A Love Affair: Making of My World Map of Tiny Treasures

As an artist, I am constantly having to conquer my fears. Over and over and over again. I love it. I think that’s why I have chosen to make art the way that I do… sort of backwards. Most artists that I meet have become masters of their materials and often of their subjects too. One may do landscapes in oils while the other does abstracts in acrylics… and that is what they have done for years. They become intimate with their art, exploring all the intricacies of the medium, color, light, form, composition. The artwork is expertly executed because they have spent a lot of time getting to know one another – the art and the artist. They have this beautiful committed relationship.

The way I approach my art is a little more like my days of traveling the world in my twenties, when I would find a new lover in each place that I visited. There was passion, excitement, exploration and fear. I’d find someone new, get to know the city or country through his eyes and before we got too comfortable, it was time for me to move on. It may sound shallow but it didn’t feel like it. It was scary and fun and made us feel alive. These are the same feelings I seek with each new map that I create, that’s why I am always using new materials. But let me tell you, it can be super scary at times. I almost always experience a moment where I am totally and utterly paralyzed. Like when I spotted that cute guy on the piazza in Rome and had to decide whether to make eye contact or not.

I experienced this with my Tiny Treasures map. It took me a year to finally finish this thing. Why? A fear of commitment, a fear of the unknown and the perfectionist in me fearing that it wasn’t going to be good enough.

Many of these tiny treasures were saved as far back as my childhood (read all about the story behind this map in a previous post). I knew I wanted to glue them down, but to what and with what kind of glue? Many of these objects were the most fragile things imaginable, like dragonfly wings and quail eggs. How was I going to preserve them and make them into archival art. What was the end product going to look like? I had no idea so I just did nothing.

I have learned that the best way to conquer fear is to take tiny steps. Action cures fear. One step at a time. So I placed the tiny treasures on a white background (in the shape of a world map, of course). And I photographed it that way knowing it would look amazing as an image printed on canvas. It stayed that way, untouched, for months.

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Then last summer, our family visited the Museum of Natural History in New York City and I saw this wall in the photograph below. That was it! Inspiration hit. I had made eye contact.

 

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I was going to glue my tiny treasures to a huge piece of plexiglass and then pour a thick layer of resin over the entire thing, giving the illusion that the continents were submerged in an ocean of fluid liquid. The piece would be framed and hang on a wall, the transparent background allowing for shadows of each treasure to be seen on the wall behind, encouraging the viewer to look closely, explore and wonder how it’s all put together.

I came back from our trip and did absolutely nothing. Where do you get plexiglass? What kind of glue should I use? How do you work with resin? What if I screw the whole thing up?!

Four months later, I joined the Foothills Art Center Open Studio group and the first project I brought with me was this one. I brought the plexiglass (turns out you can buy it at Home Depot), a glue gun, glue sticks and my treasures. Within three hours I had everything glued down. All the other artists, many of whom had been meeting every Friday for the past 15 years, were kind, welcoming, curious and supportive. I knew immediately I wanted in with this amazing community.

Since that day in November, I have made it a point to join my new friends at Foothills every Friday from 10-2. They teach me, they inspire me, they give me life advice and we’ve even gone on a couple fun field trips together – to the Degas exhibit at Denver Art Museum and more recently to see a play called Sunday in the Park with George, about French pointillist artist, George Seurat.

But still… my piece sat around unfinished for another four months. I couldn’t make the next move.

Our upcoming Foothills Open Studio show (opening reception is this Friday, May 11) is what finally motivated me to finish my piece. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I made a move. I bought $250 of Art Resin, I mixed it, I poured it, I heated it, I let it harden and I did that over again three or four times to get the ideal thickness. I worked with my carpenter to build a custom frame out of beetle kill pine – the artwork made that move, told me it was what it needed. I’m going to say it without shame, but the last year and especially the last few weeks of working with this piece of art has been as passionate and exciting as any love affair I had back in my twenties. And the beauty of it is, I think this is the start of a wonderful new relationship. Art Resin and I got to know each other, intimately. We are going to make beautiful things together. I just know it.

World Map of Tiny Treasures at Foothills Art Center
I dropped off my finished artwork yesterday before any the rest of the show was hung. Stay tuned for up-close images (this is a tough one to photograph and I didn’t have my good camera with me).
Prepping work
Here I am peeling off the protective plastic on the back of the plexiglass. Eventually this piece will hang on a wall in my house but for this show it made sense to display it this way because I didn’t want to take away wall space from the other Open Studio artists.

