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Posts from the ‘Christine’ Category

Christine: Fearing the Blank Page

Christine Brandel is a Studio Mothers contributor. She also blogs at A Hot Piece of Glass.

I treated myself to a nice, new journal the other day. I’ve been wanting to try art journaling for a long time, and I can never seem to get started. So many choices, I was always overwhelmed! What type of paper? Should I bind the journal myself, or purchase one? What should I write about? What if I can’t really draw? But I admired so many artists’ pages and secretly wished I could express myself in the same media… I blog, so journaling in and of itself isn’t really a problem, but facing that blank page was terrifying!

Surfing on Amazon the other day, I looked through my wishlist and found that I had placed a Moleskin watercolor art journal on the list a couple of years ago. Impulsively, I put it in my shopping cart, added a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (to read to my kids!), and checked out. The journal and the rest of my order arrived yesterday, and this morning, I removed the shrink wrap, fully intending to dive in immediately.

Instead, I find myself thinking about the journal rather than creating in it. I’m trying to decide what (if any) particular subject matter I want this journal to be about — a travel story about our epic family road trip to Miami in June? Or a journal about my recent return to riding horses, and all the emotion and significance that brings forth? Or a journal about my everyday life here with my family? Or, I know! How about a journal with a theme of inspirational quotes and images that are inspired by them? The options are endless!

Probably the best course of action is to just open the journal and go for it. I tend to like heavily text-based journaling, so I’m thinking I am going to choose a favorite quote as the subject for my first page, and break out my paints and pens and get on with it. I know I want to write about horses and riding, and it only occurred to me today that I can use images of the horses I ride — I don’t have to be able to draw them to include them! What a relief that is! 😉 Once I get started, I know things will roll along; it’s making that very first mark on the first page of my heretofore untouched journal book that strikes fear into the hearts of not-so-confident new art journalers like me. I know I also have to quit thinking in terms of “wasting” my materials or somehow “ruining” my journal book. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be mine. I can’t wait to get started!

How do you handle the “fear of the blank page”?

Christine: Summer as Intermission

Christine Brandel is a Studio Mothers contributor. She also blogs at A Hot Piece of Glass.

The summer of 2012 feels like an intermission. My kids are 4, 6, and 13, and I planned no organized activities for them this year. No summer school, no week at Girl Scout camp, no trips to visit Camp Grandma. I’m fine with that, as it saves a little money while my husband starts a new job, and it gives me the opportunity to really be with my kids.

My oldest spends the summer with her father, so that leaves the two little ones at home. We joined the neighborhood pool for the first time this year, and I signed them up for swimming lessons, free passes for bowling, and movie tickets. Our family took an epic road trip from our home in Virginia to my father’s home in Miami, Florida, last month as our family vacation, so that part of the summer is completed.

I’m surprised by how well we have been able to fill our days thus far. The mornings have been for swimming – before the pool gets really crowded, and the weather gets ridiculously hot – and the afternoons have been for everything else: Wii gaming (we’re a big geek family), making things, playing with toys, building forts and complicated Rube Goldberg-like machinery in the living room. We started a complicated jigsaw puzzle and have spent a lot of time at the barn where my middle daughter takes riding lessons. I plan to read them the first Harry Potter book, and we haven’t gone bowling yet. There’s still time.

It’s a good summer. The “intermission” part comes when I think about myself. If you’ve ever been to an evening-length performance, you know about a classic intermission. Time to get up from your seat in the theater, enjoy a beverage or snack, chat with other theatergoers, let the first half of the performance sink in, and reset your attention span so you can be fully present for the second half of the show. That’s what’s going on here. Right now, the insane heat wave over central Virginia makes it impossible to run my kiln and torch. I can’t stand to be in the garage workshop for any length of time to do any metalwork, and I feel devoid of ideas for anything I *can* do in the house for my metal and glass primary art forms. Even my “day job” has suffered, in the sense that I have had to work significantly fewer hours because I can’t get into my office with my children in tow. Telecommuting works when the kids are absorbed by the Wii, but sometimes I really just need to sit at my desk. I’m handling that by working in the evening and going to the office after everyone else has gone and my husband is home, but that’s not something I want to, or am able to, do every day.

The intermission of the summer of 2012 is a hold on the “regular” activities that make up my life. Wait, artwork and creative pursuits. I’m going swimming with my kids now. Hang on, medical records and conference calls, it’s time for doing puzzles. We chat, enjoy snacks, play, stretch, and let the last school year sink in before we prepare for the next year. It is resetting my attention span so that I can be fully present for the next parts to come. I know that at the end of the summer, when my oldest has returned to this nest and school is starting again, I will resume my usual routine – kids to school, do some work, make some art, pretend to clean the house, keep up with the myriad details of life with three children – but for now, this glorious intermission works for us. I am finally relaxing into the notion that in several weeks, all that “other stuff” will be waiting for me, and I will pick it up and continue the performance of my life, much more present, hopefully more relaxed, and ready to get on with the things I let go of temporarily. It’s been fantastic.

How does the summer change the “performance” of your life?

