17 May 2016

Rebel Heartistry: Plan and Intent

Two days prior to my leaving for Round Top, TX, I walked around a quiet lake beneath a leaking sky, pondering.  The air was thick with southern humidity, fragranced by upturned leaves, the must of mud, of organic debris floating in tangles at the water's edge- the churned up ephemera of recent storms.  Every now and then the earthy, almost bitter smell was infused with a sudden sweetness. Honeysuckle.  Dense boughs of blossomed curtains hung at the outskirts of the mulched trail, ivory blooms rocking on breezes that swept down from over the pines, riding over the bogland and offering up freshness against the stagnant spring air.

My footsteps fell fast. Damp with the evidence of physical effort, rain, and mental concern, I began another mile.  After being asked back in February if I would be the inaugural instructor for a new, high end and all inclusive women's metal smithing retreat, I'd enthusiastically accepted.  In the following months, I'd developed a program that felt somehow more a calling, created less by me than by something beyond me, and while I believed in this program with fierce conviction... I wasn't so sure the students would share my enthusiasm.

I could already hear them.

"We paid money to cut up our work?"
"Among other things."

"We came for solutions and you're giving us problems?"

"Because, you wanted to be a better artist."

I closed my eyes against their (imagined) reactions. They would either get it and love it, or they would altogether hate it.  Should it be the latter, I'd be setting myself up with a rough start to a solo teaching career. 

{{Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity." -TS Eliot}}

Changing the plan, however, was going not only against everything I felt in my gut to be right, but it also went against the very lessons I was wanting to teach, the messages I was trying to convey.  I was committed.  It might blow up, but I was willing to pull the trigger.

The thing of it was (is), I wanted to put something together that as far as I know, hadn't been done on the circuit.  I wanted a workshop that would do for women what design school had helped do for me- teaching technical know-how and physical construction while cultivating problem solving, fostering idea generation, defying procrastination, focusing on process over production. I also wanted a workshop that would UNDO these women- silence their critical inner voices, begin to restructure their views of themselves and their talents, skills, and worth.  I wanted to arm them with confidence, with the tools to press on in their art despite doubt, fear, burnout, and life's alternative events.  I wanted parameters to shift as they befriended each other... I wanted some walls to fall as they befriended themselves again.  I wanted something that would serve them long after their projects went into a jewelry box or storage bin.  And, in all of this, I wanted the metalwork to support the lesson, to echo it, to give it a tangible form... 

but I did not want the metalwork to BE the lesson.

In the span of time between March and May I read Pressfield's "The War of Art" again, followed by a repeat of "Art&Fear" and "Daily Rituals" in addition to "Big Magic", "Tribes", "Steal Like an Artist", "Show Your Work", along with bits of "The Creative Habit"  and various poetry by Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver and Khalil Gibran.  I assembled a Pinterest board full of inspirational quotes, imagery and short films on everything from anti-bullying to sculpture to writing to musical composition to death and dying.  I re-familiarized myself with the likes of Seth Godin, Adam Grant, Marie Forleo and other brilliant artistic minds.  I kept a dream journal.  I kept a daydream journal.  I created a playlist.  I let all the ideas carry weight.

And I worried.  This too, however, I tried to embrace as I recognized that students who had registered were doing the same thing.  I had not provided them detailed and concrete class descriptions for our three days together, nor had I previewed sample projects for Day Three of the workshop.  Much of what the registrants had to go on was the beauty of the venue selected by our amazing coordinators, and faith.  They had to trust us despite not having all the information.  It was a lot to ask, but it was intentional. In a way, it was their first exercise.  

{{"... I believe, the number one obstacle to creative work... is not knowing.  That discomfort is ambiguity.  Artists, on the other hand, realize that ambiguity is part of the process.  They take it, they identify it, and they tackle it head on.  So, if artists are doing this... could you imagine a place where we knew students could go to prepare for lives of not knowing?" - Cindy Foley (TED talk) }}

All tools and raw materials were to be provided, in part because of the "all inclusive" styling, and in part because of that desire I had to foster their comfort with the unexpected, to strengthen their ability to think fast on their feet, to make the work WORK, despite not having all the information in order to prepare, despite not having packed their entire studios and brought them along.  We must be able to work with what we have, where we are, not always waiting for the perfect time, the right moment, to look the part, enough research, support, motivation, good days in a row, medication, sleep or even inspiration. The time to create is now. Today. As you are in this moment. This was the second exercise. 

