Art friendships are the secret elixir of an artist's life, if you ask me. They are way of getting perspective and remembering to stop and consider milestones, to be kind to oneself and to see things from another perspective. Sometimes, I meet with artists in a more formal way. I find this Studio Visit practice to be more of an east coast norm than a mid west norm. We'll sometimes use a specific structure to meet and work together over the phone, over zoom or in person. Above is my a picnic visit with dear friend and amazing photographer Lisa Abitbol. We met when she bought a painting of mine in about 1997 and stayed mulitple hours (like six?) at my studio when she came to pick it up.
Here is a the kind of formula that I've used with others that help this kind of meeting work well for me and those I meet with (Ceramic artist Leiligh Towfigh calls these "artner" meetings!). I have also created this kind of structure as a coach for artist groups while working with the Arts & Business Council in Boston.
Time boundaries - these allow me to sink into listening better, or sharing, knowing we've got a shared understanding and plan.
1. Check in about time at the beginning so you know what you've got to work with.
2. Do a 15 minute check in each (depending on the time you've got), leaving the last 5 minutes for feedback from the other. It is really helpful to have one of you keep time, and not to be squeamish about just stating when time is up. Otherwise, the vagueness of time creates a little energy leak that's unnecessary and counter to really diving in.
In checking in, I like to answer and suggest to the other person some combo of these questions as prompts:
"What am I working on?
What's going well?
What are my challenges?
What would be great to walk away with from this meeting today?"
Sometimes we choose to respond to these or similar questions by writing on these questions first, and then we each check in for 5 - 10 minutes and give feedback. Usually, there's an obvious interest in the talking or the writing, depending on how the day is going.
3. Once that's done, we look into what kind of time is left, and we might do a second round with more focus on whichever is most either in need of support or perspective, or we work quietly in parallel, leaving 5-10 minutes at the end to check back in on where we landed.
(Above is an image of artist and friend Paloma Nunez Regueiro visiting me with some of her treasures in my studio last fall).
4. If it's a regular meeting, we might want to mention steps we intend to take in that wrap up, and then we may start with how that went in the check-in next time.
It's also very important that you be clear in the kind of feedback you are looking for, and what you are not looking for. Some people give advice or critical feedback on a project you have completed, and that can feel yucky when you didn't ask for it. If you're not sure, ask: What kind of feedback would you like?, or what questions do you have for me? Try to avoid seeking approval for your work or just giving empty strokes of praise - so the exchange can have some meaning and depth.
There are also many critique type processes that you can also apply with a little internet sleuthing to get pointers on this if you'd like them.
Some of my regular artner friendships have been with Sue Murad (film, performance, artist books below), Andi Sutton (interactive and public projects MN), Valerie Isaacs (painting), poet Carrolle Morini (poet and librarian), and Erika Blumenfeld (literal artist to the stars). May there be many more to come!
I've talked about studio visits and I want to stop and consider how generous an art practice can be at bringing new people into one's life. There are the people that I see at openings, art colleagues or peers, there are also curators and gallerists who become a part of one's working process and professional team at times. And then there are the art friendships - a true gift of creative practice. I find they are indispensable for sanity when otherwise I would be working in total isolation.
One type of art friendship is a collaboration, and I don't have enough experience with collaboration to know if it's a requirement to be friends to collaborate (please share your experience in the comments! Enlighten us) but I imagine so.
I've had friendships that have been fairly short lived based on geography or a certain intensity of interaction and then there are the slow burner friendships that happen over decades. I have made close friends with someone who came to buy an artwork and stayed for six hours (Lisa Abitbol). I have been match-made with a friend because of the parallel content of our work and workings of our minds (Sue Murad), I've had unexpected windfalls of friendships where the generosity of a stranger like my friend Kirsten Lund has lead to not only our personal friendship, but to being in an artist group and the initiation of many other art friendships through that group. I'm not a musician, but I imagine that there's a similar bond. It's not that every artist would be friends with every other artist but there's a certain need for support and connection and camaraderie in what can be such an existentially fraught and isolating field. This is why I stop and put in a word about it.
*The above image is of a fine creature, Amy Sacksteader, in her studio on a studio visit in 2022.
One thing that's been important in the friendships that I have is a sensitivity to what's going on for other people and a respect for the differences in your lives and careers, an awareness of the other people in the room beyond your own context, when possible.
In this vein, the line is fine between self promotion/celebrating a success and general obnoxiousness. Your art friends are not your entourage or to hear your woes in excruciating detail so that you forget that they are a living being in front of you, or to do you a constant stream of favors in a pinch. And yet, showing up, listening, sharing honestly, and asking for support are part of what creates meaningful intimacy. I've learned these lessons over the years to varying degrees by being that one that's asking for something unreasonable without knowing it (sorry all of you who endured this! you know who you are). We learn through friendships, that's the beauty of it. We learn by trying, and sometimes it's growing up together. Sometimes art friendships can look like your party buddies or people you do hard drugs with. That kind of rapport aren't generally the easiest to sustain because they're not really grounded in reality, but they can make for some great stories!
Art friends from my youth have seen me wearing ridiculous outfits and going to crazy parties and acting the part, and they've seen me deeply confused and lost after difficult professional setbacks in tears. They've looked like a bunch of delightful faces showing up unexpectedly at an opening or at my father's funeral, and sometimes they look like a collector that just deeply values what you do and is inspired by even the strangest little work. Art friendships are also all the people that participate and took an afternoon to be a part of your project, to try a wackadoodle idea in exchange for some pizza. It's something that is an extraordinary dimension to my life and I'm so happy that I get to keep exploring what an art friendship can be as I continue to invest in them.
Every time I make a book I make a series of works as a part of that project. For several years now, I am confounded about what to do with the artworks for each of my artist books. What do you think I should do with each of these collections? The collections of artwork are
-A series of drawings from my first book Contemporary Prayers to Whatever Works. The above image is one example of fifty.
-A series of small bits and artifacts from my second book Help me [ ], do the thing.
-A series of drawings from the 2021 edition of Contemporary Prayers to Whatever Works
-A series of drawings from the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere.
I have these 'Lots' of Collection of really valuable things and I keep them really safe, but I can't decide what to do with them. I am open to selling them, I could auction them in some way, ideas please!?!?!?
Thanks! Happy thanksgiving, and leave all ideas below please!!
It's interesting to have my studio now in a residential neighborhood. For most of my making years, I have had a studio in a fringe place, on the edge of some urban industrial area with shady dealings and lots of concrete expanse. Once I had a studio in a tiny second bedroom of my own rented place in Gloucester MA, and for a year I rented a friend's back bedroom in JP. Now I am nestled in a type of smaller pole barn structure that resembles from the front a one car garage, behind a modest home, in a circle of nine modest cape houses on a cul-de-sac. It's quiet, there is green space just outside the window - the wilds of my neighbor's yard, and the looming trees of a small wooded lot we can walk in.
Our little cul-de-sac which in french means draw string bag, brings people together, like a draw string pulls the bag closed and closer to itself. Especially as in the last two years, we were grounded, a little cabin fevered, and often gathered out front to socialize, instead of going out places because of covid.
My neighbors John and Kayla, on our blended front lawn one day just after we'd moved in (spring 2020), asked about my work. I shared about the books. As Kayla asked for more detail, her face lit up and realized that my book was on her bedside table - a gift from her mother-in-law who found it in a local shop. Kayla now has all of my books now in a prominent spot on her living room shelf - a deep honor and a tiny thrill.
Kayla is a pediatrician, we had just become neighbors, and from that moment, it felt like, for both of us, a slightly magical neighbor match. Since then she has had her first child, whom my husband and I have taken out for strolls, changed diapers and put to bed, her father has come and helped install the wood stove here in the studio as we built it, and Kayla and her mom have become a big fan of my calendars.
