Wednesday, February 29

mutual admirations: Karen Thurman, Karen Thurman Designs

about mutual admirations:
After plunging into this life of making for a while I had an epiphany: the point of my job is to make clothes for remarkable people as a great excuse to meet them. I don't know how this happened, but everyone who wears Secret Lentil is nice. And many are also makers. They cut, glue, write, they stitch, paint, hammer, file - they connect things to other things, they make meaning through making. I'm grateful to know them (even when it's virtual) and I want you to meet them too.

Karen Thurman of Karen Thurman Designs makes gorgeous wet-felted wool table runners, scarves, pillows - and the colors! They are always refreshing. There is something tender about her design touch that I find moving. Let's just sit quietly and look at some:

pink grapefruit dotted mini table runner

dotted pea pod shaped scarflette

chartreuse pod pillow

Tuesday, February 28

today in the studio ... black linen

Ahhhh, it's good to have black linen back in stock. Just staring into makes me happy. Is that wrong? No.

ye olde Adler
I just finished and mailed away a black Parachute Something Husk that someone ordered on Etsy. I forgot to have Mr. Lentil take a picture of it to add to the listing choices so I made the olive one black and white in Photoshop as a consolation prize to myself.

pretend this is a black one
At least I make myself laugh.

I also worked on the destroyed / distressed sweaters (see yesterday) and OH my goodness am I having fun.

Monday, February 27

today in the studio ... distressed sweaters

If there's one thing I've learned in my years of making clothes and selling them online, it's this: nothing is more boring than a picture of a heap of fabric.

See? But in this case I dyed it myself so I'm forcing the issue. It's a very lovely wool-blend jersey that I'm turning into a handful of lightweight drifty hole-filled distressed layering sweaters. That's the plan anyway. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, February 26

i'm a flip-flopper, or, decorum!

I go back and forth.

Well, I could stop right there.

Of course I won't.

I go back and forth. I am at once a candid and protective sort, in an uncannily odd mix. Once a person I had just met referred to me as "a log cabin on stilts." I'm fine with that. I prefer self-deprecation to boasting, and don't mind telling the story about how I peed my pants when I was 16, (because it's funny!) but I also really, really like protective boundaries and keeping them and keeping company with people who also have their own. Decorum! Decorum, people, it's not the same as shame, or secrecy, or anything nasty like that.

But sometimes my quest for balance is just stupid. There, I said it. Stupid. A while ago I started a second blog. I had this idea that I wanted to write about making things and and the making life, and that I would somehow benefit from keeping it separate from Secret Lentil. Well guess what? Secret Lentil is basically my child. I love it and even when I don't it's still hanging on my ankle dragging across the kitchen floor, screaming something about "Wrong cookies! Wrong cookies!"

I think I just wanted what the mother of every toddler wants: a few minutes alone in the bathroom. Well, people, there is no such thing. So I'll be okay with that too. The handful of posts that follow have been moved over from there to here. All eggs, one basket. Enjoy.

ps: I can barely keep bean sprouts alive for 3 days and am not even qualified to use motherhood as an analogy, but I did it anyway. I claim poetic license.

it gets better, the angst-ridden edition

we can experiment with how to do work

It occurs to me that there is a bigger picture even when I can't feel it. And that I am figuring out how to do this. I get glimmers now and then.

Do you know what helps? I've started talking to / pestering any full time established artist who will share details of their process with me. I think full time is key because they are pushed in ways that others aren't: their plates and houses and pants are on the line. They can't afford to be romantic. (whew)

And oh boy, do I ever recommend it.

Yesterday i joked to my painter friend P. about how I dream up a new scheme every week for what will work for me. His eyes lit up. Without taking a breath he said: We don't have security. We don't have someone writing a check for us every week. But we can experiment with how to do work. In fact, it's the one precious thing we have that no one can take away from us.

It's a thing we have. Not a fatal flaw! My curse is his blessing - and it all spun around for me.

