When you’re not prepared to give a speech and you cry while doing it.

I wasn’t crying because I was scared or nervous. I was crying because I was truly moved. Did I really deserve all this attention? All this validation? Less than 2 months ago I made the decision that it was time to share my art with the world beginning by submitting four pieces to the Brookfield Arts Tenant Show in the Republic Plaza building in downtown Denver. Imagine my shock when I saw all four maps hanging front and center as you enter the building from 16th Street Mall (see photos to understand why I was so excited). Just that was enough recognition to last me a lifetime – hundreds if not thousands of people walk through that lobby every day! Winning ‘Best of Show’ was just gravy.

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At the opening reception 15 of my friends and family came to see my art, to see all the other wonderful submissions and ultimately to support me. We rolled in from an earlier after-work-happy-hour just in time for the start of the awards ceremony. We stood through numerous categories and ribbon presentations, honestly, ready for it to be over soon after it started. I admit that I leaned over and told a friend “this is going to be really embarrassing if I don’t win anything” — it wasn’t the most thrilling awards ceremony and I felt guilty that all my friends were having to sit through it, especially since all the free wine and food had run out. Until, of course, I won! And had to give a speech – eek!

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Andra Archer, the curator, had these kind words to say before handing me the microphone, “Creating a series of art that features the same subject while still having each piece stand alone in its uniqueness is the work of a true artist.” She said so much more but it’s all a blur. That statement stood out to me because she had just put to rest my biggest insecurity about my art. “I just make world maps,” my inner critic would say, “what’s so creative about that?” I LOVE making world maps. All I want to do is make world maps. So F-U, inner critic! Andra says that’s the work of a true artist! Seriously, though it was that statement that made me cry. Unfortunately, an artist putting her work out there for the first time, needs that encouragement and validation. At least just a little to keep on going.

“We all want to know what gave you the idea to make these maps?” Andra asked.

[Note: You are about to read the speech I did NOT give. Because I wasn’t prepared to give a speech so instead I cried and rambled on. If I had been prepared, maybe it would have sounded a little bit like this]:

I came up with the idea 12 years ago after I moved to Denver from Australia, soon after having met my husband on a plane. I was a traveler in my 20s and a student. I spent a decade traveling around the world, being ‘irresponsible’ in the eyes of the people back home. When I arrived in Denver, I moved in with Scott, I got my first 9-5 job as a web designer and became very ‘responsible’. I also experienced boredom for the first time – both at work and after work. In the past, as a student I always had a project I was procrastinating on; as a traveler my days were filled with exploring new cities, meeting people, speaking foreign languages, tasting new foods. It felt like I had never before experienced a moment of boredom.

In this new life, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got home from work every evening. My only options seemed to be going to a restaurant where I would inevitably eat and drink too much or else just sit and watch tv. I could exercise but I was too tired at the end of the day. I was coming to terms with the fact that it was going to be a while before I would travel again. Scott had just returned from a trip around the world when I met him and we were doing a lot of serious talk about marriage and children. It was time to settle down. But what about this boredom I was faced with; what about feeling that I had to stay true to myself, the vagabond who was now homebound? I was worried and Scott probably was too. I had an ex-boyfriend in Italy that told me, while breaking up, that “even if you were chained to the ground, still you would find a way to fly.” It sounds more poetic in Italian. He knew me so well. Maybe I just couldn’t take this new stable life and I’d wake up one day, pack my bags, and walk out the door saying “Sayonara, Scott.” Or “Adios, au revoir, ciao! I’m off to see the world, again.”

That’s when the idea of making art came to me. World maps to be specific. Studying art in college had turned me off from it, but that was because I was making art for other people – as assignments to impress and appease my feminist/gotta-be-controversial art school professors. Then, I was making art for all the wrong reasons. Now, I was truly inspired. I felt this need to create, not just to fill time, but because it was a way for me to fly while simultaneously choosing to settle and stay grounded (or in my ex-boyfriend’s words “chained to the ground”).