Recently while I was doing some gardening and her mom was visiting, her mom asked shyly if she might see the studio, so the three of them came over, Auggie in the stroller, Kayla and her mom, and took a peek.
Its a big, active mess in here, but it was really amazing to hear them debate which month in my calendar was their favorite, to hear Kayla describe the kind of completely abstract painting she's drawn to and might buy from me when they move to their new home in New Orleans a few months later, and to experience what it feels like to have neighbors this close.
In fact, my stepfather just came to visit us from Boston and spent his last night watching the college basketball final game with John, til midnight in the house next door, because we don't have a TV. There are many other neighbor stories I can tell, but my point here is, art making is also relationships, vulnerability and being seen. I am having whole new experiences as a first time home and studio owner, being in a midwestern town, and prioritizing community above many other things I might have before.
1. My solo show at Barickuda Gallery closes this Saturday, October 22 with a Q & A and talk. The gallery is open from 4:30 - 6 pm, and I'll start talking at 5 pm. We'd love to see you. More details here. If you'd like to see the show but you're far away, I'll do a livestream on Saturday on instagram which you can watch by simply going to my insta feed (instagram.com/hannahburrstudio) on Saturday during those hours. Or, leave a comment here and I can send you a PDF of the work in the show once its down.
2. There are still a few calendars left but they're going fast! I've been selling them at local pop ups and on my shop, where shipping this year is included. I will bring some to the closing event where you can also get them this Saturday. Here's where to buy them online.
Before I share about sparkiness, I want to extend an invitation to the WestSideArt Hop this weekend. Please join us if you are in the area (of Ann Arbor MI). Details here. Lots of new things to see!
Was there a small creative spark in your early years that became a vivid theme in the work that you do today?
I recently came across this little paper remnant from when I was a kid because it relates a lot to my artwork. I don't remember the specifics, but what I vaguely recall is that this paper was from a listening and noticing exercise I was invited to do for a class in middle school.
This is the piece of paper I wrote on. It had been folded into fours. It's something I keep on my bulletin board to remind me of how impressionable we are as kids and how simple things like this exercise can shape a life.
List making in and of itself has come into my work many times, most notably in Empty Full, in which I inventoried every single object I own as both a list, and as a single calculated volume of space, which then was shared as a hollow cylinder in the same volume, with the list of objects on the floor of the structure.
In Yardsale, while I was holding an object with all of the usual stuff for sale, I asked each customer to cross off of a list an item of their choice for every object they bought. The list was of intangible things I was, I felt, ready to let go of at that time in my life. The list has things like: "Taking the bigger piece of pie" and "laughing when it's not funny".
Visual Traces of Groups of Work. I and five volunteers observed what was happening in the gallery: minute repeating events that are a part of a group at work, that became a list as part of the work, and then got translated into different types of adhesive marks on the walls and floor of the gallery, exhibited along with the list.
Lists also feature heavily in my third book the Elements: a love letter to all thing everywhere. Here, the objects and areas in which each element is found, are listed for all 118 chemical elements, as well as their behaviors, qualities and uses. All of my books except the very first have Indexes, another kind of list and another way to explore and enter the content of the books.
Spot Count asked others to list their noticings in open public spaces like a weedy lot or a park, much like I was asked to do in school long ago, though they moved through the space like you would for a bird count, or for a forensic search, but in my project, leaving colorful marker wherever they stood and observed.
I'm also excited to share that this same theme is coming forth in a new book project that will be ready to fully to share in just a few months. It's a book called Field Guide to Ambiguity, and is about all of the situations in which ambiguity is present, as well as some of the strategies we use to deal with it. It is essentially a list of such ambiguous situations, paired with a new artwork, reflections and variations on each situation, as well as beautiful design by my collaborator Patrick Barber in Detroit. Patrick has contributed much to the building of this book, the structure and the editing process as a book designer and a designer specifically of Field Guides as luck would have it.
I can't wait to share it with you, but for now, let's return to the piece of paper that inspired this post!
Do you have something from your childhood that made a huge impact on your livelihood, artwork or other creative work in a significant way?
What small thing was introduced to you that became a seed, that then grew into something huge?
For you today, I have a brief talk I gave back in the fall of 2018 called 'Art Among the Elements.' at a local night club as a part of Nerd Nite - a story corp style gathering hosted by the illustrious Ann Arbor District Library. I talked for 22 minutes about the third book which was in process at the time: The Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere.
I share in this talk about why I make books, how I came to make this one on such a different subject than the two prior books (on prayer), and the distilled learnings and takeaways from the process to date.
I am sharing it with you here. It’s not the live talk, so you can’t hear the wild and untameable audience participation, but the sound quality is pretty good and there are some pretty slides. A note too that I have a few scientific facts *almost* right in this talk, corrected when I actually did complete and publish the book in 2019.* Please enjoy and thank you for helping make this book a reality!
All I had at the time of the talk was a prototype with a slightly different name. I was still working out layout and layering of the meaning and content of the book. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how many things needed tremendous time and patience to come into focus. I didn’t learn how to give them either until I was in the very end stages. In essence, this book taught me to slow the F down, care for my body, and to tolerate uncertainty better than I had ever been able to before.
To see the book in its finished form, you can visit its official web page, or find it for sale in digital or physical form at my shop. You will also find a grid poster, a set of prints and a set of postcards, as well as a curriculum to walk children and adults through the book scavenger-hunt and interdisciplinary-style, which is my teaching and making way.
Speaking of uncertainty, that’s a topic I am currently exploring in another decade-long book project that is underway in earnest today! I will share more about that soon.
*The primary factoid to correct is that Hydrogren formed not immediately after the big bang, but as things cooled down in the time that followed when atoms could in fact pull together at all.
Share with me your thoughts! What is sparked in the electric being that you are by this topic and this story?
When I set up my studio, I put two chairs, both trash finds, and a cheap rug, right in the middle of everything. This is because I love a studio visit. I also have the kettle and cups, and a pile of books. This is so that it's easy to have someone over to visit me in the studio, to see what I'm doing and to share what they're working on, or what they are interested in in my work.
I think this is my very favorite thing - aside from being alone and making art - about art making, is that it has led to so many lovely visits, friendships, interesting insights and perspectives and collaborations. In other words, yes, relationships! So I wanted to just let you know that if you'd like to come handle a handmade End Papers book, peer around the edge of the puffy paintings, or share a cup of tea,* drop me a line! I would love to have you over and learn what drew you to connect. You are welcome.
If you came to the studio, what would you like to see, ask, or talk about?
If you used to come to my studio in Boston, what do you most remember about it? What did you most enjoy?
Please share below in the comments, both so that others can learn, and so that I can too!
* Just be clear, you could have your own cup of tea...I would provide it, but we would each get our own.
** Here's a blog post about End Papers, which used to be called Death Books.
Holidays are nigh.
Generally the holidays are a clusterfuck of pressure and shrill ho hoing, or the kind of peace and freedom that comes from having abandoned all or of some of that. We still do presents in my extended family, though every year there's less of an understanding of why, except for shear momentum of tradition.
I like to make stuff and so that's my solace.
One thing I can offer you is 15% off everything in my shop for the next week. Happy holidays! This is for those among you who do buy gifts, or do like the inspiration of getting yourself a gift. Use THANKSALL at checkout through Dec 1 for being such a great reader of this blog!
My credo this year is going to be, do it if it sounds fun, but otherwise, don't. Let the chips fall where they may. If it isn't a hell yes to do, then don't or, if the pressure bearing down is so great that you have to say OK Fine, take a lot of bathroom breaks and short walks around the block, and swap ironic texts to your good friends that include the asteroid emoji and the poop emoji.
