This spring I applied to a residency program at an art center in Florida. As I should have suspected, the universe had other plans for me. Yes, I was disappointed to get that “We’re sorry, but thank you for applying...” letter, but after grumbling about it for a couple of days, I realized it was ridiculous to wait for an artist residency to get to work. As it is, my Flying Adventures book has been on a long and rough road to get back onto my studio table, and putting it off until November — even for a residency — was still just putting it off. Sometimes it’s easy to know when you’re stalling. When I start vacuuming and doing the dishes instead of working in the studio, I know something’s up. This was harder to figure out though. I liked the idea of spending a chunk of time with other artists who are also working on projects. I liked the idea of getting some feedback and guidance on the structure of the story. I also liked the idea of being accepted into my first residency. BUT I realized, finally, that all of that wasn’t as important as just getting to work.
I did, however, want to leave my own space and daily life to work elsewhere. Sometimes that makes a huge difference in how you approach and focus on a project. Enter Lynn, my college roommate-turned-dear-friend many years ago. A writer and educator with plenty of creative projects on her own plate, she told me to come visit, and off I went to upstate-ish New York via this lovely view of the city.
Lynn’s house has always made me happy.
Even here though, I stalled. I had emails to answer and phone calls to make and shouldn’t I be working on my next blog post and balancing my checkbook, etc, etc. Finally I asked Lynn if I could borrow the dining room table and then wound up staring at my pages of words and thumbnails for an hour: Is the story too long? What should I cut out? I have too many images. How long does it take to read it out loud? Do I stay true to the facts of the story or to the spirit of the story? Will scans of pages look right on a slideshow screen for the reading or should I show single images? Will I go broke buying frames for all the pages when I make the exhibit for wall spaces? Do I edit the story with the book in mind or the reading? Is Lynn’s table big enough?
One step at a time. I knew the first thing I had to do was cut up those papers, so I started there. No thinking involved. Soon enough, at least one of my questions was answered: yes, it did fit on Lynn’s table.
Images were next, and this is where I got stumped. Do I lay it out as it looked in the original book, then rearrange? Or do I just start from scratch?
I decided to group images with relevant text, regardless of where they’d gone in the first edition. I figured I’d put down what I knew for sure and hoped that the rest would fit itself together later.
From there I methodically worked on scenes. I lost track of time. When I moved my first photo from the wrong place to the right place I got goosebumps! Putting the layout together was like working on a puzzle. I scribbled notes in the margins if there was something I needed to think about: Fix wording… Get a photo of… Cut this part…? Switch this with…
In between time at the table, Lynn and I took a field trip to hear her friend sing with a jazz trio (which put the singing bee back in my bonnet — although that’s another post), and spent an afternoon at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, where I wandered over fairy bridges and had tea on the giant porch. The whole place felt like Hogwarts but in upstate New York.
While exploring the hotel, I passed the “Naturalist’s Office." People are invited to leave notes on the bulletin board on the door if he’s not in. My favorite: “We had a small snake visit our room…”
We also took a field trip to the city. Except for the night sky itself, is there anything as magical as Grand Central's ceiling of stars?
It was an amazing week. (I even met up with a relative I didn’t know I had!) When all was said and done, I had my layout finished, a shortlist of things that still need attention, and I even started working on the slideshow format for my reading.
To put icing on the cake — how weird is this?! — after I finally cleared the table and packed up all my little strips of paper and tiny photos, I checked my email to find a note from a photo-friend/art professor at Snow College in Utah, wanting to add me to their schedule of visiting artists in the fall. It will be the debut of the book’s “illustrated reading” AND my first paid gig — Yes!! *October 27... come if you can*
As I left New York for crazy gorgeous skies, I felt so thankful. I thought about how different I felt from the week before when I arrived. I am excited again, hopeful, purpose-full, and clear about what the next steps are to get this project out to the world. Stay tuned…