I suddenly saw this time at the end of the day as a gift. I could use it to make art. Making world maps would keep me connected to the rest of the world in some weird way, remind me of past travels and allow me to dream of places yet to visit. It would give me strict parameters which as an artist I needed. The empty canvas was way too intimidating. The fear of endless possibilities was paralyzing to me. But, I knew I was making world maps and that had meaning to me. Where my creativity could let loose was with what I chose to fill those world maps – old favorites like collages and doodles, new materials I had never worked with like burlap and rose petals. Travel taught me to have courage, to be continuously curious, to explore and to be open minded. Creating art allowed me to continue down that path and it let me do it in one place – actually, it required that I do it in one place because these maps are huge! Suddenly, settling down didn’t feel so scary.

So, put simply I started making these maps twelves years ago to satisfy the adventurer in me and to feel 100% confident saying yes when Scott asked me to marry him (on a plane, by the way). This is my first time exhibiting my art in 12 years! I’ve given some maps away to friends, done a few commissioned pieces but mostly they’ve just sat flat, piled atop one another, under my bed. The fact is that putting your art out there, putting yourself out there, is super scary. Honestly, I’m not sure what takes more courage committing to one person for the rest of your life or showing your art! That’s why I’m standing here in tears. Not because I’m scared, but because I am moved by Andra’s kind words reassuring me as an artist; I am overwhelmed by the love I feel from all the people who are here to support me tonight, including my husband; and I am truly honored to be presented with this award. Thank you.

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Why Art Sucks and Why I Want to Write

On Day 1 of my week-long, pre-Etsy Store Grand Opening/photo adventure/immerse-myself-in-art staycation, I visited the Denver Art Museum just before they closed for the day. With only 45 minutes to wander, I decided to stick to one temporary exhibit on Renaissance Art of Venice, Italy. Ugh. Religious art. Catholic religious art. I went there looking for inspiration and all I got were a bunch of saints, Virgin Mary’s and Jesus’s suffering on the cross. I did appreciate that they were 500 years old – that’s kind of amazing. Imagine what was happening in Denver 500 years ago – no one was adorning grandiose cathedrals with humongous canvases covered in gold. Also, I liked the colors (lots of vibrant yet natural colors and all that gold) and some of the minute details like animals in the background and the way folds of cloth were represented, but it wasn’t the art that made me enjoy the experience. I enjoyed being taken back in time, walking around, feeling like I did when I was younger, wandering around the museums of Europe. The volunteer even made me wear my backpack in my front so I didn’t knock down any art with it on my back – I had to roll my eyes because really that was pretty unlikely – but in the end it helped bring me back to my backpacking days, when I walked around a foreign city with my big backpack on my back and my day pack on my front. It’s the little things that make you nostalgic for those traveling days – like boring religious art and wearing a frontpack.

I’ve always found art kind of confusing. When I was 18, during that 2-month solo trip around Europe, I visited a ton of art museums: the Louvre in Paris, the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée de Petit Palais – Museum of Modern Art in Geneva, the Joan Miro Museum and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Museo del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid! I actually forgot I had visited so many – I had to go back and look at an old scrap book to look up that list. What I do remember is walking away from that trip thinking – I don’t really ‘get’ art. Which is ironic since I eventually went on to study art in college. Maybe I was trying to ‘get it.’ I don’t think I ever really learned to get art in college, but what I did learn is that I am fascinated with the lives of artists! When I started reading about the lives of Toulouse Lautrec, Georgia O’keefe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jackson Pollock, Vermeer, Van Gogh, suddenly I felt I ‘got’ their art better – I gained a new appreciation for it.

On a side note, art school left me sort of pissed off with the art world. I did love art history, I mean I LOVED art history. All those boring religious paintings made a lot more sense when you got to know about the times in which they were made. But when it came to classes where I actually had to make art, I was taught that everything had to have meaning, or make a statement or be completely original – like a urinal being presented as art. I was being challenged to think like a modern artist and I did not like it. Curse you Marcel DuChamp! So after college, I stopped making art. And it took The Artist’s Way, ten years later to help me combat the voices of those inner critics and annoying professors. That book helped me understand why we make art, why we MUST make art. That making art is a spiritual venture.