I also really liked hearing that instead of judging that family member who is doing something really unsavory, to be impressed by how incredibly well they play the role of themselves doing that really unsavory thing right on cue. Like you're in a movie with them and it's remarkable how well they know they're lines.
And if, as is sometimes inevitable on the seasonal table, there is a lot of grief, or depression or sad, see if you can take a little time to breath into that. Like a sad, half inflated rudolph lawn ornament, let it be there, but leave the specific story where it lies. Let it be a raw sensation moving through - in the bathroom, on the walk, or under some covers for a little while.
I recently was asked to say a few words on ‘art as meditation’ and meditation as art by my friend in the Pioneer Valley Abbie Wanamaker. Abbie was having a two person show and there was a forum that she asked me to speak at. I’ll share a few of the thoughts that came to mind as I considered her work and process, and the idea of art as meditation and meditation as art.
First, the word meditation in US culture has felt loaded with a sense of personal shortcoming and obligation for many, to the point that it may not be a useful word to use anymore. In a similar way, the idea of art practice has with it for many a sense of should, haven’t yet….maybe someday, soon.
Instead of meditation let’s talk about presence. That thing you were when you were born and still are, without any effort, prior to any self idea. That thing that sparks between you and a small woodland creature when you stumble upon one another and hold the other’s gaze. Presence is what we make room for in a process of deep play, prior to the part of our minds that narrate or decide the merit of what we are doing or what we might be making.
I enjoyed looking at Abbie’s paintings, their unapologetic, straightforward and vivid qualities. I think too about resonance, and I know that Abbie has resonated with my work and ideas for a while. I can see why: in the directness of her process, her statement and how she figures out what’s happening after the fact, letting the doing, the activity itself and the textures and qualities of the materials lead. This practice is presence too and similar to what happens in my studio when things roll naturally. I see in her work that Abbie values the doing over the thing that’s made, turning art practice into a form of attention.
Consider the difference between the governed idea of creative action and cultivating presence, and the direct experience of these things: what you already are: the situation, what’s happening inside and outside of this skin envelope we call a body: the temperature, the textures, sounds, tastes, motion, exchanges with people, animals, elements like sunlight and wind and sounds, intersection of elements that will never intersect quite the same way again. To me that’s deep play, creativity at its best, and contemplation all rolled up into one. It’s a sense of belonging, or inherent value, or naturalness, the way a dry leaf becomes the forest floor or a child is held in arms.
The window has opened for Calendar Reservations!!!
A limited edition studio wall calendar has become a tradition since I moved to Michigan, as a way to share with you what I'm looking at and loving as I sort through drawings in my studio, even though you may be far away. Sometimes what ends up in the calendar is a sweet fragment of something from long ago, sometimes its something brand new that I'm not sure what to do with yet, but it looks great in January! This calendar has become a way to feel connected to you and sharing visual ideas with you, in the spirit of my love of multiples and affordable are mediums.
I have been sorting, selecting, googling international holidays, and fussing with moon phase graphics, and the new calendar is both dialed in and nigh!!
Like last year, I will be only printing what I get preorders for. I am accepting preorders through Saturday October 18, which is in just over two weeks.
For preordering, you get a well deserved discount, and here’s how you do it. The calendars are $55 this year, and for preordering, you get them for $50. That’s %10 off. This applies to as many copies as you would like to order.
Preorder it at Big Cartel and use the discount code CALFAN2022 at check out as a proud early bird! Thats a discount of 10% off by October 18 on as many copies as you like. Each copy will be hand editioned.
Go to https://hannahburr.bigcartel.com/product/especially-now-limited-edition-2022-wall-calendar for the immediate product page, and to hannahburr.bigcartel.com for all your other HBS products.
I will send these out to you by Dec 1st this year, or before.
These images are the product in process, and so please forgive any low res oddness. I always proof with a hard copy to make sure it's all accurate, crisp color and nice sharp lines.
Please also tweet, pin and share from the shop, and send this email far and wide, so that no one is sad that they missed the window to order, which sometimes does happen. S please forward this email about, and thank you so much for your interest, patronage, time, attention and friendship.
To a new year of color and inspiration,
Back when I lived in the North East, I used to visit New York, and in New York, my friend David X Levine, in his mid town tiny studio, where I would flip through his lovely collection of black books containing his drawings. We did several trades, and I have a lovely collection of his drawings as a result.
I liked his system, and I learned a lot from his system of barter as well. Bartering is one of the true abundances of being an artist. If someone likes my work, which is certainly not a given but has often been the case, we can often trade services for artwork and it's a win win all around. If there's a mutual fan club going on with a fellow artist, we are often abundant in works to trade. Sometimes, people do not want to barter, and this is always important to fully accept before you even propose it.
When it is a Yes for you both, how to barter is not always clear. And for any kind of studio event, how to share your work on paper with people where it is unframed and keep it in good condition is a real concern.
From David I learned that the black books with plastic sleeves allows someone to really go through your work, and select their favorites, while keeping the works safe from oils and spills. I have grouped work by year or by series in these books. I love to know what work people love because I learn about them, about the work, and it gives me some good information for a time when they might get a gift from me. The worst thing is receiving a gift of artwork that you don't like! What a waste for everybody. So I like to be able to mark pages with sticky notes to help me remember who likes what (this sounds so organized, but then I throw out the notes and it all goes to shit, but I try).
Barter is also a delicate matter because you don't want to trade just anything, and if someone can just pick anything, it would be a disaster if you weren't ready to part with that particular piece, or it was of greater value to you than what you were getting in return. David's system was to have the person pick their five favorites out of whatever selection you were open to bartering for. Then you remove two that you'd rather keep from their selection of five. They then remove one of the three remaining as their least favorite of those three. Which leaves two. Usually, by this point, one of the pieces is crying out as the one: Pick me!! The one that is meant for this person. At this point, in other words, the work selects itself, or one of you makes the move. This way, we've learned a lot, played a little selection game, and gradually, come up with the win win barter choice. Everyone goes away smiling.
So the black books is a way to facilitate this exchange while keeping your work nice and clean. You can also use cellophane protection sleeves, or just a good pair of clean gloves.
One word of caution about the black books: if you buy them used, or reuse them, be sure that they didn't have charcoal or pastel works in them prior, because then you get that crap on your pristine works.
Recently, I decided to reconsider everything by emptying these books, the work in them has gotten a little mixed up and some of it needs to be considered afresh, and inventoried. So now the work is organized and these books stand ready to refill.
What's your system, barter story, question or thought? Please share in the comments, it's much more fun with your contributions.
I've been trying to put my finger on something since my return from the Colorado River last week. It was a short trip. Hard even to recall and yet it's left an imprint that moves like a sun spot - always on the periphery of what's going on, but here still, adjusting everything in a way I can't yet place.
While there on the river, one thing presented after the next: floating, climbing, eating, chatting, hauling, organizing, snacking, getting ready for and floating out of the next or last rapid, covering up, cooling down in the water, caring for eyes in the dry hot wind, playing werewolf in the dark with eight people whose names I mastered just as I bid them goodbye. And the whole time trying actually to arrive.
We stopped at many bright and sacred oases, hidden waterfalls and water pools, places where ancient Puebloans left the mark of concentric circles or stored their grain way up high. Each of us rested on a warm rock in the shade, watched the glowing walls change as we floated up to, by and past their silence and specific set of magnificent scars.
I was rarely alone - normally I am alone more than half of the day. There I sat only a handful of times in solitude. The time I sketched canyon walls in the ninety degree blue white moonlit dark, too bright to sleep in. The times, each of them, when I was easily an early bird, rising before others to stand at river edge, or look out from the privacy of the 'adventure toilet', or to follow the hide and seek of a dawn bird call. The last time was in Deer Creek Canyon, sitting, awed by the height we'd climbed up over the waterfall, to the oasis behind and above it: cottonwood trees, carved pools, the sense of a thin flat plane of water appearing to flow uphill, the surprise of a place you didn't expect, and the overwhelming presence of grief love: when one's home in another has gone beyond one's physical reach, accepting the time had come for them or you to leap the ledge.
