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Transformation as a Daily Practice
Above image is Studio shot of Rhea III, Shedding Her Skin, a new version of a doll that was lost.
Dailiness as a Path to Transformation:
I've always been interested in the power of dailiness, along with Transformation, capital "T." Lately I have been thinking more about the small steps it takes each day in order to effect those larger transformations in life. I'd like to share with you some of the practices that I use in my own life as a way of moving forward creatively. Sometimes it seems like it is the tiny daily steps, made consistently over time, that lead to true transformation.
The doll in the photo above represents the process of transformation. She is shedding her old skin, leaving her vulnerable and naked. But at the same time she is discovering her inner strength, represented by the chakras on her body. I had made another version of this doll, (scroll down to Rhea: Shedding the Old.) which was lost during transportation from a museum exhibit. In this new version of the doll, I enjoyed seeing the evidence of what I have learned in the interim. Her shed skin seems more convincing for one, and overall she seems like a stronger work. Making this doll was a way of getting over the loss of the first one, and at the same time, it was a learning process to recreate her.
One of my practices is to nourish myself with inspiring podcasts, readings and newsletters. Here are a few of them, in case you don't already know them. There is Rick Hanson and his weekly newsletter, Just One Thing. Each week he describes a practice which supports mental, physical and spiritual health. Recently he wrote a newsletter entitled, Water the Fruit Tree, which is a partial inspiration for this newsletter. He suggests that we can each do certain things on a regular basis which nourish us and make us feel happy, essentially watering our own inner fruit trees. In this way, we gain the strength and courage needed to take the small steps that lead to transformation.
What follows is a partial list of what inspires me and what is a part of my daily practice. I don't promise to have put this in any particular order. I hope it will inspire you or remind you of your own daily practices. You willl of course have your own list, but maybe this will give you some new ideas. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
photos above on the theme of "watering my fruit tree." I decided to post some photos of Halloween fun, since the day I am writing this is Halloween. The first image is of me and my son when we lived in Connecticut and I made us Where the Wild Things Are costumes. The second is from a walk last summer in Chesterfield, MA when I was visiting my parents. And the last two are a sculptural needle felted witch and a pumpkin we made for Halloween this year.
My own incomplete list of what "waters my fruit tree"
Part of what "waters my fruit tree" is daily routines. When I wake up I do a five minute energy routine that I learned from Donna Eden, with a few other steps thrown in, then I do at least a half hour of yoga on my mat. While I am at my studio, where I am most days, I often listen to audio books, using an app called Libby, which connects to your local library to easily download free audio (and Kindle) books. I also listen to podcasts and one of my favorites is Krista Tippet's On Being-more about that later.* I find listening to books and podcasts particularly useful when doing "boring" repetitve tasks in the studio that don't require a lot of thinking (yes, there are boring moments in being an artist too-see Elizabeth Gilbert interview -link below on her book, Big Magic and how everything worth doing, no matter how exciting, is still 90% boring and 10% thrilling and magical, just hang in there for the magic!) It is more distracting to listen to recordings when I am starting something new or planning things out in my studio but sometimes I get stuck listening and don't want to stop! I have to work on self discipline!
Some more things on my list:
Good News Network-a wonderful weekday post that offers a "morning jolt of good news," from around the world. Each day this newsletter collects three or four stories that tell of good deeds enacted by people from all walks of life, unusual inventions, often created out of inexpensive or recycled materials, and sometimes just funny happenings. This has been a wonderful antidote to the often very depressing headlines in the news lately.
Museum and gallery visits, "artist dates," (if you'll remember your Julia Cameron The Artist's Way!) I've decided I am going to go to galleries or museums at least once a month, since the other day when I spontaneously decided to go see some art at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, instead of going to the studio. It was a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the many free museums within walking distance of where I live. It's a good long walk-which is another of my energizing things, daily walks. See images below. Some of the art I saw that day reminded me of the flip doll project I finished earlier this year, though what I saw at the museum were not flip dolls. They were from two exhibits, one at the National Portrait Gallery Unseen, In a New Light and the other at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Galleries for Folk and Self Taught Artists.