 

The Story : World Map of Tiny Treasures

Remember being a kid and finding a baby blue broken eggshell beneath a tree in your backyard. Remember the story it told of a life growing inside it. The image of a tiny bird pecking its way out, then nestled and squished beside its siblings, mouth agape waiting for a worm from mama bird. Days or weeks later that same baby bird flittering atop a branch, listening to chirps and squawks from both mom and dad encouraging it to fledge. Fly. Be free. Baby bird apprehensive and scared but then doing it, going for it! I was going to call it courage, but really it’s just trust. Trusting that nature knows what is and isn’t possible. Trust in what you are meant to do. Trust in your calling.

You would pick up the eggshell with the utmost care, bring it inside and put it safely on a shelf in your room, where it would be kept company by your collection of rocks, sticks and other tiny treasures.

What’s the story behind a smooth piece of sea glass found washed up on shore or a tiny snail-like fossil? An arrowhead, a geode, a feather, a snake’s skin, a wasp’s nest? Each one filled with beauty and a sense of wonder. 

My kids say I’m no fun. I don’t know how to play. They’re right. As a grown up I don’t love pretending I’m a dragon, I don’t enjoy tickle-fests (all that squealing, ugh) and I leave the fort-building to the kids. But I will argue, that being an artist has allowed me to stay in touch with my inner-child by focusing on the beauty that surrounds me, by being in the present moment, by finding amazement in nature’s treasures.

This project in particular allowed me to connect with my kids because we did it together. We went treasure-hunting. We collected. We filled the ‘Nature Box’ that hung in our kitchen for two, three years. I knew all along I would make a map out of all our findings. I wasn’t sure how but I knew they would all end up immortalized in a work of art.

You know what the craziest thing is? There are pieces in this map that I collected when I was my daughters’ ages – tiny ceramic mice, itty bitty sea shells saved in a vile that I found with my cousin on the beach in France when the tide was low… when I was five years old. There are beads from when I worked with my best friends in a jewelry store as a teenager; sea glass I found with those same friends, growing up on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. And pieces I collected in my 20s when I traveled the world – seashells from Fiji and a little brass Ganesha from India. The fact is, there are hundreds of tiny treasures in this piece and they each have a story.

I thought this work of art was a tribute to wandering, wondering and the joy of collecting. I thought it was an excuse to do something fun with my daughters, even if it isn’t their definition of ‘fun’. I didn’t know it would turn out to be a portrait of my life. Isn’t that the beauty of art – finding the unexpected, telling stories you didn’t know you intended to tell – the big treasure among the tiny ones. 

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100Days100Maps : Looking Back

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Why Make 100 World Maps in 100 Days?

• Fear of procrastination/laziness – knowing I need accountability to get things done. (Ala Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendencies – I am an obliger) and I knew social media could help me with this.

• Fear that freelance opportunities and Athena Project volunteer work would take precedence over making my maps – that’s not why I quit my job. I quit my job to be an artist and I was afraid it would end up on the bottom of my priority list.

• For years my mind was overflowing with map ideas but I just didn’t have the time, suddenly I did and I wanted to hurry up and get those ideas out… to make room for others, maybe better ones.

• I wanted to LET GO. My maps in the past took so much time and were detailed and precise. That was great but I wanted this adventure to allow me to let loose, let go, get messy, experiment.

What I Learned

• It felt really good to produce so much even if I didn’t love every one

• I learned that people have different tastes – some of the maps that I liked least were the ones that others liked most. I always enjoyed the process of making my maps so it’s good to accept that the final product doesn’t really matter – someone might love it. Just do the work and enjoy the process. There is a higher power at work here. It isn’t just about me and my preferences. The artist as a vessel (I’ll have to explore this in a future blog). Once the art is made, it isn’t mine anymore. I make art for others.

• I learned that my favorite maps to make are those that use organic materials. Their shapes generally lend themselves to the shapes of the continents (like flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and food items). And it made me feel earthy, connected. That’s hard to describe but I loved the feeling. I was channeling my inner Andy Goldsworthy (if you don’t know of him, look him up – what he creates with nature is incredible).

• I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed sitting at the computer and doing digital maps. I never did them before because I spent so many hours in front of the computer when I was working as a web/graphic designer and when I got home I just wanted to use my hands. Now, I was happy to have an excuse to sit and use the software I know so well, with which I feel I can make magic happen.

• I still feel like I have to explore paint. I did some nice watercolors but I have much more to do when it comes to paint. I thought I would paint more but I have a block, a fear… I’m scared it’s going to be bad. I hope now that I will purchase a few canvases and I will paint and no one says I have to show it to anyone. Just keep working it until I feel happy with it. Maybe add in bits of pieces of collage – call it mixed media instead of just paint. That seems more up my alley.

