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.

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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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!

 

 

Creativity Retreat & My Nine Symbols

Last week I had my team over for a little creativity retreat. We had had a couple hours of craft time in the past but this was our first time making a day of it. We had a great time. We went to a Creative Mornings Denver talk (these happen monthly and are free to people in creative fields), then went out to brunch and then came to my house for a quick overview about what I learned in a recent leadership training and then craft time! Brittney tried embroidery for the first time ever and Mandy made a beautiful beaded bracelet.

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I decided to draw my 9 ‘personal symbols’ on little river stones (that I will eventually glue into a little shadow box). It was an idea that I got from listening to the Happier podcast – which is a new one I started listening to by the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben. I am really enjoying the podcast. And loved this idea for your own personal symbols (inspired by the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism). Here are what I chose to represent myself:

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Dove in flight with olive branch
I love birds. I have images of them throughout my house. This choice of decor was not a conscious one, it just started happening over the years of decorating my house. To me birds represent freedom and flight. I also love the dove with an olive branch as a symbol of peace. In my youth and in my twenties I was idealistic and dreamt of peace on earth. Now, middle-aged, I understand that that is a far-fetched idea and I recognize that the best I can do is find peace in myself; foster peace in my family; and cherish it in my friendships.

World Map
Well, duh, anyone who knows me knows this is an obvious one. It has been the focus of my art for over a decade and for the decade before that I spent years traveling around the world… visiting or living in all the continents except Antarctica (still on my list). I had traveled to 30 countries before the age of 30 and lived in 7 of them. To me the image of a world map, represented without political boundaries, is a reminder that we are all connected, the world is one. They represent my love of travel as well as my calling to make art, but also humanity and this shared world that we all call home.

Elephant
Symbolizing my love and adoration of animals. I have always loved them since I was a child. My bedroom was a menagerie filled at various times with cats, birds, snakes, turtles, frogs, hamsters, Guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, lizards and fish. In elementary school I thought I wanted to be a vet, in middle school a marine biologist and by college I thought I’d become an animal behaviorist. I veared in a different direction once I decided to honor the artist and designer in me but then came back around, and was able to combine animals and design, when I got my job at Denver Zoo five years ago. I feel that animals have a lot to teach us, especially elephants and other species that have a certain untapped wisdom like wolves, killer whales, great apes and even ravens. Having animals in my life, especially during a not so idyllic childhood, offered me companionship that I didn’t otherwise have. Having pets, even as an adult, has taught me what it feels like to love and to experience unconditional love.

‘W’
I like the idea of using a letter that is an obvious serif typeface to represent graphic design, since that is my profession. But also ‘w’ stands for so many things – wander and wonder (I am happiest when I am following this motto for myself); www (world wide web and my profession as a web designer for the last 20 years); also ‘w’ stands for wife which is a big part of my identity.

Om symbol
This is the one symbol I chose to represent yoga, meditation, and my love of Eastern spiritual ideals. I am not a religious person but I am spiritual and I believe in the power one can find within oneself by finding calm, being centered and focused, using visualization and positive thinking. I believe in the idea of being in the present moment even if I find it to be a constant challenge. Having yoga and meditation in my life help with that. I believe in the connection between mind and body. I believe that we are all connected and that we have a higher purpose during our time on Earth.

Tree
This tree encompasses the idea of nature, growth and creation. Nature is where I feel most spiritually connected to something bigger. Nature is my religion. I grew up on an island and have now settled in the mountains. Through my travels I have experienced extraordinary spectacles of nature – deserts, waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers, rivers and grasslands. No matter what my environment I stand in awe of my surroundings – the vastness and power of the ocean or the strength and presence of mountains. I also love to stop and look down to inspect the minute miracles of nature – buds on trees, wild flowers, tiny insects, nests and broken egg shells. This tree, for me, also represents growth and regrowth. I want to always be growing as a person, to continuously learn and improve. In the same way that a tree cycles through the seasons so do we during the course of our lifetimes. We have ups and downs, valleys and peaks, and when those darker moments present themselves it is important to remember we will come into the light stronger and changed, hopefully more wise and truer to ourselves.