Daily walks, around the neighborhood. This is a good time to reflect and mull over ideas. Lately this has been really fun because where I live, Georgetown, DC goes all out decorating for Halloween. This year, I made a needle felted witch for our door and carved a pumpkin with my husband. We have a dog, an Old English bulldog, and he gives me an excuse for daily or twice daily walks. (I alternate with my husband who usually does the morning walk.)
Learning, challenging my mind. I've been studying French with Duolingo, on day 447!! I was inspired to learn French because of my daughter's choice to go to college in Montreal, Canada where French is spoken.
Music making-I play in an amateur quartet about once a month, viola. Mostly I only play when we meet. I don't really practice these days. I want to do more eventually.
* I wanted to get back to the Krista Tippet On Being interviews. One I listened to recenty was with Elizabeth Gilbert on her recent book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. There is so much that is wonderful in this interview-I highly recommend listening to it. She demystifies creativity, saying it belongs to everyone, instead of just to artists or writers. To prove this, she asks us to think about the way in which children, all children, approach creativity naturally and without fear. Secondly, she asks us to think about our ancestors, both men and women, and how they created things "needlessly beautiful" in all the clothing, handiworks, household items, just because it felt good. This was a part of their daily lives-not something separate that you had to go to art school for. But I am starting to digress. This idea leads me to my next topic, a studio visit with the latest doll I am working on, a second ancestor doll based on my mother's stories.
Above images are from my "artist date" to the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum
Studio visit: Second Ancestor's doll in progress, this one based on my mother's stories
I have been, over the course of the past couple months, interviewing my mother, who was born in Germany and was a small child during WWII. If you will remember, I recently completed another doll about my father's ancestors and posted about that-you can see it at the bottom of that blog post. I'd like to write more about that doll soon.
The doll I am working on is inspired by my mother and is also a tribute to the many strong women in my mother's family line. The story doesn't go back as far as it did for the doll I made about my dad's ancestors. There I was able to go back about five generations. For my mom, I went back to her mother Annamarie Balz and her mother, Anna Hochstetter Balz. Beyond that, the next grandmother, my mother's great-grandmother, we don't have a name. But my mom remembers her as being very kind and had a couple photos of her. She is the inspiration for the head of this doll.
I started making the doll at the Textile Museum event that I wrote about in my last newsletter, which was a while ago! I have been building a form for a main doll body, scuulptural needle felting around two cigar boxes. Then I have been adding stitched and felted details, using photographs from my mother's relatives and of her when she was young. In this doll, I am planning to contrast images from the fairy tales that her mother ( my grandmother, whom I called Oma) read to her to distract her and her four siblings from the hardships around them, with images of the war. I plan to write more about this in my next newsletter in November. I promise to write this next one sooner!
A sneak peek at some of the progress on my German ancestor doll. If you are on Instagram, you can follow me there at erikacleve.
Save these dates
Here are some up-coming events. Stay tuned for more details. The Adams Morgan festival (which I wrote about in my last newsletter) was essentially rained out when we did it in September, so it is being offered again.
December 2 Open Studios at the Jackson Art Center, 1-5 PM
December 8 rescheduled Adams Morgan Day all day
Spring 2019 Workshops, place and topic TBA
11/3/2018 09:30:03 pm
Erika, Thanks so much for this post. Lots of inspiring ideas. I'm going to Paris in January and am so thankful for the duo lingo idea. Love the good news network as well!
6/10/2020 07:18:41 pm
Healing and transformation are necessary to go beyond what has already happened in the past. The past is already gone. We can no longer change anything about it no matter how much we try.
6/11/2020 03:43:09 am
Thanks for this. I appreciate your vistiing my blog.
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I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!