• I did feel good when I made a map that had more of an activist message. Like finding the message that I purposefully don’t add political boundaries in my maps because it’s important to me that I get across that we are humans sharing this planet with cultural differences but a common tie as humans (gotta work on that messaging). Also the rice map about world hunger or the handprint map about peace. There’s an activist in me and since I don’t feel comfortable talking politics, I really could use my art to make statements. I should explore that more. I think I’m stopping myself because of my rebelling against the intellectualism I experienced in college which just annoyed me. But the truth is, last years elections were what motivated me to get my art out there. I felt the world needed my art, not just for the beauty but there are deeper messages there and it’s not just about the fact that travel is fun. It’s about what we learn through travel – to be open-minded, accepting of other cultures, to connect and to be present.

• I will never be at a loss of ideas. I still feel like I have so many more and not enough time. That is a good thing.

• I am eager to spend more time on one map now that I am not doing them daily. I’m excited to focus on quality rather than quantity. Next I want to work on 10-15 maps that I would be happy to hang in my house and that in a year or two I hang as a solo art show.

Contemplating the start of 100 Maps & 100 Hikes in 100 Days

I feel a push and pull to clean up the house and be productive or to just relax, be alone, be introspective, meditate. Relish in some peace and quiet.

The girls still need me, want me. Sophie is okay enjoying being back in her room after two weeks away but Lucy’s room is a mess and she’s whining that I should help her clean it up. I have my own art studio that needs cleaning, a mess because I dropped boxes there packed with all the crap from my office at the Zoo. In a week, it will have been a month since I left the Zoo. Crazy. Time to clean up and move on. But I don’t have the motivation. I know Scott is in the basement enjoying time to himself and I know I need that too.

And then I’m also faced with the strangest feeling that I have all the time in the world… ahead of me… without a job to drive to on Monday or a trip to prepare and pack for. Just this open-ended schedule filled with freedom. I’m going to do my best to embrace this feeling but for now it’s just very, very strange. Scarey? Maybe. The only thing I fear is laziness. As long as I create structure for myself that won’t happen.

Also, I need to work hard if I’m going to be successful. And I think what I need to do is define what success is. I’m starting to day dream about this new artsy lifestyle allowing me to travel – either on my own here and there in search of inspiration, as a family which will be limited because of Scott’s vacation time, or just me and the girls. I’m not talking about our world trip plans in a couple years – I’m talking about here and now, and in the next few years leading up to the trip. I want my art to support those dreams… that’s success to me. Right now it can only be dreams because we can’t afford that vagabond lifestyle. I need to be conscientious of our household budget. But if I make maps and if they start selling, one way or another, that could allow travel back in my life. That’s the whole point of this new freedom. I feel thirsty for adventure.

This IS a whole new adventure. I also feel overwhelmed by possibilities and by the open-endedness of it all. I am afraid that it might paralyze me. What a strange feeling.

Right now I deserve the quiet. It took every ounce of patience to spend just 3 days as a family in New York City in the peak of the summer heat and humidity. I am drained. I need to reset and get reenergized.

I know I’m putting a lot on myself but I am also so, so eager to get healthy again. To eat well, get fit, get outdoors, exercise daily. Do it. I know everything will become so much more clear once I do that.

I also wonder about doing the Artist’s Way again for some guidance and structure.

Or starting my 100 days of making 100 maps. Combine that with 100 days of no drinking and 100 hundred days of hiking (or 100 days of 10,000 steps). Hmmm, I just looked up that if I started on July 25, 2017 and did it for 100 days straight that would take me to November 1, 2017 right before my 41st birthday. Talk about a kickstart to this new life as an artist!

Should I do it? I have 3 days to decide. I love the idea of being so disciplined, of using this is as accountability to not be lazy and having complete faith that this 100 days project will lead to something! Something big.

It could work because we don’t have any big plans to go away between now and then. Commitment.

Why I Quit My Dream Job to Become a Professional Artist

A friend told me recently that when she tells others about me she says “Charlotte quit her dream job for her dream job.”

It’s true. Sort of. I just quit my job as a designer, photographer and art director at Denver Zoo to pursue being a professional artist. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

The story of how I came to work at the zoo is one of vision, perseverance and serendipity. It’s a long story, a good one, but one for another blog post. Suffice it to say, when I started there, it was the closest I could get to my ultimate dream job. For six years, I was continuously challenged and I grew exponentially as a designer, photographer and leader. I got to work with the most amazing, talented and dedicated people and at any point, I could walk outside my office and be in the awe-inspiring presence of lions, tigers, polar bears, gorillas and hundreds of other species. More importantly, I was working for an organization whose mission lie in engaging guests, inspiring their connections with animals, and motivating them to take conservation actions. We worked towards improving the lives of animals on grounds and throughout the world. Since I was a young girl I loved animals. I felt a deep connection to them and I dreamed of working with them. My job at the zoo felt like a dream come true.