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Christine: Advance….and Retreat…

Oh, the holiday season is upon us once again! As a jewelry artist and metalsmith, this should signal some of the busiest sales times of the year for me. The truth is, I prefer to have my busy-ness occur before Thanksgiving, and be done. Since I don’t need to support myself with my work (I only really support my work with my work), it’s not as crucial to maximize the sales figures.

Besides, I’ve had a very successful year, being able to pay off my new kiln, bank some money toward a new torch, and send in an entry to a much larger show for spring that has a much larger booth fee. So, I’m pretty happy all the way around.

This is also the time of year when I feel myself totally pulling back from all the online communities I belong to, and spending time focusing on my “real” life and family and myself. It’s the season, I think, to turn slightly inward, become more insular. I’m posting on forums less, blogging a lot less, not getting involved in art trades or challenges or online classes. That works for me, and it’s been happening for at least the last two years, so now, instead of resisting, and wailing about how my mojo has left the building, I lean into it and accept it. The funny thing is, I think most people who go through something like this, and get all panicky about it, feel that the community they’ve become a part of will somehow leave them behind if they don’t constantly stay engaged. I’ve never found that to be true for me, though. People I *really* want to stay connected with will still be there when I re-engage.

It has to do with the amount of creative energy I don’t realize I am pouring out in the time between Halloween and New Year’s Day. Stopping to consider it, in that time frame our family has a holiday, followed by a birthday, Thanksgiving, another birthday, Christmas, and then finally, New Year’s. I am designing and making costumes, decorating, cooking, baking, choosing and wrapping gifts, planning birthday parties, decorating some more, cooking and baking some more, choosing more gifts, MAKING so many gifts, doing more decorating, telling stories, playing with my kids, going on special holiday outings, and just enjoying the rush of family life in this season. Whew! All of that uses creative energy, and social energy, and I am just frankly OUT of energy to spend on my online presence. It’s okay, though, because come late winter, I’m ready to go again!

Fields that have a chance to lie fallow will become more productive later on. By letting my artistic and online social “fields” lie fallow for a time, I can manage my holiday season and my art-making seasons with much less stress. How do you manage?

Christine: The Power of Music

Many years ago, I was a dancer. I trained long and hard for the art; I adored it, lived it, ate, slept, breathed, and was consumed by it. I never realized until I was much older and had left that life behind just how much it mattered on an almost biological level. While I have always been (and continue to be) an emotional person, it was in the power of music and in movement that I could center myself. I could find equilibrium and strength.

Science tells us that we are neurologically affected by external stimuli. Music, in particular, can influence our state of being in such a way as to alter mood and affect. Anyone who loves music certainly knows this; anyone who listens to any music is generally aware of how they feel listening to music they hate, versus music they love. Keen music-lovers can even do what some therapists have been doing and knowing for some time — that you can strongly influence a particular state of being using music — make yourself happier or more upbeat-feeling with music you love that has a good rhythm, or put yourself in an active alert state ( to get ready for a competition, or particular task that requires a high level of focus) using certain types of sound.

I love to listen to music when I am doing something meditative or particularly active. Of course, when I work out (ha! rarely!), music makes it go much better, pushes me harder, makes me really reach for my objective in a way I’m not able to without it. I love that place; it’s almost like a high. When I am doing something like working over the glass torch — which can require intense focus — the mood I am in prior to sitting down determines what kind of music I listen to.

To concentrate, to really focus, Read more

Christine: Creative Ritual

My fondest memories from childhood usually involve something somebody made. I remember my mom making macramé plant holders (it WAS the 70s, after all!), doing cross-stitch and needlepoint, and sewing on her old Pfaff in the cabinet in the dining room. She made my first day of kindergarten outfit (a skirt and jacket out of blue and red Holly Hobbie fabric), curtains for our house, and one summer, she sewed me an entire wardrobe of Barbie clothes! I’m sure there was at least ONE Halloween costume in there, along with numerous dance costume pieces and parts.

I was always in awe of her crafty skills, which persist to this day, as she is an avid scrapbook-, rubber stamp-, and paper-crafter. My great-aunt is a painter and sculptor, and my other great-aunt worked in ceramics as her media of choice. I remember the fantastically creative Christmas present wrappings they would make and the ceramic ornaments on the tree. As a member of a large Italian family, making things, food especially, was something that you did on a daily basis, but especially at holidays and other significant days.

There were the particular cookies at Christmas that were NEVER made any other time. Easter egg-dyeing, a very fun and creative activity, was always tradition. My mom made first-day-of-school outfits, and we made Valentines each winter. No Halloween was ever complete (nor will it ever be) without designing and carving pumpkins.


I thought about all of that this year, as I cut and sewed a dress for my middle daughter, entering kindergarten this year. There are certain things I do at certain times of the year, of life, just because “such-and-such doesn’t feel complete without X that I make.” My oldest, Kira, had a new dress for the first day of school for at least three school years, and so will Wren. When my children were born, I painted some wall art on inexpensive canvases for their nurseries. There HAD to be something I made in the nursery décor, and so there was, for each of them. When my eldest started middle school, I sewed her a purse, and when the time for the eighth-grade formal comes around this spring, I expect to sew her a dress.