SHARING MY WRITING
That whole intro was written to say, there isn’t much to ‘get’ about my art. I make world maps and I love doing it. I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and I copy a lot of what I see. I don’t consider what I do ‘fine art’ and my grand vision is to see my maps hanging as posters in thousands of college dorm rooms. I have a lot more to say about my process of making maps, about the things that inspire me and the reason I’m obsessed with world maps – but I’ll save that for future blogs. Suffice it to say, this year I want to push myself to SHARE my writing (remember that’s my word for 2017) so that you all can get to know me better and hopefully gain a better appreciation for my art. It’s like if Bellini, Giorgione and Titian had had blogs in 15th century Italy, I probably would have enjoyed my visit to the art museum tenfold.

Working on My Day Off

I’ve been getting a lot of crap for working all morning… from coworkers since they know this is supposed to be my time off. But I had deadlines and I felt guilty and let’s face it, work is an amazing excuse to procrastinate cleaning my house. And…

My job is like play to me.

How many people can say that?! When I’m not making art and being a mom/wife, I am the Design & Interactive Manager at Denver Zoo (I’m also the official photographer —  I get to photograph baby zoo animals!). I have been working there for 5 1/2 years and was a volunteer there for 2 years before that. I like to to tell people that I love my job as much today as I did on the day I started. Again, how many people can say that?

I could go on and on about all that I love about my job but I’m sure there will be posts on this topic in the future, like maybe when I have new baby zoo animal photos to share!

For today – I will just share with you some of the projects that I got to work on this morning as evidence of why I feel the need to do work even though it’s officially my day off (it’s just so much FUN!):

Signage and advertising for our new tiger exhibit…

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I had to put together our monthly Board Report for the month of December and these were some of the highlights from the section under Public Relations:

baby_zebraWATCH: Baby zebra at Denver Zoo loves the snow

Denver Zoo offers X-ray to help restore 367-year-old painting
We’re even making contributions to the art world – how cool is that?

Last chance to visit Santa at Denver Zoo’s Zoo Lights
Zoo Lights is where we take the girls to take Santa every year. I make it a point to get there before the crowds. This year, we were the first ones there and he spent and extra amount of time talking to the girls — telling them not to fight and telling Sophie that puppies get scared on the sleigh ride so he avoids giving puppies for Christmas.
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And… I worked on our new Zoo Map. You all know by now just how much I love maps.

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It’s 1:30 now and I am officially taking the rest of the day off! To clean my house – ugh. I think I’ll get in the hot tub first. See, now I feel I deserve it. No more guilt.

My Word for 2017 is SHARE

I love this idea of choosing a word at the beginning of the year that will motivate and guide you throughout the year. My word for 2017 is SHARE.

I will share my art, my writing, and myself. It is scary but it is time. I came up with the idea of making Wander + Wonder World Maps over 12 years ago. I had recently moved to Colorado from Australia and I was in a job that I didn’t find creatively inspiring. I also was pretty sure I had met the man of my dreams and figured it was time to settle down and stop being such a vagabond. This is a journal entry from November 2004 when the idea first came to me:
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Twelve years is a long time. Since then, I have given a few maps away to friends, I have been commissioned to make a couple and I have decorated my home with them but mostly they just sat flat underneath the bed in our guest room, for years.

SHARING MY ART
I was thinking of opening an Etsy store but I was scared. I went to my therapist, Melanie, with my fears of being egotistical and selfish for wanting to sell my art and having this desire to put myself out there.

“Charlotte, what if instead of feeling like you are being selfish by sharing your art, you consider the fact that you are being selfish if you don’t. What if the world needs your art right now… especially now.” This was a month after the elections and it was clear that she was alluding to the sense of dread that had recently washed over half of the American population. She helped me meditate on this idea that the world needs my art now. Melanie guides me through short meditations in our sessions and that is where the magic happens. I closed my eyes and felt lightness in my body, the evidence I needed to know she was right. It is time.

Of course that two minute meditation didn’t instantly rid me of fear and trepidation. That has taken about six weeks with the additional help of a very special book.

Around the same time I met with Melanie, I started reading The Artist’s Way. Have you heard of The Artist’s Way?! If you are a creative type (or not), if you have even a sliver of spirituality floating within you (or stand strong in your beliefs), if you love the idea of serendipity (what I call magic), or if you’ve ever wanted to figure out what your true calling is… read The Artist’s Way. But be prepared, it’s not just a book, it’s a 12-week program that has the potential to change your life. I read it ten years ago and it motivated me to push myself to make more art. I’m reading it again and this time it has allowed me to let go of all fear when it comes to selling my art.