So why did I quit?

First of all, I’m going to put this out there to set the record straight – my ultimate dream job is to travel the world as a wildlife photographer. It never truly was working at a zoo; it isn’t really to be an artist; and being a web/graphic designer for the past 15 years was just a smart career choice and I am good at it. The idea of being an animal photographer is what drove me to the zoo in the first place.

My number one priority in life right now is being in a happy, loving supportive marriage and raising my daughters to give them a good childhood with a secure, solid foundation – something I didn’t have as a child. If I were to pursue my ultimate dream, I imagine I would be getting up and going on faraway adventures for weeks on end, leaving the girls with an absent mom, feeling abandoned – not to mention it taking a toll on my marriage. But, I’m not one to let go of my dreams just because I chose to be a mother. Just the opposite, actually. I want to teach my girls to follow their dreams and the best way to do that is to live by example. Being a zoo photographer, to me, was the closest I could get to being a wildlife photographer while still being able to take my girls to soccer and dance, volunteer at their school every now and then, throw amazing birthday parties, and build a loving mother/daughter bond. I did my best to do those things while I was working at the zoo, but it was not easy. Actually, it was really hard and stressful and that whole mother/daughter bond thing, well, I wasn’t so confident that I was succeeding.

The fact was we were a family with two full-time working parents and at the end of each day, we were exhausted. The kids were exhausted from the school day and then nearly three hours of aftercare in the school cafeteria. My husband and I both had long commutes. He came home drained after 45 minutes in traffic and then having to get dinner ready. I experienced stress having to rush back in time to get the girls to soccer practice on time. There was a lot of tension and one too many bottles of empty white wine in the recycling bin.

That was our day-to-day reality. So yeah, I was setting an example for my daughters to follow your dreams… but at what cost? True, I wasn’t off traveling the world but I also wasn’t being the present, calming, consistent force that I felt a mother should be.

So that was part of it. A big part of it.

And then there was this calling to be an artist and all these signs telling me “it is time.” 

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This graphic illustrates the plethora of influences and inspiration that I experienced pointing me to my calling as an artist.

Some of the primary reasons I left my job to be an artist were:

  • I turned 40.
  • I read Big Magic.
  • The 2016 presidential elections were a wake-up call. I started to understand the deeper meaning behind my world maps and felt the need to share them with the world.
  • I went through 6 months of therapy recalling childhood trauma and came out of it free of anger and resentment.
  • I got Best of Show in the Arts Brookfield Show.
  • I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Athena Project, an arts organization empowering women.

And… finally… my husband and I spent a lot of time and energy exploring what was possible financially and what was best for our family. I have always been the one in our relationship with lofty, ambitious, career-focused dreams – the over-achiever. Scott is grounded, smart, hard-working and not without his own dreams. His though, have always been based on family and living a good life, here and now. It was hard for him to understand why I would want to leave a job that I loved. He even said, “I don’t know how you can be hash-tagging #ilovemyjob one month and then wanting to quit the next.” So I shared with him everything I have just shared with you here and then he shared with me that ever since he met me and learned that I was creatively driven that he dreamed of some day supporting me as an artist. So now we both get to work towards our dreams.

Here’s to the start of new adventures – to finding success as an artist, to being the best mom and wife I can be, and to sharing this journey with you!

 

Middle-aged Moms getting Tats

My tattoo is done. Jackie and I met up at Ritual Tattoo in Denver. We both had appointments with the same artist, Jake, who was covered in tattoos all the way up his neck and onto the temples and sides of his face. He had a buzzed haircut, a big beard, bright blue eyes, shriveled and droopy earlobes from the gauges that weren’t currently in place, a gold-rimmed tooth and a nose ring or two. He was kind, meticulous, a self proclaimed germaphobe and not a big fan of feet. I apologized and mentioned that I had just come from getting a pedicure.

Jackie went first. She got a variation of the Om symbol on her forearm, which she insisted read ‘breathe’ in Tibetan script. It was in memory of her mom who died of a pulmonary issue in 2015. I took photos while she got hers done. She was silent and focused with the occasional leg move, scrunched brow or request to pause, I could tell the pain was hard for her to handle. It made me more nervous than I already was. Hers was done pretty quickly – about 15 minutes and it looked great.