There and finally in Flagstaff when I shut the door to the hotel bathroom, were the moments I registered being alone, outside of the itinerary, the patter of family, short term plans and passerby, the flowing by of scenery unlike the familiar touchstones of my home address and agenda.
The main takeaway: This all slips by. It can't be held. It's vaster than can be comprehended or discovered, it's sometimes floating, sometimes shocking with cold or challenging with a heart-pounding climb. You can't stop it and yet it is saturated with tenderness, an intimacy that you already and ever are, that soft sand suggests and the small circle of a blowing weed traces in it. Just this is yours for just right now.
Sometimes, when a friend invites me to go look at art somewhere local, I feel the burden of my identification as an artist. Such a foray as 'artist' often feels wearying. Usually, the evening ends up being a better experience than I thought, about friendship and empathic joyfulness for the artists exhibiting, but the story of the whole thing that proceeds such an outing - the thought and precursive feeling - is what can feel oppressive. It's a shared, social set of norms and patterns that I have been trying to lose for some time.
Something has always felt off kilter about how normal it is to 'seek' as artists, and how often quite blatantly the commerce game in the US is very stacked against the delicate skin of many a creative. Also lopsided is how gallerists and curators are lightening rods themselves, the focus of so many people's wants, and then also seeking the sales, or the grants, or the reviews. Who wants to relate to the world from that place of lack and want?
I am reminded, of a trip to New York City I took when I was still in my twenties, with a good artist friend at the time. She had a complete reverence for each work we looked at. She took her time. She was quiet, as if watching wildlife. She was just alight with the work, all kinds, all eras. The fact of its very existence filled her heart, it seemed to me. It felt like we had taken a pilgrimage.
I was brought up looking at art and going to museums. By that trip in my twenties, I was already sort of numb to its magic. I do however remember being very small, and delighting in a color, a bold assemblage, a particular type of line or mark, or some whole crazy mess or elegant, painstaking arrangement in the white square of a museum. This younger self reminds me that my heart has always been tuned to this type of song. My friend in New York showed me without meaning to, where I had gotten overly familiar with the sacred exchange of looking. Today, the decades of past association appear at moments, to have made me jaded: perhaps because an eye roll is easier than a broken heart.
Put differently, the breathtaking first love of a color and a form, overlaid with a professional career of success! rejection, utter disregard, success! deflation, disillusionment, confusion, bitterness, loss, little success! and then in many regards just turning, three quarters of the way away, can make a little jaunt to an opening, feel complicated for me.
It's similar to how I have felt as a single woman in my forties, trying to decide if I wanted to join a dating app one last time or if I was completely done. I decided I was done. And from this came a deep layer of, eventually, freedom. I could be a happy spinster! I enjoyed my own company. I loved making an X with my limbs in a bed all my own. Doing whatever the F I felt like, whenever. Having my sister's kids over was delightful.
I regard the newish and changing art scenes around me today with weary distrust. There's the Boston ones, the Detroit ones, the Michigan ones, the Maine ones. Or is there? These are stories and thoughts, based on past experience and conclusions, high and hard moments, objectifying stories, that ultimately have no more basis than me as an object among objects in the world. Stories are so compelling, but they often don't hold up upon scrutiny to have any actual reality to them. Aren't we all just waking up, getting a cup of something, brushing our teeth?
As a small and separate personality, there is always something more to get. As aliveness itself, the thing that leaves a body so remarkably when it breathes its very last breath, there is nothing ever to want. You are all of that already: all expressions, all things, all epiphanies, high points, all tragedies.
Making art is a choice to play, a choice to discover what thrills this particular vantage point I call me. What she's curious about, what fascinates and even repels.
This kind of exploration can extend too, to everything. To every moment of apparent choice, to tuning into the inside Yeses and the inside Nos as one finds the flow and eventually returns to just being flow.
Being flow won't look a certain way. It won't associate with a certain crowd. It won't follow a script. But it is joy, wealth and perfection, the way water moves in a river is that. So my aspiration, to say it out loud, is to roll through the chances of experience where they lead, calibrated as I appear to be, toward certain things. Sometimes out of a need for practical outcomes, sometimes out of a pull or an inspiration, sometimes because something is not feeling great.
In the words of 12th century poet Jelaludin Rumi,
You are the honored guest. Do not weep like a beggar for pieces of the world.
What appears to be true is that both sides of the coin, the little me with her wants and history and aspirations and hurts and prides is held in the aliveness, the situation itself, the one that hears the prayer. Sometimes there's a moment where a skin gets sloughed off, an old tight story, and for a while I have been molting on this artist one. this artist skin. This form in a sea of forms, stories and associations.
How is it for you, as an artist or in your profession? Do you sometimes feel the expanded way, and then contract into the local story of comparison and ambition? Do you see it an entirely other way? Have you found ways to stay open and tender even where there may appear be sharks (or at least sharp rocks) in the water? I would love to learn from you, how to surrender this little striver to the great open water of color, light and infinite form.
Lately, I am undergoing some studio changes. This is an internal and an external thing. I’m looking at what motivates me to do anything, and taking some prompts from my intuition to make some changes.
One of these changes is that I’m going to go from occasionally donating books to a shelter or money to an organization like Kiva microlending (also very fun and low stakes), to baking it into my way of doing business from the ground up.
So far, this has turned out to be delightful.
In the past I have always had some story get in my way of doing this:
a) I don’t make enough money and this will hurt my business.
b) I don’t make enough money and this won’t help anybody.
c) Other people should give to me, they have more than me.
It's amazing how many years of my life I've spent in such a poverty mindset.
I was also just too busy spinning my wheels about whatever I woke up thinking about to make much progress until I began learning about an organization called Effective Altruism, after listening to a podcast in which Sam Harris interview’s its founder, William MacAskill. From there, it’s been a slow slide, involving asking good friends with very different places on the spectrum of wealth, how they do their giving, and then I took a few concrete steps of my own.
While this is a process only in its early phases, as of January 2021, I have set up a system whereby every time I sell a product, a tree is planted in some part of the world where reforestation is needed through Eden Reforestation Projects. This idea came from a lovely conversation I had with friend and design crush Leila Simon Hayes, whose pattern designs and related products are most excellent (she also designed the covers of my first two books) and donates similarly to the Eden Reforestation Project. Through conversation with both Leila and my dear friend, art peer and co-conspirator Sue Murad, I decided to just do it. Additionally, I donate 10% of income that I earn through my studio to something, currently through Effective Altruism, where I know the money will be as effectively used to save or improve a life, as can be managed, based on their careful research and experience.
I wanted to share this news with you, so that every time you find yourself at my shop, or considering the purchase of an artwork, you will be benefiting many, and bringing me a spark of delight in the process!
There are other changes afoot that I will share as they happen, and I will likely focus in on how to give with more specificity as I learn the most effective ways to do so. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know both for accountability and to inspire you to think about where your money goes.
As an end note, this process has made me more aware of who has baked philanthropy into their business models, in formal and informal ways, and made me more and more likely to buy from them than from brands that may have personal profit as their primary goal. I also love this model because it does not follow the non-profit model, which seems to shun money and profitability, and require the exhaustion of always looking for funding. It isn’t always sustainable and seems to equate earning money with being dirty, leaving that to others. I think profitability and self sufficiency is extremely interesting, but all the more so when it’s to make a more powerful change in the world you see around you.
This is big talk from someone who barely knows what she’s talking about, but hopefully it inspires you to be curious and creative in how your money circulates and benefits the world around you.