Still I wish I had some sort of "It Gets Better" campaign for artists. I want to know if this all works out. I want to know if my struggles are worthwhile, if I'm planting seeds or just ensuring I'll be an unemployable freak after all of this .... Yup, of course, as soon as I write that I know I don't want that. I just think I do. Carry on. As you were. Onward into the murk.

humble pie

The caveat is: I had a big wedge of fruit pie this morning - warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, along side a gorgeous mug of espresso ... so when all this buzzy brainy hovery goodness wears off this might not make any sense but here's what I'm thinking right now:

Well first I'm thinking everything should start with a caveat. It loosens things up nicely.

Then I'm thinking: staying calm is my job.

That is it. That is all.

This is not a new thought. I've had it before - that being calm is Job Number One. Things don't go well when I am a spastic mess or an internet zombie or a crying heap. But what I didn't do before is remove everything else from the list.

Nothing else is my job. I'm using a lot of italics so I think I really mean this. The dreaming, the sketching, the magical act of creating, the customer service, the web design, the blogging, the bookkeeping, the learning new skills - these are all a hobbies I will do in my spare time, after I'm done doing my job.

And what did I say that is? Staying calm is my job.

This is the trick that will get me through today. It might even work tomorrow, if I add some pie.

the unwindening

Yohji Yamamoto
I did more than a few wonderful things for myself this week.

First I went on vacation. And by that I mean I stayed home from the studio for the last four days, which is pretty much unheard of for me, and didn't think about making things, or cry and threaten to quit, or draw any elaborate charts that might plot The right way to do everything, or even make any big battle plans for my return.

I did ask my co-conspirator if he would spend a good part of today cleaning the studio with me as part a fresh start, so that will be good, but mostly ... mostly I sat around. I unwound. We had some big talks about the world. I napped. I was so relaxed on Monday that I was surprised to hear the thump when the mailman came - by then I thought it was a holiday for everyone.

Secondly, I completely changed my diet. I know. I know. I feel great. Maybe more on that later, but for now, this. For a long time I've been stewing on the idea that I really can't move forward with my work without caring for my body too. It just isn't right. It is an imbalance. I'm dragging the whole Helen on this path.

Then last night, because the mailman somehow got it to my door, I watched Notebooks on Cities and Clothes, a Wim Wenders movie about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.  (It was super frustrating to watch because of the editing and loud background noise. Sorry, Wim Wenders. But it was like watching concert footage shot by someone who obviously isn't a musician - no - I don't want to see the grimaces of the bass player while the drummer is soloing.) But ultimately, it fed me. There are so few people who do the same work as me whom I count as heroes. Yohji Yamamoto understands that fashion is nothing and everything, simultaneously and seamlessly. I'm envious of the world he has built, in the best possible way. I feel better positioned in the world when I see his position. Plus the man has a black pincushion, could he get any cooler? He's a homing beacon for me, a shy, chain-smoking homing beacon in black.

helen doesn't work here any more redux

When I go to the studio I no longer say I am going to work. I say "I am going to go make some work."

It is taking me years to unwind my status as an employee. And as a boss. I look forward to being able to say "It has taken me years" but it's still with me, I'm not there yet. It's still painfully present tense. Of course I have to do work that falls in both boxes (worker bee/manager) but why am I still using the language of boxes?

I still waiver between idealized versions of working. I think I am choosing between a fantasy stress-free idyllic blissful field of meandering creativity and a clamped down turn-on-the-timer and churn-out-some-product mindset. Of course it's a false dichotomy but somehow naming it doesn't help.

The truth is that I've never been an idyllic blissful field of anything. Even as a 5 year old I felt the weight of the world on my slight bird-bone shoulders. Yes I have been engaged, curious, super-focused, in the flow, yes, all of those things, but idyllic? Stress free?  Has the world and all of its needs fallen away? No. I have been a good little worker bee (for other people and only for a while!). But honestly that stopped working for me the moment I became self-employed. Thankfully creativity doesn't thrive under the whip.

