Lessons Learned on an Island

Posted on: October 30th, 2017 by jmbroekman No Comments
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Make art. It’s enough.

It has taken me almost a month to sit down and write this post. For each item that gets crossed off the to-do list, three more are added. One of the most beautiful parts about being out on the island: my list is so short as to be unnecessary. One of the lessons learned: make art. Full stop.

Lessons learned: Intention matters.

This year the lessons learned were a little different than last year. In 2016 I went to GCI with some personal goals in mind: I wanted to learn how to let go of my tight grip on everything, and lighten up. To that end, I worked in a personal book I’d started 5 years earlier about shifting narratives. It’s true what they say about intention. Looking back at the work from the last year, I can see that I did actually lighten up, and fought less with the work. This year I went with a plan to make a lot of garbage. To really explore printmaking with a beginner’s mind, and I did just that.

Lessons learned two: I still love making prints

My objectives were different this year since I had a press in my studio. I wanted to see if I really was still a printmaker at heart. Turns out I am. I woke up that part of my brain, and learned a lot about printmaking. I explored myriad new methods of making a print. Each process I tried, led me to some other way of approaching the plate, problem, or image. It was thrilling.

What is it about making prints that inspires this feeling of connectedness to the deepest recesses of my soul, that place where I am my most veracious self? I still don’t exactly consider myself a printmaker. I don’t make editions or use any traditional methods, and I wouldn’t even know the first thing about actually etching a plate. Yet, it was through printmaking that I reaffirmed a sense of myself that had been seemingly buried. It’s not that I don’t feel that sense of myself with painting. In fact, I longed to do more painting while I was on the island; but I was utterly compelled by making prints. And the work was much more integrated – drawing, and then using the drawings as imagery for the prints. It’s been forever – if I actually have ever done that.

Lessons learned three: I am an artist at my core

I was reminded in September, of the lesson I first learned while doing an independent study in lithography at the Art Institute of Boston several decades ago. Making art is not optional for me. Given the kind of space – both physical and mental – that a residency affords, I saw with the same kind of clarity, how utterly vital this is to who I am and my well being. Making art is what I am meant to be doing. It was why I was put here on the planet. It is the only thing that really makes any sense to me.

I am indeed an artist. Not that most people who know me, ever had any doubt. Nor do I, usually. But there are times when I feel like I should be doing more to make this world a better place. That’s what I’m doing by making art. Trying to make this world a better place. If I can create something that makes even one person smile, or take a deep restorative breath, or see the world in a different way, then I’ve done my job. And I’ve done it well.

Where the work resides

While I was on GCI in September, the work came at me from so deeply within, that there seemed to be no end to it. Maybe one of the most important lessons learned – as I struggled to resolve some technical issues with printmaking during my first week on the island – was that if I give myself over to the processes, they will show me the way.

And I learned that sometimes you just need to add a little linseed oil to the ink to keep it from sticking to the paper to the point of destruction. I’m sure there are some applicable life lessons in that one if I think about it!

The Beauty of a Residency

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by jmbroekman 2 Comments
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The beauty of a residency

I am back on Great Cranberry Island at the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation this month, and am struck by not only this lovely island, but also the beauty of a residency. This September feels quite different than last. I’m not sure I can pinpoint what it is that makes me say that. Maybe it’s the earlier changing leaves; Maybe it’s the fact it seems harder to get up the hills on my bicycle.

Printmaking. Maybe that’s what’s different this year.

This year, unlike last, I have a press in my studio. Maybe that’s what’s making the difference. The beauty of a residency is that I can wander. For the first time in ages I am exploring the myriad options that printmaking presents in an unmitigated way. The printmaker part of my brain has been in fully activated. It is something of a return to my roots – and interestingly, the work showing up harkens back to my early days of making art.

Landscapes. Maybe that’s what’s different.

Last year I filled a mess of sketchbooks with drawings of the landscape. How could I not be inspired by being surrounded by all this beauty? Those landscapes, however, didn’t show up in the work in a specific way. The abstract paintings did capture the light, the palette, and the feeling of freedom I had on the island. This year, though, there is a clear and conspicuous link between the prints and the drawings. The work feels even more fully integrated this time around.

The beauty of this time and place.

The sheer beauty of this gift of time is that the work has all this breathing room to lead me in unexpected directions. It took me completely by surprise when I gravitated toward more figurative based work. Unfortunately I spent the first week resolving all kinds of technical issues, and was pretty frustrated – wondering if I really wanted to make prints at all any more. Lo and behold, being the stubborn woman I am, I persisted. I am so glad I did. Allowing myself to try all kinds of approaches to making a print and an image has yielded completely unanticipated results – and that truly is the beauty of a residency.

Remembering

Posted on: September 7th, 2017 by jmbroekman 2 Comments
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Top: I was once a teacup, mixed media on board;
Above: I was once a branch of azaleas, mixed media on board

Remembering my sister on her birthday

My sister was born on this date 64 years ago. So today I am remembering her.