It's taken all day to get into the studio. There are days like this when I feel fiercely protective of my time in here. The funniest thing is that what I do in here looks like so little outwardly. I read a little, I write a little, I drink coffee if I have it, I listen to music. Sometimes I nap. And sometimes it's all activity and insight and inspiration and stepping back and looking or marking and cutting and placing, digging around for stuff. My favorite is when I'm on a roll with something, when I know what I'm doing and how and I love what I'm making, when I'm literally delighted, or internally lit up, or you could say joyous, about what I'm doing.
I got a book by Anne Truitt off the free pile from my good friend's studio's common area. I'm feeling it.
I read these lines just now:
...this process is mysterious. It's like not knowing where you're going but knowing how to get there. The fifteen years that David Smith thought it took to become an artist are spent partly in learning how to move ahead sure-footedly as if you did actually know where you are going. -Anne Truitt
Yes, it's like tracking yourself. Where was I? What was I caring about the last time I was in here? What did I learn? What did I know I was to do next?
I also read these lines: At first tentatively and then with more confidence, I began to find delight in the acquiescence [to the natural flow of events], and finally even a kind of joy in acceptance.
Also Anne Truitt.
I enjoy reading what artists write - some of them, and how they talk about what they care about, because it's generally 180 degrees opposite how the rest of the world is marching along, and it feels like a tall glass of water when I'm thirsty. Those are my feelings and my words.
Anne Truitt had a very up front professional career. I am tired by the thought of trying at that anymore, but I have confidence that what I do and make is no less important or inspired, when the inspiration is here. So that's a kind of acceptance and freedom. Freedom in knowing that it isn't up to some art scene mafia to decide what is of value to this one in the middle of her life, and what's of value is letting this natural flow occur. I had a lovely early career in Boston. A sweet little CV of shows and associations. I am pleased to have that memory. There may be more in the future, and they may not be. And that is not for me to decide. But it is, right now, clear that my job is to show up here and make work, and share about it, and the process of making it. There's no question to me that I am an artist making strong work. I don't doubt that. I may and often do doubt pieces, if they're resolved, if the presentation is strong and clear, etc. But not if the activity and the viewpoint is of value. No one will prioritize this more than me. And the same time, it's all ordinary art-making.
Someone just stopped in to invite me to join them for digging up some free plants across town. It's nice, and it requires me telling the truth, that No. There is nothing in me that wants to leave my studio to go dig up some plants. No and no. thanks. Maybe another day. Not now.
This metal box is a bit not the right container for the teas and tea paraphernalia that I use in the studio because it is a) too small b) meant for more serious things, and c) ugly. However, it is *the* tea box, and has been for years. It usually and currently contains some dish towels, boxes and individual packets of tea bags, and a few tea cups and mugs. It sits atop a bookshelf, and carries with it the friendly anticipation of a studio visit where one might serve tea. If I have snacks, the fact that the tea box is metal with a latch means that a mouse would be less drawn to the box. Happily there are no mice as of yet in this studio!
When it is just me, which is most of the time, the tea cups are stacked in a jumble and most of them have the dried dregs of my own tea or coffee drinkings. Which means that when someone is coming for a bonafide studio visit, I will wash these, or swap them out for other mugs from my kitchen that are dishwasher clean. Sometimes it's a bit like camping in the studio when it's just me.
I currently have mostly tisanes: or herbal teas, in the manner of ginger, ginger turmeric and mint. A few green teas lurk, and if one requests black tea, I can dig some up in the house.
The studio for many years has been the receptacle for things I have discarded from my home, but can be handy anyway. The Q tip jar for example, which was a failed coffee cup, extra fancy china that no one else in my home likes to use, and the beer steins that I once started compulsively collected but stopped after I had 5 of them. I have two left, and they are actually part of a Stand In sculpture, though at times have been used for tea during a visit. Other objects from home that have a rag tag second life in the studio include favorite cashmere sweaters with too many moth holes, corduroy jean shorts and heavy messed up pants for dirty paint projects, plastic molded clogs, and lots of yogurt containers at one point, though not currently.
In a sense, the studio can certainly be an excuse to never let anything go, in the tradition of the New Englander who can find a use for anything, and as a mixed media artist I mean anything.
But these days, though there is certainly a lot of serious stuff in the studio, it has been pared down to only the more essential junk, and whisked away into what I hope will stay an orderly closet.
Finally, here is an image from an art project from 2007 called Tangle, in which contents of my Tea Box were wrapped on my head. To see more of this project visit hannahburr.com/tangle.
Below I share my own background with meditation, as well as some lessons I have learned that may help you avoid some of the sillier sides to the industry they call meditation and mindfulness.
My own experience with meditation (skip this part if you don't care!):
I've always been a bit of a mystic, interested in religious rites and rituals of all kinds. I was curious and a little perplexed by those of the episcopal church I grew up attending socially with my family, tried to make sense of a child's illustrated bible my minister uncle provided upon my request when I was 8, and did a 25 page report on Haitian Voodoo ceremonies for an expository writing class in high school.
When I was in college, I ended up double-majoring in art and religion - the least practical two fields one could choose, and two that really were perfect for me. I chose the religious studies department at Brown University because it was a more 'happening' department at that time than the Anthropology department from what I could tell. I studied East Asian religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, as well as Christianity, and a tiny bit of Judaism and Islam. I wrote my senior thesis on Jonestown. I was interested in the difference between cults and religions, how they form and who decides.
I didn't actually meditate at all until I was out of college for a few years, when a good friend, visiting me in the midst of a painful breakup (mine), showed me how. I spent the next ten years trying to attain sainthood by doing lots of meditation of various forms, having a couple of 'special state' moments, and a couple of cultish sidebars that made me wary of the whole thing and fairly confused. Suffice it to say, I learned a lot about what meditation is not, and what to do if you really want to hurt yourself.
After that, I found Vipassana meditation, also called insight meditation, and I liked it because I felt there were fewer bells and whistles, and less outward forms and rituals to adhere to than my forays into Tibetan and Zen buddhism had yielded. I also did some specialized yoga, went on a pilgrimage to south India, and almost gave up my life to go live at an ashram with a couple of kooks; I am grateful that I ultimately did not!
What all those years of attempting to perfect or fix myself and my troubles through meditation did, is to hone my bullshit meter pretty sharply. Here are my *fairly cynical* (you are forewarned!) takeaways or you might call it
Hannah B’s Rough Guide to meditation:
Meditation is being present for what happens. It is simply a form of attention. Attention is love.
There are many ways to be present, some of them are easier than others, some work better for one person than another.
Meditation can be used to calm and center the mind and body, and can be good for your health. It can also really F up your knees if you think it has to be done cross legged like on the magazine covers.
Meditation doesn't look a certain way. You don't have to buy special stuff or hold painful poses. You do not need to have a top knot or mala beads or a shawl. You can eat meat. You can be in therapy. You can enjoy wearing heels or vote republican. If you find yourself developing a new style or persona around your meditation practice, please notice this: it's got nothing, nothing, to do with actually being present.
Meditation doesn't mean that thinking stops. In my experience, you are not in charge of thoughts: the brain thinks like the nose smells, just doing its job. Thinking is not you but a function of the organ called the brain. The more you believe a thought to be you, and believe whatever ticker-tape thoughts come along, the deeper suffering may ensue.
Meditation is not one-size-fits-all.
If anyone tells you their way of meditating is the right way and only way, please do not believe them!
Everybody responds differently to different types of meditation, based on who they are, their genetics, personalities, learning styles and needs, and there are many options. That being said, I recommend keeping it simple and not getting too fetishy about it.