Through all the planning, I was keenly aware that the students were not the only ones having to surrender some control. I also was having to practice trust.  To practice being comfortable with ambiguity. I felt all the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome. Who was I to talk about working through conflict?  Who was I to take on a teaching role to women who had had, in all likelihood, much more life experience than I?  Who was I to instruct at a high end venue when most of my metals knowledge was attained through trial and error rather than via a formal education? Was it all too much, too deep, too personal, too far from what they were expecting? Was it just a bad idea?

"Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." -Steven Pressfield, "The War of Art"

Yet, keeping pace with all my fear and doubt (the very fear and doubt I was hoping to go abolish in these women), was an immense passion for this project... this... concept.  Rebel Heartistry was to me, its own work of art.  I was in essence trying to teach them what I myself needed to learn- that as artists we must make art because making is what we were born to do, it is central to our souls.  We cannot care if others love or hate it.  It's not about cultivating approval, it's about creating what matters to us. 

And so, I would.

"The best and only thing one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration." -SP, TWOA

"Instead, let's ask ourselves like (a) new mother: What do I feel growing inside me? Let me bring that forth, if I can, for its own sake and not for what it can do for me or how it can advance my standing."  -SP, TWOA

Two days after the walk, I arrived before the sun at the airport.  The kits I'd created for the students were weighing my luggage down beyond the regulated limit.  With a long line of tired travelers behind me, I purchased a second suitcase from Southwest, rearranged my belongings, and made it to my gate as they were calling my name over the speakers.  This was to be the first of numerous hills in the topography of my plans.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I think the Heavens were looking down with all the timeless adages that a wise parent might gently, sternly instill into a reckless child. 

If you're going to throw curveballs, be prepared to hit a few...

To be continued.


  1. Excellent! I am needing to hear this type of thinking at this time. Keep it coming.

  2. As always, this is perfect right now! While I wish I could have come, I was busy making. Making Making Making. Taking the curveballs on as they were/are & reaching within to face them head on, without fear. Much of this making is in my blood but there is much that comes from outside inspiration and a note on my soldering bench from one mentor in particular. I believe she knows who she is. If you see her ask her to keep writing. Oh and thank her for me.

    1. I will tell her. I'm sure she'd be hugging your neck if she could. Maybe before the year is out, the two coasts can meet in the middle, perhaps the Lonestar State...

    2. Maggie will be in the Lone Star in December.......1st weekend but will probably be there for a week.

  3. Your writing and your messages are incredible. I've missed reading the blog and can't wait for more!

    1. Thank you so much, Lynn... it feels good to be "picking up the pen" again... I so appreciate the support and encouragement.

  4. Left me a little choked up. Thanks,Jess. Your workshop was definitely inspiring and uplifting, and a little crazy (cut what in half, are you kidding.). Speaking for myself, I left richer in spirit and the knowledge we are truly sister in art. Hugs, Kristina

    1. I'm so glad you were there and that I got to know you. Your smile and presence are so energizing, and I will forever remember the "high comma"! Hugs to you, Kristina. Thank you for being here and for being you...

  5. Thank you Jessica!! So many wonderful ideas and words to ponder. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thank YOU, Frankie! Thank you for being here and for taking the time to comment. I so hope all is well in life and art. <3 <3 <3

  6. Love this - especially for how it relates to me. I have always struggled with the questions - Do I continue doing what I'm doing? Is it enough? Shouldn't I be doing something more creative or artistic since I know that to be in my heart? Do I do something completely different and marry the two worlds? These days I try to focus on how to use my creativity in what I am doing in the here and now rather than beat myself up for what I am not doing.

    1. I think that is the perfect response. It's so hard to be gentle with ourselves; I struggle with it daily and found immense inspiration and internal "power" in the realization that I was not alone in that, even slightly. I wish you all the best in your journey and so appreciate you being here to read and share yourself in return. <3

  7. You wear your Rebel Heartistry on your sleeve. In your sharing: you vocalize concerns, perseverate class details, bare vulnerabilities. Your thoughts are real, experienced. They give freedom to us who think too much, question too much, doubt too much. Your words provide fodder, fuel, nourishment to the inner artist - starving to get out. They encourage and boost confidence.

    I am sorry to have missed this gathering, but have no doubt and absolute confidence that your journey as a solo teacher will take you far and wide, not in miles but in experiences with your students. I look forward to thumbing a ride and catching you somewhere along your journey.

  8. I am finding immense inspiration from your writings and experience. Also of course your huge talent as a jewelry artist. Thank you so much for being you and for putting yourself out there in this way. And for encouraging us to push through the difficulties of growth as an artist and finding your own voice. It can be so hard in this media rich world to know your own heart and mind sometimes. :)