That’s not exactly news. I am always both keeping Kukla in mind, and simply remembering in general. Remembering is always at my core. Whether elusive or more tangible, I believe memories and remembering are what completely shape and form who we are every step of the way.

Layers of remembering

Even though I don’t make narrative work, thoughts about memory, and remembering, have always permeated my paintings, prints, and collages. My work is always layered, and the pieces that sit below the surface, like the fragments of experiences that are lodged in our bones, play an integral part in building the ultimate artwork. I may start something as a drawing of teacup, or by putting down an azalea red ground; eventually that teacup will be obliterated, and the painting will become blue or green. There will, however, still be this one tiny bit of that red that shows through. And that sliver may be what makes that painting. The thing that makes it work, makes it interesting; it’s what catches your eye – that fragment of memory. So what came before, the experiences, the layers that lie below the surface – they are what make the present possible, the work what it is.

There is a story in the Talmud, that goes something like this: We each have an angel who walks besides us, and before we are born, our angel teaches us everything we will need to know to live this particular life. Then, just before we head down the birth canal, the angel knocks us between the nose and the upper chin, and we forget absolutely everything we’ve been taught*.

The seeds of that wisdom were already planted, and they are there inside our body. Guiding us along our journey here on earth. I wish my sister was still around; I know she would be as fascinated by these ideas as I am. Happy Birthday Kukla, wherever you may be flying.

*Side note: if you would like to read more about this phenomenon/idea there is an interesting examination/discussion of it here: http://www.aish.com.

Learning To Loosen My Grip

Posted on: August 21st, 2017 by jmbroekman 4 Comments
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Above and at right are snapshots of the studio painting wall with a few of the small 4″ x 6″ oil sketches done on the note card flat-backs. For more of the sunflowers, click here!.

Learning to loosen my dog-with-a-bone grip on everything.

It is a battle of internal wills. My procrastinator side has been winning these last few weeks, but I’m hopeful that today, finally, the get-it-done side will prevail. The procrastinator within has had some good arguments: why do I need to do this post anyway? do you really think anyone is going to read it and be helped by it? it’s summer, there are so many better ways to spend your time. The list goes on. But in truth, I need to formulate some ideas for the possibility of having to give an artist’s talk on Great Cranberry Island next month. I’d like to be better prepared than I felt I was last year to make a public presentation.

So maybe this will be the start of a few fast and furious posts, on a blog that has been long neglected. Or at least, maybe I will finally get this one posted. Which, if you are actually reading this, will prove to be the case!

Learning to loosen my grip and getting it right – two sides of the same coin

This may very well be a continuation of the “getting it right” post from earlier this year. Learning to loosen my ironclad grip on trying to get it right. Loosen my grip on the pencil, the bow, the neck of the cello. Cello lessons applied in the studio. Trying to relax that illusory hold on controlling the world at large.

In the past few weeks in an effort to loosen my grip, I’ve been making small quick oil sketch paintings on leftover note card flat backs. The waste-not-want-queen is alive and well; as is the Avis girl. It’s the latter that I am attempting to put on a train to elsewhere. She’s the one who can’t give up trying harder. Holding on with all her might. Using leftover scrap materials (the flat-backs that go in the packs of note cards to describe what’s in the pack), is my way of making a stab at caring less. It’s decidedly not-beautiful paper, so who cares if what I put down works or can be called a painting with a capital P? Inevitably this is what I need – an attitude of “so what”. It’s the attitude that frees up space in my head so that courage and curiosity have a void to fill. I take bigger chances; allowing myself to just go for it with abandon––loosen the grip on what I think it should be, what I want it to look like. Finally let it be whatever it wants to be. Using scrap materials, crummy paper, pushes me to be quick, loose and decisive, and most importantly not so labored. It is about letting go of all that tightly held effort.

Now maybe I can go out and enjoy some of the rest of the summer!

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2017 Note Cards

Posted on: July 17th, 2017 by jmbroekman No Comments

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Time to make the donuts – oh wait, I mean the 2017 note cards

Fear has propelled a flurry of drawing activity in my studio in recent months. It often happens that some germ of a thought lodges itself inside my head; I find myself utterly convinced that I’ve made my last decent drawing/painting, whatever. This year I wondered if maybe I was done with the flower drawings. Evidently not, and I’m ready to produce the 2017 note cards.

The beauty of this propensity – allowing fear to fuel a bunch of work, is that I’m going to be able to print the new note cards earlier than usual this year. Here’s where I need your help. I’ve created a page of 24 drawings (which you can access by clicking on those underlined words, or over in the sidebar anytime – 2017 Note Cards). I’d love to have your input on which are your favorite six. I will tally all the votes, and then decide which ones will get reproduced as blank note cards.

I hope you are finding many ways to enjoy summer. Eat lots of strawberries, dip your feet in cool water, and enjoy this beautiful planet and all it’s gifts.