joke about how I came out of the womb with a box of sixty-four Crayola crayons in my hand. I’ve been drawing and painting and making everything – dolls, doll clothes, dollhouses, jewelry – everything – books, pictures – everything — my whole life.
As a teenager, I got a couple of jobs teaching art at local camps and things like that. It was a little bit of a fall back job. Now I do it because I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. (Come to Robinsunne’s website and see how you can make art. She tells her readers, “Come here with the expectation of falling in love with yourself.”)
I also want to say that I became a single mom about fourteen years ago. I had two very little kids and we used to spend hours together in the afternoons and on the weekends. We made little art books and drew pictures and paintings and we did some knitting too, and sewing – a lot of things. It was a lovely way to spend time with them. It allowed me to express myself as an adult and it allowed them to express themselves on their levels. It was a very satisfying thing to do with my kids. They are now both amazing artists.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
There is a part of making art that seems like a really gentle, sweet thing to do with one’s life. I tried giving up art making at one point when the kids were really little and it just seemed like I was too busy. It was a very dark time for me. I realized that wasn’t a decision for me to make. I can’t not do it. It is really where I end up personally. It’s fun. It’s playful. It meets me wherever I am, emotionally and intellectually.
3. What was your best day as an art maker?
Any given day when I felt like I had enough time and energy to ask, “What if?” They are all great days when I’m in that place when I have enough time and I’m just playing.
When I heard the question, one thing popped into my head. I had been divorced for about two years. I was still deeply under the weight of the sorrow of that divorce. I thought, “You know, I have two little kids. I really need to move on.” I thought, “You know whenever I have a question that I can’t answer any other way, it always works for me to take it to my studio.” I’ve done this before and I knew that it worked for me.
I ended up making this quilt that is thirteen feet long and only about a foot tall. It’s this long almost ribbon of an art quilt. It took me about five months to make it from start to finish. It has machine sewing and hand sewing and little tiny seed beads. It’s a highly embellished art quilt. I loved the piece. I loved working on it. I would get up early in the morning before the kids got up and worked for a couple of hours every morning. It was a lovely time. I loved the process of working on it.
There was one day in May of that year. I put down my needle and said, “Ta dah. I’m done.” I had gotten the back sewn on the quilt and it had come to a place where I could say, “I’m finished now!” I thought, “So wait a minute. I thought I was working on this for a reason.” Then I realized I had moved past the funk of my divorce.
I sat there thinking about it and I thought, “Oh my heavens. This really works! I’m on the other side of it. I’m sorry that it happened. I’m sorry that the circumstances that brought it about happened. Life as a single parent is still a piece of work. But I get it now. What happened, happened. There were things that I did and have always done in the marriage and since the marriage and I feel good about – proud about myself. I’m doing OK now. I’m strong and I’m able and I did the best I could with the information I had in hand and I’m OK!” It was amazing. It was amazing to see that work.
4. What was your worst day as an art maker?
The word that keeps coming up is loneliness. The work of being in one’s studio is a double-edged sword. The quiet and the ability to go find my inner self is a blessing, but it can also be a challenge. I think, “I wish I could share this with people. I wish people not only saw my work, but could also have a conversation with me. I wish my artwork brought me more conversation with other people.” I’m sure it’s a marketing problem I need to solve. In all the years that I’ve worked in stores, or worked in offices, there are lots of other people around. You do one’s work “with”. But being a studio artist, the whole time I’m doing it by myself. I think that’s also another reason why I teach. I want the company.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
No matter how much I wish I were in conversation with other people, the fact is art is still a conversation within me and through me to the rest of the universe. So, it’s not quite so verbal, but what is excellent about art making is never not true – even when what is sort of lonely about art making is true. Even when art making isn’t a connection with other people, it is still an act of inner connection.
A piece that comes to mind is one I was working on September 11th, 2001. It is a small art quilt. I was in the hand stitching part of the process. Halfway through the morning I turned on the radio and heard what was going on in New York. I was listening to the various political reactions and it was really scary. My kids were in kindergarten and nursery school back then. I guess I felt really scared that the situation in New York was going to escalate to some kind of a countrywide or world wide violent situation. I thought, “I need to go pick my kids up from school. I need to have them in my hands.” I was terrified.
I knew that they would look askance at me coming to pick up my kids early, so I just waited out the morning and I sat there at my table and thought, “OK. Everything’s going to pot here. I’m just going to wait until it’s time to go get my kids.” I folded up the quilt I was working on and I put it away.
There was so much energy around it that it actually took me a couple of days to get back to it. Then I thought, “Wait a minute. If somebody’s going to push a big red button about this and we’re going to escalate the violence into monumental proportions, I at least want to go out doing what I love to do. So I kept working on the piece and I thought, “At least I am bringing the love and contentment that I find stitching little teeny tiny beads onto pretty colors of cloth. At least I’m adding that positive into the mix.” As it turned out, we managed to not quite push any red buttons. So, I like to think that my work at least added what I could – my positive vibes to the mix.
What happens when we are making art — we are making decisions about how big or how small or what color or what shape or what media we should use. All of those decisions are different for every student. So I see art making as a way to express who we are.
If you walk into a project – like I walked into that piece I made after my divorce — and if you ask the project a question, you get answers — like, “This is what I’m trying to figure out here, what’s my mission?” It’s because our brain gets trained in choosing what color, what size, what shape. Our brains love thinking in that way, so they go, “Oh great. What else can I choose?” Well, then I can choose a mission that of course is perfectly aligned to who I am. That’s a big promise to make, but I keep seeing it happen.