I’m ready. I’m doing this. I’ve decided to open my Etsy store on 01.17.17. I don’t know if that’s an auspicious date but it looks like one so I’m going with it and that gives me exactly a week to get it together and do what I need to do to make this happen!

In order to do that, I am gifting myself a week off work to make art, to have adventures, to meet with other artists, to write, to wander and to wonder. And guess what?! I am SHARING it all with YOU. Because, after all, my word for this year is SHARE. I will be blogging daily until my store is open and posting to Instagram and Facebook.

Here is the first photo to start the week off on a happy note…

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Stay tuned for more on Sharing My Writing and Sharing Myself.

A Map for My Niece

One of my first posts to this blog was last spring when I was being creative in New Mexico. I was making one of my quilt maps on wood for my niece Lyla. I recently took Sophie and Lucy to visit my sister, Emilie, and her family in Colorado Springs and got to take photos of the map hanging in Lyla’s big girl room. Emilie did a beautiful job decorating Lyla’s room and I love how the framed Wander + Wonder World Map fits right in with the rest of the decor. Enjoy these photos!

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Forty and Full of Gratitude

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Today is my 40th birthday!

I woke up early this morning (per my usual modus operandi) and decided to journal about this milestone birthday. Here’s what I wrote about upcoming festivities and reflecting on my life up til now.

My big birthday bash is this Saturday at our local brewery. We are expecting about 50 adults and 15 kids. Maybe more. That’s more guests than we had at our wedding! Crazy. Well, you only turn 40 once.

Isn’t it funny that I’ve chosen to have a big bash to celebrate my birthday instead of something small and intimate. And that I’m actually excited about it? I mean that seems a little crazy coming from an introvert like myself. How is it possible that I am actually excited?

It’s because I’ve gained so many wonderful friends over the years and many of them will be here to celebrate with me. In chronological order in my life: Jade and Jon from childhood, unfortunately no college friends or travel friends since they’re so far away (Ahhh!!! Update since I wrote that — I just got a text from my college/travel friend Megan who just said she’s coming from California! I am sooooo excited!!!) , Scott’s friends from when I first moved to Colorado who quickly became mine too, Marjorie from my first job in CO, Playgroup friends, Book Club friends, families from Golden that we’ve become friends with over the past few years, work friends from the Zoo, and my recent besties, Teka and Jamie. Of course, family too – Scott, the girls, Emilie, Matt and Maman. So many people that I love dearly all coming together. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for that!

So now… how do I feel about being 40? Kind of weird if I’m being truthful. Up until yesterday, I felt fine about it. But I woke up this morning feeling kind of weird. When you’re in your 30s you are still on the young end. But 40 – when you tell a kid that you’re 40 they definitely think that’s old. But of course, I feel great.

Twenty years ago, if I had been offered the opportunity to look into the future and this is what I saw, I would be happy about it. A wonderful husband, beautiful, healthy children, a nice home (that finally feels like I belong in it thanks to all the work we did this year), amazing friends, a job that I love and being part of this incredible community of Golden, Colorado. Still taking photographs, still making art, working hard to stay strong and healthy and looking good. I probably would have thought that I would travel more but that requires time and money and it’s not so easy with kids in school, but at least it’s part of our plans for the near future.

I also feel fine turning 40 because I can look back and see all that I’ve accomplished over the years. All my incredible friendships that I’ve made along the way – listed above since most of them are coming to my birthday party! My early years in Boston (making it out of there pretty much unscathed – a child of unhappily divorced parents and a mentally ill mother); then a more safe, traditional childhood spending the rest of my youth growing up on Martha’s Vineyard; summers spent with my family in France and traveling around Europe; college and my years of world travel (living in England, Italy, India and Australia); amazing jobs as a teenager working in a bakery, a stationery store owned by a local artist, then with my friends (Jade and Jon) essentially running a bead/jewelry store together, and waitressing at Jade’s aunt and uncle’s restaurant; as an adult working at UMASS, in an art and frame shop in the heart of London, being an art teacher in India, assisting a designer in Australia, being a web designer at International Networks, running my own successful freelance company DESIGNi2i, and now my job at the Zoo; getting married and starting a family – going through natural childbirth twice, once at home in my bathtub; turning our house into our home by filling it with love and things that I love (specifically Scott and the girls and our pets); making art for over a decade; going through heavy-duty therapy to let go of anger and resentment from my childhood so that I can be the best mother that I can be; going through marriage counseling to ensure that Scott and I will have a strong and loving marriage and so that I can be the best wife that I can be; starting yoga and meditation in my early 20s and sticking with it, intermittently, throughout all these years, staying spiritual; focusing on my health – making fitness and good nutrition a consistent part of my life over the past decade; and lastly, being on this constant quest to grow, to learn and to improve as a human being on this earth. To be filled with gratitude for this wonderful life that I’ve led. When you’ve accomplished all that, it’s not so hard to face the fact that you are 40.