The whole thing, I’ve found, is an inside out process. How you look is just your ego trying to be perfect and liked. I spent a long time trying to 'do it right' and 'look good' because frankly I didn't like who I was, and I thought if I could be this saintly gal, I would have no flaws and I would finally be loved. What I had backward is that the only place where love is is inside, and the outer situation only reflects whatever that relationship is. If the teacher liked me, then I was ok. If I seemed sagely and selfless, then I was safe. Underneath was a really fraudulent feeling and I didn't think it was ok to have such a feeling, to be confused, to be a giant throbbing mess. But I was.
The good news is that, though you can hurt yourself with this "idea" of yourself as a meditator or somehow in a superior place, eventually your course will self correct, it can't not. It may just take longer if you are trying really really hard.
People often learn how to meditate from other people.
This is a little like the way electricity is conducted through metal. It seems helpful to be in conversation with others. In this day and age, such an interaction can be refreshingly down to earth. In my experience a good teacher makes you feel at ease with things as they are, and yourself as you are. Because in a way this is all a big mirror, if you feel like you are disappointing your teacher or getting corrected a lot, it may be because they are feeling disappointed and critical of themselves. Your boundaries are to be valued and honored, as well as your life experience.
If you feel like there's a level of fakeness in the air at a given meditation center, there probably is. A healthy community that forms around meditation is not hierarchical, does not involve prescribed dress and ways of moving, speaking or talking, or giving up all your cash. It may be you that's feeling fake. So see what it's like if you drop that. If it's not okay, perhaps you're in a cult! They are quite common. If you can't be yourself or make choices for yourself freely in that environment, there may be a problem there.
Sometimes there's this far out thing described as having an enlightenment experience, and somebody who has special status because of theirs. Also, be wary here. If what is being referred to is in the past, is romanticising a certain time or association, or a special state other than the present, including you and your experience, also this is something to avoid getting too enamoured of.
Any teacher sitting in front of you is a human being with their own conditioning, preferences, foibles and imperfections. If this is not acknowledged by the teacher, this is a flag. If they dangle something really special in front of you like waking up, and tell you that it takes a long time, decades of sitting on a meditation cushion, or lots of money and expressions of loyalty to the teacher, please run away! If there is like an inner circle, that too is weird. It is!
Some people may be fully awake and never have formally meditated, and never will. Often people who spend decades on a meditation cushion, like I did, do so because they have trouble getting along in the world, not because they've transcended it. Any claim I make, or another makes, to being superior is hiding a fear of being inferior. We certainly all, as humans, believe and sometimes outwardly make such claims, but remembering this can help you take any leader with a grain of salt. As my friend Brian likes to say, we are all - every last one of us, a bunch of third graders wandering around. No one can claim authority for another when we see this fundamental truth. So be scientific and skeptical. Ask the awkward question. Try it out, but trust your gut.
Just Sitting There
My Philosophy of Prayer
Or see the category: Contemplative Practice
Look back, take stock, and celebrate.
While the first way: Stay in the Body is concrete and personal, the next two have a more contemplative and cerebral quality to them.
The question is then, how to do these things. There are a million ways. Right now what’s springing to mind is to suggest with a friend, or to set a date or two with yourself, to do these things intentionally. You might put on your calendar for a day of this weekend, or the one right before or after the bigger holiday events coming up, a two hour window at your favorite coffee shop or nook, to meet or factetime a copascetic friend or on your own, to come together write and share on the following.
A few guidelines:
Don’t force anyone to do this. Including yourself. No 14 year old kid is likely going to want to answer these questions. That’s ok.
If doing this in a group or with friends, let everyone be and respond as they want to. It’s not a time for advice giving or opining. This was everyone feels safe.
When I do this kind of thing with a friend, I find it helpful to share the questions and write on them, and then each person has time to share out loud what they wrote.
A little over a month ago, after 6 years of conceptualizing, researching, starting, stopping, presenting, sharing, reworking, building, editing, building, editing, refining, freaking out and head scratching, I finally got to meet the Elements book on its own terms. As my mother used to say as I was heading off to college: the biscuits are out of the oven! In other words, it's out of my hands now!
So now, after a complicated and exhilarating month, I have handed out and distributed all of the reserved copies, shared the book at a talk in Maine, a book pick up party in Boston, one in Ann Arbor, an art book fair in North Hampton MA and another in Detroit MI, I'm stepping back to marvel and reflect. The feedback, I believe, made the book more approachable, playful and easy to delve in and out of with impunity. My favorite part happens now, as I learn what this project means for others, how it lands for you, and what it wants to be in the world.
Here are some reactions I've gotten to Elements so far:
This is a book for poets married to scientists and engineers married to artists.
This is a book for the parents of scientists.
This is a book for families wanting a playful and awe inspiring entry point to science and to the world, objects, inner and outerspace. It's a wonderful learning tool for the whole family.
This is a book that can create access to a formerly expert, specialized subject, for more visual thinkers or people steeped in other subjects for most of their lives.
This book can be used as a meditation tool, a page a day, a random flip open, to shift perspective or go deep.
This book is for synesthetes and those loving a lateral view, a different cross section of our world.
It's been surprising and delightful to learn all of this, as people connect with it at my table at an art book fair, or emailed me after receiving it and sitting down with it for the first time. Hearing my retired uncle admit that they didn't know titanium was an element until this book. To watch my Waldorf teacher friend get super excited about it for a teaching block, my cousin Katie, an episcopal minister and teacher, send me a photo of it on her teachers desk as a dynamic entry point to mysticism. My 13 year old nephew start in from the first page, and get really into the paper legend and visual patterns hidden in the book. My favorite was a woman at the Northampton Art Book Fair, a biology major volunteering who happened to be sitting next to me. She asked to take a peek at my book, then clutched it to her chest, held it up over her head and shouted, I LOVE THIS BOOK! I need it! It's how I learn! And then too, discovering across from me at the Detroit Art Book Fair that Flower Press had made a bumper sticker that read: MORE TEXTBOOKS BY WOMEN. And I thought YES! That's also what this is!
So far I've broken down 25 boxes, as I send and hand out the books. That's 575 pounds of Elements book out in the world!
Upcoming are two more events to date: On November 10 in Ann Arbor, the book will be shared and launched along with 8 other authors publishing through 5th Avenue Press. I'll be giving a very brief presentation of the book.* And on November 9 and 10 in Boston, I'll be at the Boston Art Book Fair to share this and the brand new calendar, as well as the concept of WE AM, a collective in development.
*My presentation will be a recorded talk, and Guy will be there to share and sell the books, all of which will be signed copies.
Walt Whitman's writing arises itself from a very unified understanding of being, objects and the world.
On the eve of sharing my third book with all of you this September, I share this part of his epic poem Song of Myself.
17. Song of the Broad-Axe
The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets,
Shapes of two-threaded tracks of railroads,
Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake and canal craft, river craft,
Ship-yards and dry-rocks along the Eastern and Western seas, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the hackmatack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaffolds, the workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little auger, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead-plane...
I love about it that it's a list of things, that it's about the mundane, observing what's here, and just letting it awe one. The full title of the upcoming book is Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere. As you can see here, this poem is clearly a love letter to all things everywhere. And it is a song of Walt Whitman's Self. In this new book you will find lists of objects, arranged around each of the 118 known chemical elements that make all the stuff, all the shapes arising.
This part of Whitman's poem is not in the upcoming book, but there are other words of his included:
Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I was intrigued by Whitman's use of the word 'atom' because the atom as we understand it today in scientific terms, was not actually discovered during Whitman's time. It turns out that the word 'atom' is an ancient greek word meaning 'indivisible.' The smallest unit possible. Now for us, an atom is made up of smaller parts: protons, neutrons and electrons, and smaller particles including quarks. And we keep discovering that an 'indivisible' thing is made of other things, defying/expanding our understanding again and again. The concept and word 'atom' is ancient, and used by Whitman in his writing and poems, in sum.