When my turn came I decided I would do a guided meditation while he was working on my feet. I sat up while he did the little traced imprint to make sure we got the positioning of the words right. We had to do it three times until we both agreed it was perfect. Then I lied down on the massage table with my knees bent and my feet flat, I put in my ear buds and started the 29 minute meditation titled ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ by Dakota Earth Cloud Walker. I felt the pain, I did, like someone was inserting a scalpel into my skin and making a shallow incision – but I kept returning my attention to the woman’s guiding words in the mediation, the drums beating, the rhythmic breathing in the background, the imaginary world in my head, her instructions to enter the underground world through a portal at the base of a tree, to go down and meet my spirit guide. My attention would then be pulled back to my feet where I became aware of the pain again, but I quickly directed thoughts back to her voice – where I was led to a circular fire burning large, where I walked in the directions of a compass – East, South, West, North, I thought of the existing tattoo on my pinky toe and back to the pain, and then back to the center of the fire. I was surrounded by my spirit guides, this time a pack of wolves, circling and howling, there to support me. Left foot done – wander.

He had me turn around so the LED lamp could shine on my right foot. I closed my eyes and returned to the fire. Her words instructed me to find something I wanted to let go of, something that I was holding on to that was not serving me in this life. Let it go, let it go, let it go, she had me chanting silently. The idea of body issues popped into my head. I chose to let go of my ties to this earthly body. I reminded myself that I am more than this body, this vessel that happens to be experiencing extreme pain right now. I am more than this body that society constantly makes me feel isn’t good enough. Let go of body issues, remember that I am more than that… this body will turn to ashes some day not too long from now. That’s why I feel okay with this tattoo and why I understand the desire for others to cover themselves in art as a form of expression. We are more than these bodies that we inhabit. That’s what I let go of in the fire. Then I transformed into a phoenix with wings expanded, a large bird prepared to take flight, free.

I opened my eyes and looked at Jake knowing he was getting close to being done with the second tattoo – wonder. “Are you cool with me finishing my meditation even if you’re done. It shouldn’t be too long.”

“Sure. We can just let it bleed for a while.”

I had six minutes left of the meditation so I lay back down, back into my underworld… the drumming slowed. I was led back up to the upper world, back into the studio, I heard the voices of men discussing which tattoo they wanted. The pain was gone. Completely. I felt elated.

Jake did an amazing job even getting the distressed negative space in the typeface. The tattoo was exactly how I pictured it for 9 months. I love it.

Tattoo, Travel and Photography – on my way to a lifelong art project

It has been about 9 months since I came up with this idea. I can’t remember how it came about but I do remember thinking it would be fun. I also remember thinking, getting a tattoo is kind of permanent and it might be a good idea to sit on it, think about, decide if this is something I really want to do. Someone decided having a life growing inside of you should take about nine months, so my guess is that’s a good amount of time to allow an art project to simmer. And now, it’s time to give birth! Yay, tattoo appointment is this Sunday!

Here’s the tattoo turned art project idea. Best described in photos – see below. I am going to get my wander + wonder logo tattooed on my feet. Then while I spend the next 40 or 50 years traveling around the world, I’m going to take my shoes off everywhere I go and take a picture. As a tourist, you’re going to take photos. It’s just part of your job, but sometimes while you’re doing that, you forget to sit, look deeply, observe with awe the wonder before you. I’m guilty of that. For sure. Not any more. Now, I will be forced to literally sit, get down on the earth, stop and take it all in. Hmm, just had a thought, it’s offensive in some countries to point the bottom of your feet at people – I hope that’s not the case with scenery and sculptures. Oh well, sometimes offending people for your art is inevitable.

Here are some practice photos I did in Photoshop – my feet in Mexico and in the mountains.

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Here are some sketches of future photo compositions. Thanks to the sketchers on the internet from whom I borrowed their work. None of the artwork below is mine.feet_great-wallfeet_pyramidsfeet_statue-of-libertyfeet_taj-mahal

As an aside. I do already have one tattoo that I got on my pinky toe when I was seventeen. It’s a compass/north star which was supposed to represent direction (and travel) as I fledged the nest and flew out into the world.

I love how now, it will act as sort of an asterisk for the words wander + wonder and how together they speak to the way I want to live my life. I want to constantly be wandering, traveling, exploring, and wondering with infinite curiosity about the world, but I also want do so with a sense of direction. Sometimes I find it in myself, other times I am looking for guidance from a higher source — usually that higher source is speaking through me, I just have to be listening. It’s funny how I write as if this all some kind of desire, because really it’s not how I wish to live my life, it actually IS how I live my life. That is something to be proud of. Maybe the permanence of a tattoo will remind me of that.

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