Compass/North Star
This is the one tattoo I have on the pinky toe of my right foot – which in and of itself represents my rebellious side (but not too rebellious). I got it when I was 17 in someone’s basement – in 1994 when tattoos weren’t so mainstream. I gave it a lot of thought before getting it. Even at that age, thanks to my European parents, I had a passion for travel. I came up with this symbol because it was meant to look like a compass – North, East, South, West and like a representation of the North Star both of which meant direction and guidance. As a young person about to enter the world, eager for independence, I felt that direction and guidance would come from trusting my intuition, being true to myself and facing the world ahead with courage. Those ideals have always stuck with me as has my little pinky toe tattoo.

Camera
When did I fall in love with photography? I learned how to develop photos in a darkroom when I was 16, my dad gave me my first SLR camera at 17 and I traveled to East Africa at 18. It was an early introduction to some of the most magnificent wildlife and landscape photography the world had to offer. I fell in love. In college, I took a broad array of art classes but mainly focused on photography – at times spending 10 or 12 hours in the darkroom without even taking a break to eat. Those days I used photography as a form of self-discovery. Years later, I traveled the world taking photos, obsessed with capturing moments and memories. When I eventually settled down in one place, I made a point to work somewhere where photography was part of my profession. At Denver Zoo, I am the Design & Interactive Manager, leading our design team, but I am also the staff photographer. I love the connection I feel with the animals when I am photographing them, following their every movement, waiting for that glint in their eye that tells me there’s a soul in there. By sharing these photos of our animals with our guests through our marketing efforts, my hope is that they too experience that connection and sense of awe. In the future, I’d like to travel and photograph animals around the world in their natural environments. Today, I get to do the next best thing. Which actually works better for our family – my kids would miss me too much if I were constantly up and going on photographic adventures.

Greek symbol for Motherhood
This one was an obvious one it was just hard to know what symbol to use. I found this Greek symbol of motherhood and liked it because when you are a mother, your children are intertwined with you. It is inevitable that they become part of your identity, even if that was hard to accept for me at first. Motherhood is the ultimate symbol of creation. How do you even begin to write about bringing life into this world. I can’t, so I won’t. I will say that my daughters have taught me how to love, how to nurture, how to surrender and have forced me to be a whole lot less selfish. I won’t lie, it was really hard for me to be so needed when they were really little; nurturing didn’t come naturally to me. I was filled with guilt, inadequacy and a small sense of failure. I am grateful that numerous sessions of therapy have helped me come out the other end and now I am proud of the mother that I have become. I am there for my children and I am doing my best, along with my husband, to raise kind, curious and happy daughters.

Bonus to this exercise is that I shared it with Sophie, my 8 year old, and she spent a couple hours the following day trying to define her own personal symbols which included: Energy (being active), Yin Yang, Family, Never Give Up (infinity symbol), Friendship, Chinese symbol for tiger (to symbolize animals), Japanese symbol for water, Japanese symbol for earth, symbol for Bravery. Some of them stood for who she is and things she loves – a few others, I think, she chose just because they seemed ‘cool.’ Here are her drawings:fullsizerender

 

For the Love of Bikes and Horses

The June wedding came and went and my commissioned piece was far from finished. Oh, the guilt! As a reminder the map I was creating was supposed to be a wedding gift for a couple that loves bikes and horses – check out my original post. Fortunately my client (patron? that’s more appropriate for someone purchasing art, right?)… yeah, patron. Fortunately my patron was understanding. I love making art but sadly it is low on my priority list behind my kids, my husband, my full time job and, alas, exercising. I’m proud that I make time for it at all!

Also, there were materials and processes I’d never worked with in this map and at times that had me at a standstill. Fear is the biggest procrastinator. I knew I wanted to work with bike chain and I knew I needed to glue metal to wood. Both were new to me and scary. I had spent so much time already drawing the gears with graphite and I loved the map as it was, so I was scared to screw it up. But I also knew I wanted to incorporate that rusty bike chain. And I needed to include some sort of reference to horses.

This is where the map was when I got stuck. It probably sat in my art studio like this for at least a month!

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Then… I finally got to work. I bought three different kinds of glue and did tests to see what would work best. I also realized I would have to separate the chain in smaller pieces and then nail them in at smaller intervals. Just deciding what nails to use took time and research. I settled on small black carpet tacks and the best glue was E6000 because it dried clear. Best part of this process… getting my hands dirty.

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The finishing touches were adding a little horseshoe over Colorado where the wedding took place and the couple call home. A little symbol of good luck for a happy marriage. And lastly, I used my wood burner to burn in their wedding date in the bottom right hand corner – 6.11.16. I hope this map brings happiness to the new couple and inspires them to wander and wonder.

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