An element, by the way, is a uniquely structured atom, with a set number of protons, and electrons, and its own atomic weight (based on these). There are 118 known such elements, or unique atoms, that bind and react (steam, smoke, fire, farts, fireworks, rust, yogurt and so on) and make all the things we are, eat, have, and see. The lightest one has one proton and electron and the atomic weight of 1 (Hydrogen H). The heaviest has 118 protons and electrons, and the atomic weight of 118 (Oganesson Og -recently discovered and named if you haven't heard of it).
Here are a couple of other Walt Whitman snippets that I considered including in the book because they hit upon these themes of awe, union, and inseparability that inspired my book:
15. To be in any form, what is that?…
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.
14. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same…
18. Songs of the Open Road
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
I can't wait to share this book with you. Thanks for tuning in.
UPDATE! The Elements book is now for sale here.
There are three things in this post: A celebration, an outline of my ten learnings from Elements so far, and some actual dates for celebrating with me and getting your books in Ann Arbor and Boston. Read on!
This early June, the peonies are taking their luxurious time to open here in Michigan.
Yesterday, I finally communicated to the printer of the Elements book, the following phrase:
I approve this book for printing.
This is a big moment in printing a book.
It means that the book is complete: edited, proofread, spellchecked, gone through page by page probably 200 times, updated, and then sent off for proofing again. There’s the proof where you’re checking that no pages are upside-down or out of order, that no headers went mysteriously missing, and that the layout is as expected. That’s called the indigo or ozalid proof. The color looks like crap and there are weird inconsistencies in the ink, but you are supposed to ignore that.
For this project, I approved a wet proof as well. This one roll of paper, about the size of six posters, cost $800. The printer has to set the entire press up with the actual paper and actual ink and final settings, so you can see if the cover is the right tone, the text is dark enough, and how the ink sits/absorbs on the uncoated creamy paper stock I chose.
That in itself could be another round of proofing, but I decided I couldn’t front another $800 to see what a slight modification in the cyan would look like. Most projects don’t wet proof unless like this one, you’re using different paper and have a lot of color artwork in the book.
This book is 428 pages. Early in the process, I had to play about a week’s worth of tetrus to figure out how to consolidate down by about 12 pages. This process involved looking at other books, playing mental scenarios out, and drawing lots of page grids and sketches.
My last two books were 125 pages each, with a single line or two of text on most of the pages. To be honest, back in 2012 when I started working with my first overseas printer, I had no idea what I was doing, and was yes, using a lot of prayer to sleep ok at night and trust that it was all going to work out. I didn’t think much about the paper, I had no idea what exactly I was supposed to be looking at with the proofs that arrived, and I was too intimidated to ask many questions.
Comparatively and in hindsight, I now see that ignorance is bliss, and that a shorter book takes a lot less time to prepare!
On this project I had a book designer Amanda Szot from AADL offering guidance, ideas, and a lovely Periodic Table of Elements.Working with Amanda and learning some of her process made me aware of my very real learning curve with InDesign. I think back to Leila Simon Hayes working on the layout and cover design of the last two books, and how challenging it must have been that I was so fly-by-night and chaotic in my approach. Alas. But I am also fairly detail oriented and scrappy, which is how I probably got it to the printer at all. I’ve learned a lot from the people and process that become woven into the making of these books.
I asked for a lot more help on this project than I had before, and help arrived in very cool forms.
a) I met Patrick Barber, a book designer, at the Detroit Art Book Fair last fall, where he was admiring my paintings. He recommended the overseas printer I ended up working with using his recommended contact. We through books his publishing company had printed with this printer in his Detroit living room, as I scribbled notes and asked all the questions I could think of.
Later in the process, I proposed we barter: His expertise and consulting for artwork. Since then he’s been helping me decipher complex emails, strategize approaches in response, understand the focus and motivation of the printing team, and understand rich black versus straight black, the invoices and purchase orders, exports to PDF, and how to approach each round of proofing. All with enthusiasm, which makes me feel so glad I have work to barter!
Nicco Pandolfi took on an early round of editing, and was paired with me by Sara Wedell, the overseer of my publishing team at the Ann Arbor District Library. This was my frist experience with an editor or a publishing team (of which designer Amanda Szot is also a part), and it both raised the level of support, the bar for the finished product, and my awareness that my one month timeframe to get this book to press was wAAAAy unrealistic.
So, it’s been a LOT more of my life and time than I thought possible to bring this book to the point of printing (one month became five).
I have learned ten things. I have learned to
-ask for help (1)
-set up an ergonomic workstation (2)
-take care of my eyes and body with breaks and limits to my screen time (3)
-slow way down, take the time needed (4)
-consider that I may not know how to spell all words (5)
-put lots of mental emotional padding between me and emails that might otherwise raise up the hackles.(6) For example, the email where I thought the book was going to cost 2000 more than the highest quote (beyond all raised funds), because of a misunderstanding about the number of color pages.
-be curious and open where I might before have been a compact singularity of stress (7)
-tell the truth and extend a deadline which, up until this project I’d prided myself on never having done (8)
-handle things gently and with love, first and foremost myself, and everyone else from there (9)
-navigate around lots of technical stuff in Lightroom, InDesign and and way more about the business of printing in general (10)
...and maybe on the next project, make the book a tiny bit shorter!
In other words, I have changed in significant ways because of this project.
The peony next to my monitor went from deep hot pink to soft light pink like a fading curtain over the last few days. The petals have mostly dropped onto the table. And, there are more adventures ahead with this project.
One more proof, the F&Gs, are my opportunity to remedy tiny smudges or printing anomalies of the final, already printed book before binding, and then it gets delivered.
To be safe, we’re saying the delivery date is September. I plan to have a pick up party in Boston on September 7th, and another in Michigan on September 13th. I rest well in the knowledge I’ve done my best while taking good care of this project and myself, and I trust everyone who has invested their time, interest, money and expertise, as well as emotional support, to get us to these words:
I approve this book for printing.
[Originally posted in Spring of 2013]
A few weeks ago I was driving home at night through Brookline. In one of the town's many rotaries was a simple mound with many, many daffodils in bloom. It was raining and I noticed them on my left.
Normally, I'd cluck over their beauty with a heightened sense of goodwill. But in this instance, I was surprised by what I saw there instead. I had a similar sensation once while looking at stars in Maine. I saw depth in the night sky, where before I'd seen more of a blanket or curved plane of stars like in the planetarium. Seeing the flowers in the rotary gave me a similar feeling of vastness, or vertigo.
I saw while passing the flowers that the whole mess of them, the entire mound of hundreds, was actually one conscious presence or force, like a collective brain. Something far less diminutive or poetic than what I'd previously percieved. The green shoots, threading roots filtering the dirt, meet as a single mind under there.
Our lives are lived at times with the leaden feeling of no-one-gives-a-shit/sees me/understands. As a woman living alone turning 40 in a month, the daffodil revelation is important. The cars circling the rotary, people on a train platform, a group listening to a concert is the same. We get so caught in the mire of being individuals. The tangle of speculation, obligation, association, doubt and doom - Doing and aiming for a high perch on the hill, or we fear mediocrity and failure. I want to be a success, don't you?
When I can feel the ground underneath, or the weather as it mixes with the tiny hairs on my arm, use my senses to reconnect to the situation I find myself in at any given moment, just as it is and just as I am, recollected.
Those flowers don't have long. They get a few weeks if they're lucky to kappow in yellow. That depth and connection is also available to me and you, as is the profound beauty of our vulnerable, short lives.
My life has been included times of extreme, big, scary, and sometimes all-at-once change.
Three times, I’ve lost a job, a relationship, and had to move within the span of a week. Can you relate? Certain things have been constants. Family nearby and an art practice I’ve always had. Last year I moved half way across the country, and now family is far away too: The world itself appears to be going through relentless unfolding processes, losses, big shifts in understanding, incredible challenges: big effin’ change.