For myself, it used to be (before I had kids) that for each medieval event I planned to attend, I sewed myself a new gown. New jewelry for events at work, handmade baby gifts for friends, at least one hand-created Christmas present to everyone on my gift-giving list — it’s not just something I do, it’s something I do over and over.

One of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my life has been the innate ability to create. I love that I can use my skills and talents to mark life’s big and small milestones, and to show my love for the people I adore.

How do you use your creative talents in your life? Is there any creative ritual in your “making things”?

Christine: Stepping Out on a New Journey….to Where, Exactly?

This evening, I will attend the first official function for new docents-in-training at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I am about to become a volunteer tour guide for our state museum, one that just hosted the largest exhibit of Picasso works seen in the United States in years. I am so very excited about this step on a potential journey to….some place I don’t know yet.

I love going to school. I love learning, I love the process, and I love intellectual discussion. It’s been 15 years since I got my graduate degree in speech pathology, and I have been itching to go back to school for a long, long time. I don’t want to study speech pathology though, and I don’t want to get a PhD in a health-related field. I want to go back and do what I originally wanted to do before I got sidetracked by “good career potential” and other aspects of my chosen work. Truth is, I love to teach people, and as a therapist, I do get that opportunity every day in one way or another. But my real passion lies in art and history. It’s only taken me, oh, 25 or so years to finally figure that out and own it. One would think that would be a simple matter, right? Go get a degree in history or art and embark on a new career.

History is not a particularly revenue-generating field at the moment. Neither is art.

But as the saying goes, ‘Life is short’, and I might actually be in a position to do something with the passions that have been peripheral for the past 20 years. I make jewelry. I adore working with my hands, and producing works of art that people want to own and wear. But whenever people stop by my booth at an art show or a market, I find myself teaching about the origins of lampworking and how techniques haven’t changed in hundreds of years — only the equipment has. I talk about my design inspiration and how lower-class Romans used glass to imitate the precious jewels worn by the ruling classes. I talk about Viking women and their strands of glass beads, of hoards of jewelry found in England, and about the development of glassblowing and production-line work in the first few centuries of recorded history. I teach people that Murano is not the only source of glass or glassworking in the history of the world.

THAT just stokes my fires. (Ha!)

It has gotten to the point that just chatting people up at an art show isn’t enough. I do participate in a medieval living history group, but even that isn’t enough to satisfy the desire to educate people about these aspects of the world’s rich cultural history. I have spent a decent amount of time perusing the Master’s degree offerings at Virginia Commonwealth University. For a while, I thought I wanted to train to be an art teacher. It’s my deep love for museums, though, that keeps bringing me back to the Art History pages, where there is a concentration in Museum Education. But how can I get there, lacking an initial degree in Art History? Especially with my husband working on his bachelor’s, and me with three kids, one of whom is not yet school-age, returning to a rigorous graduate program is not feasible right now.

I patronize our state museum frequently, and I knew they used tour guides, so when the application process opened earlier this year, I eagerly applied. After one LONG written application and an in-person interview, I was accepted to train for the next year to become a VMFA docent. While I have been creative all my life, and have done many things that were outside my career field, this is probably the first “job” I have applied for and gotten (aside from being a Girl Scout leader) that has nothing to do with my being a speech therapist. It’s beyond thrilling!

So, tonight I start out on a journey in which I am not sure of the destination. Will the yearlong training program satisfy my yearning to go back to school? Will conducting tours of the museum’s fantastic exhibits satisfy my desire to teach and excite people about our cultural history? Will I end up at the local community college next summer, taking prerequisite classes and studying for the GRE? I don’t know. I’m going to find out, though, and I am so excited.

Christine: Creative Frustrations

Oh, look! The kids are busy playing, the chores are done for the moment, and I don’t need to start dinner yet…I think I’ll grab a few minutes and start working on something from my sketchbook. Out I go to the workshop and I get out my tools and my materials and start working away at this idea, the one that’s been burning a hole in my brain for the past week! It’s going to be great! I can see the finished piece already!

It’s all going so well, and then….it’s not. I fumble a piece of copper coated with enamel and drop it on the floor, I smash my thumb with a hammer, and then lose the teeny tiny rivet I was trying to tap into place. I break a saw blade, and realize I cut out the wrong size shape and punched too large of a hole in it.

The errors and injuries increase and are compounded the harder I work. I know the kids are happily playing, but I know it won’t stay that way for hours, and I’m running out of time. I feel like screaming, or throwing something (always a bad idea in the workshop), and I can feel my agitation level rise.

GAH! Why does this happen? For me, any number of reasons. To begin with, one of the things I struggle with from time to time is claiming my “artist-ness”; that is, allowing myself to really believe that I am an artist, that I have talent and skill, and that what I can do really is unique. Whenever I am in a position of feeling less than confident, this old monster rears its ugly head. And I have to firmly shush it. Read more

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