These extremes are just another guise of perfectionism, versions of a mythic age of innocence to get back to or a heaven to look forward to, and I don't believe in either. There is nothing to get back to. There is today. There is me and the materials I work with, my tools, my hands, my eyes ... and there is a vein of curiosity to tap into – heck, there are several to choose from – and all I need to do is pick one and follow it and make the work that needs to be made today. It's simple: I am going to go make some work.

the loneliness of the hard-working dung beetle

I like dung beetles. And I mean really like – a dung beetle pushing a ball of dung is on my short list for tattoo number three. (If that seems gross to you just refer to it as a scarab – oh yes, it's suddenly so noble!) They are a nice shape. They represent intense transformation. They seem sincere and comical at the same time, and I relate to that. And then there's the whole without them we would be drowning in poop factor.

I just watched a documentary about insects. It showed a lone scarab earnestly bumbling her large perfect sphere of dung over hard dry terrain. Could she get it over that bump? Could she? Eventually, yes.

But then she shoved it soundly onto a barbed thorn protruding from the ground, and it stuck. It stuck real good. (Please, producers, tell me you didn't place it there. Isn't life hard enough as it is?) She pushed. She pushed again. She came around and pushed from the other side. No budging. Then she came back around and dug into the ground, giving her more leverage to shove, and yes, eventually, again, she was on her way.

Her plight made me think: Sometimes it is good that our work is lonely. Not the panicked bottomless pit of despair kind. There is a good lonely, the kind where you know that no one else can solve your problems so you don't waste any time hoping or fretting. You just keep switching positions, nimbly, without drama or pity, strategizing and doing the next thing that might work. The world surrounds you, neutral to your plight, throwing up the occasional thorn but mostly just waiting to see what you will do with what you've got. Good lonely still has sadness but it is containable.

And of course there is no guarantee that we'll get our proverbial dung balls un-wedged from our thorns. But when we are immersed in the good lonely we create results (finished work, processes, connections, inventions, etc) that could only have come from us. And those results, even when they are failures, move us forward in ways that cannot be measured or taken back. I'll repeat that for my own sake: even when they are failures they move us forward. The solo undertaking that connects us to the state of good-loneliness can keep us on our path. And where else do we want to be?

idiot savant inspiration #585: king of the hill

I've been watching some old King Of The Hill episodes on Netflix. Some of the first ones are super raw – especially the animation – when Hank's eyes move his whole head stays static except for a clearly discernible portion of his cheek, eyes and forehead.

I didn't dislike it, it was just interesting to see the older episodes right there with the more recent ones. Sometimes I can get obsessed in my head (well, that's where it happens, right?) with having a visual united front for my work, even though I know it changes with each piece I make. It was humbling to see the evolution all laid out at once and remember that as a viewer I have much more latitude and compassion for a changing body of work than I do as a maker.

It's more than compassion though – I crave these changes. Isn't that the way with any artist you follow? There are musicians, potters, painters, designers, whose work I have loved for years and part of the love is following their path and responding to their choices – being amazed, disappointed, fed, reassured – it's like the best parts of getting to know a friend without the burden of having to talk on the phone.

And it reminded me that we always start where we are and end up somewhere else. Of course. (Didn't I say idiot savant right in the title?) Our work changes just like we always change. That's where some of the fear in getting started comes from isn't it? It's that attachment, the tenacious barnacle of time clinging to our bow. Once you start creating a body of work it changes with you – it's a constant reminder that we're being propelled forward toward the inevitable. (Although instead of feeling propelled I tend to picture us winding in a graceful spiral, which helps me feel more calm about the whole deal.) But here's the thing: you're going to keep changing anyway, so start making stuff that thrills you. Now.

p.s did I really just say "tenacious barnacle of time?"

Saturday, February 18

snowy, glowy

View from the studio last night as it got dark, with giant fake-looking snowflakes, glowing lights, and the never-ending construction site.