This summer I’m taking some major action on things I’ve dreamed about for several years, chewed on, but never seen a way to make happen. In the last month I’ve begun learning how I might Scale Up by doing these 8 things:
I’m sharing this post with you because this is one on a long list of scary things I’m doing right now to get honest and stay accountable. I’m managing my time in a more specific way, working up the nerve to share things via video, re-alphabetizing a lot of index cards and solving strange problems. I’m also listening to people to whom I can’t relate very much, who share what they did to find their audience, and taking their suggestions. I’m showing up to practice what it feels like to be seen going through this, instead of only sharing the finished product as if it was seamless and delightful to pull together.
7 Reasons Why I’m Doing This
1. What I have to share is genuinely, practically useful, tested and delivered uniquely.
2. I’m here to share what I make. Why not master the sharing part?
3. I’m curious and interested to see what’s going to happen. I know what happens if I do things the way I’ve always done them. What if I go about it full boar instead of half-assedly?
4. I like learning, and man, is there a steep learning curve right now! Every day, I’ve got about 8 new major questions to answer. It’s a self imposed boot camp.
5. It says in some 12-step literature I value: I can’t transmit something I haven’t got. Anywhere I’m staying small and Eeyore-esque, is an area where I’m not able to be useful to others.
6. Freedom. Did I mention? I don’t do anyone any favors by staying small.
7. My success is your success, and your success is mine. Somehow, it really comes down to my relationship to you. I don’t understand why or how, but it’s clear to me that I’m not supposed to, and can’t do this without you. We are deeply, all of us, interconnected. I’m swashbuckling through new territory and so are you. You can steer me clear of the ditches as I share practical process, metaphor and creative work to support you right back.
By sharing this with you, I’m taking a risk, but I’m also hoping that you will keep me accountable, human, and honest throughout. Sometimes I may have to be honest about being full of shit. Or thinking something was a good idea that turned out not to be. But I won’t be alone. We’re like a field of daffodils, all opening under the same sun, interwoven and strong in a root system that is our collective.
As I do this, I’d love to hear from you, support your conversation with one another, and know what you value. I want to be responsive and in conversation with you.
What edge are you working right now? How uncomfortable is it? What/who is supporting you through this transformation? How are you caring for yourself? Why are you committed to this change?
Looking back on this ambitious list, I notice a few things. Several items on it didn't happen and several of them did. I took a lot of actions and kind of twisted myself up in knots in the process, but also, some of those things bore fruit, and some of them didn't. That's how it goes. I think growing up as an artist and a business person means risking failure, or unfinished stuff, without giving up or packing up.
This update is from March of 2021. The Elements book became a reality, and also had a publisher of sorts through the local imprint 5th Avenue Press. That wasn't my goal, but it was a great new experience, following the successful crowdfund.
I investigated sales reps, and I ended up in that invesitgation being offered a book deal from a major publisher for the 2021 Edition of Contemporary Prayers, which comes out this week!! I could not have planned that. So none of my own sales reps, but a publisher with their own fleet of them, is what turned up.
The online school was a bit of a u-turn. I spent a lot of time on it, but I also wasted some serious clams on the endeavor, and it wasn't the right time. Maybe in the future, maybe not!
And I continue to coach, and to love it. I have begun working with a new mentor of my own and this expands very much how I think of this kind of one on one work. I am happy with things as they are, never finished, always in process, and never really in any way, about me.
The other day Guy brought home water balloons. He sometimes does this: gets something plasticky and colorful at the dollar store that brings him an inordinate amount of delight. He wanted to play catch with them after filling them up with hose water, as one does.
As we stood there, barefoot on the lawn, I had a visceral memory of being 8 or 7 or 10 with my cousins up in Maine, standing around absorbed in a mission, out in the grass and heat.
I had had a crappy day working on some new business strategies and feeling a little bit like a fish out of water. What I excel at is coloring, drawing, zoning out and looking out at the leaves fluttering in a tree; less so the roll-up-your-sleeves and get-in-there and fall-down-and-get-up-again attitude of much of the business world. And yet I am a business owner, and lately have taken seriously the notion that it’s up to me to care for and run the business as professionally as I can.
The game was to toss the water balloon back and forth, and to take a step away from each other with each turn, like a colorful and wet version of Russian Roulette. At first I noticed that my teeth clenched every time I went to catch the balloon, as if in anticipation of something bad. Not only does that make my neck veins pop out and my face look like a scary, cornered, feral animal, the clenching is unpleasant and a waste of valuable life energy. The body automatically reacted this way, but it's the mind's faulty logic that imagines this kind of contraction to be in any way helpful. It's saying to the body: Brace yourself, this could be bad...
So I began to play around with consciously doing something else with this face and body of mine. With the full threat of balloon breakage upon me, and the body on edge, I tried bouncing a little side to side, lowering the shoulders and softening the face a little bit, and even putting a something between a smile and a slack jaw expression on my face instead to see how that felt.
As a kid I was always the sensitive one: running away and crying, easily hurt, even though I was pretty tom boyish. Of my cousins I was probably the least rugged, as well as the youngest. I found myself often sniffling in a corner, feeling lonely, after an outburst.
Consciously softening and lightening my face muscles while reaching up to receive this water balloon that might instantly explode was a great metaphor for how to ‘be’ with all these scary new things I’m trying professionally.
I’m not sure if it’s true but right now I seem to be getting the message that I need to move out of my comfort zone if I want things to change. That includes the real possibility of visibly falling on my face, skinning knees, bee stings, and having the next water balloon explode all over me. And even the possibility of having bystanders point and laugh.
Giggles, camaraderie, and expanded sense of possibility may accompany that next bursting balloon.
'This summer is different. I don’t recognize the people, places and things that have been a part of my summers since I was about twenty. I thought christmas time was when I’d be missing home, and yes, it was. But this Michigan thing in summer is just plain different. Here there is a lot of water. And subsequently a lot of green. And birds, and a lot fewer traffic jams and cars. And black raspberries littering the sides of parks that no one cares if you pick. But the rituals of summer are nothing like what I’m used to. There’s no ocean here. Lake michigan is 3 hours drive away. Everyone is fishing, and doing lake sports. The boats are different. People aren’t inwardly tortured like Bostonians, more pleasant and open, but yet also still in their struggles like anywhere on this planet.
What I most miss is the friend stopping by, or meeting up in Harvard Square for a stroll, sitting and having an iced tea and swapping stories of the last few months: processing it all, as we do. So in other words, I miss you. Seeing you at BBQs, stopping by my mom's to lecture her about something that’s none of my business, and forgetting to pick up the ice before I show up. I also even miss my old smoking neighbor John, and his war to insist on assigned parking spots when there were none. It’s all filed away somewhere, but no longer right here.
So here’s another love letter, to let you know that what’s right around you, and me, right now, won’t stay this way. No matter how boring and forever-seeming it feels. It’s over in a minute.
Look around you like you were just born, forget the names of the objects and the people, like a newborn. I’ll do the same. That way, we’ll be together in that open field, no longer under the story and sway of small, alone, separate selves.
THIS IS HOME
May 27 - June 26
Gallery B in Castine, ME
A four woman exhibition opening Feb 3 2023 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
Curated by Thea Eck.
Janice Charach Gallery
West Bloomfield MI
Jan 15-Mar 1 2023
Works of pure abstraction by 18 artists including five new puffies!
Make your own hand sewn book from the papers left by a loved one.
If you feel overwhelmed, confused or just plain excited by what's afoot in your life, and would like some excellent clarifying space and tools, try a session with Hannah! She's been a coach for 15 years. First 30 minutes is just to see what it's like...
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.