Now… on with my day. I’ve taken the day off work to enjoy a little solitude and to fill it with things I love to do: write (done!), draw, go on a photo adventure, meditate, go for a hike, enjoy nature, and spend quality time with Scott, Sophie, Lucy and my pets, Peanut and Patches. I know my introverted self will need this day of introspection, peace and quiet before the amazing chaos that is about to ensue!

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The Laughing Elevator Project

Have you heard of Laughter Yoga? I was introduced to it in my early twenties and find it fascinating and well, funny. There’s a Laughing Club in Denver that I checked out a couple times, years ago. I went with my sister. It was strange and awkward but I also sort of loved it. Because let’s face it, who doesn’t love to laugh? Over the years, I’ve made it a habit to laugh hysterically until tears are rolling down my cheeks. Okay if I’m being honest, I haven’t done that in a while… but in my younger years I was known for it.

In college I was a Comedy Improv groupie – a few of those funny guys lived in my dorm and I became great friends with them immediately. I went to see their shows every Saturday night. Mission Improvable at UMASS is still going strong today! One of my best friends from childhood, still one of my best friends now, is the funniest person I know. The first time I met my (now) husband I immediately fell in love with his sense of humor (among other things – like his good looks, his intelligence and whit and his love of travel – more on that in a future blog post). I love watching stand up comedy and listening to funny podcasts. I can be a pretty serious person but I still love to laugh.

As an artist, I am constantly bombarded with ideas for projects. The ones that stick are the ones that I know will force me out of my comfort zone. They are the ones that I feel will bring joy to others. My love of laughter is one of the things that inspired a project that I would some day love to see come to life. It’s called The Laughing Elevator Project.

Imagine pushing the button to an elevator in an office building, or a hotel, or a parking garage. Waiting to go up. Ding! The doors open and immediately you hear laughter emanating from the space – at the same time as it is inviting it, too, is a bit discomforting. But you have to get in, you have to go up. The laugh track is not just one person laughing, it is a crowd of people, laughing uncontrollably. You can hear men, women, children laughing hysterically. The walls are plastered with life-size portraits of those same people… laughing. At you? With you? You’re not sure, but you can’t help but smile and maybe even laugh a little because the sound is contagious, it’s visceral. Imagine this same experience while sharing an elevator with strangers. During a normal elevator experience you’d likely ignore each other. That dreaded awkwardness thick in the air until the strangers’ designated floors are reached, they step out and you feel relief. Today, though, with laughter surrounding you, you and the strangers acknowledge one another, you make eye contact and you smile, because yes this is awkward but it’s also funny. A minute later the doors open, you step out and you go on about your day but the laughing elevator keeps popping into your thoughts and the memory of it makes you smile. You recall the strangers with whom you made a connection and you can’t help yourself, you laugh.

I made a little prototype so that I could share this vision with others – see THE LAUGHING ELEVATOR PROJECT website to see it come to life.

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I don’t know if I’ll ever see this installation piece come to life. I don’t know how one finds funding for such a thing. But, man, would I love to make it happen. Not just for the end product of bringing joy to an otherwise joyless experience, but because I imagine the process of creating this piece – photographing people, finding ways to make them laugh genuinely in front of the camera, capturing the laugh track audio (perhaps starting with one of those local Laughing Clubs?) – would be an experience that would bring me right back to those younger years when I did laugh so hard that tears would roll down my cheeks. I want that again. It’s been too long.

If anyone can help me bring this project to life, let me know!