Home then gone then home again


My daughter and I were snuggling on the sofa watching Netflix together when she sits up rather abruptly and asks me, “Mama how many days until you leave for your art teaching again?” I gently moved a piece of hair from her eyes, tucking it behind her ear so I could look directly into her eyes. “Friday, love. Mama leaves again Friday.”

“What is today?”

“Sunday. It’s the weekend. You go back to school tomorrow, Monday, and then I’ll be here Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday too.  I have to leave to California on Friday. I’ll be gone only four days this time.”

She snuggles back into me without saying another word. She’s not sad, or even really thinking about it any longer. For some reason the thought just occurred to her. Most likely because I’ve been home for a few weeks now and she knows it’s about time for me to leave again.


I’ve been making mixed media art for 15 years. I began when my son was a baby. I’ve been teaching since before my daughter was born, but the amount of time away has really increased the past four years. She’s young and doesn’t know anything else besides mama and daddy working. She knows mama is an artist and that just about everything I do is tied to ICE Resin. She knows I leave, get on a plane, am gone for anywhere from three to five days and then I come home again. I’m home for two weeks to a month and then I leave again. She doesn’t talk to me but once or twice when I’m away because it’s just too hard on me.  My husband knows the only way I can really focus and do what I do is to have complete and utter faith in him, grandma and the amazing after school caregiver.

I try not to think too much about this. It’s really hard for me to leave my family and my studio as often as I do. But this is what I do, and I truly love it. I don’t love packing and unpacking. I don’t necessarily love the constant deadlines. I don’t love navigating airports and shuttles and hotels. I honestly don’t mind the 15 hour days working at the art retreats, as I tend to teach both day and evening workshops and also vend at the artists fairs. I adore seeing my friends — the amazingly talented fellow artists/instructors whose work inspires me. I wish we had time for more than quick hugs and 10 minute stand-up gatherings in each other’s classrooms or hotel lobbies, but it is what it is. I really adore most of my students. Sure, there’s sometimes one or two challenging peeps, but there’s rarely ever people who are downright nasty or unhappy. You seriously have to work at it to be angry at an art retreat.


You know what I love the most though? It’s being with my Tribe. Talking about art. Sharing ideas. Learning from the talented artists who take my classes as they’re also learning from me. I love sharing a passion for creativity and to show others how to use my favorite products. Teaching keeps me in the world. It keeps me up on the trends. It gets me out of my own little space that I create in the silence of my studio and forces me to embrace the extroverted side of my personality.

I decided to write this post today because I know there are a lot of people who dream of being instructors. I get questions all the time and so do my friends. I feel it’s my duty to encourage people to pursue teaching if it’s in their hearts. I truly believe teaching – in any capacity -is a calling that comes from something bigger than us.

Teaching Dallas CREATE

I know it can appear that breaking into art retreats is shrouded in mystery. It’s definitely a process. The best way to go about it, in my opinion, is to attend an art retreat you’re interested first as a student so you can get a feel for the event. All retreats are slightly different and have their own vibe about them. Then talk to the organizers and learn their process. Good organizers are always looking for authentic ideas and fresh projects. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the rules for submission. I know this seems like an obvious first tip, but you’d be surprised how many times I hear that people do not fully read through the instructions before they submit.
  • Understand the work absolutely must be your own and must be different from what’s already being offered.
  • Make great samples of the class you want to teach.
  • Take fantastic photos of those samples.
  • Ensure students will be able to make their class work look close enough like yours so they won’t wind up frustrated
  • Write clear descriptions.
  • Understand how much prep time goes into pulling off successful workshops.
  • Think through the out-of-pocket expenses (travel, hotel, food, art supplies, handouts, shuttles, luggage fees, shipping fees, replacing “lost” communal art supplies that you bring, etc.) and understand you will need to have resources and/or credit to pay for these up front.
  • Know that at first this can all be a little overwhelming but like anything else you’ll get better with time and experience.

Teaching CHICAGO Create

I’m so very grateful for the experiences I have over the years being able to travel and teach mixed-media art. I have definitely experienced challenges and frustrations at times too. However, the good always outweighs the rest. As you can see on my face from the pictures above that I plan to keep moving forward in the direction of my dreams and being able to share with others is still a big part of my life. Hopefully one day my daughter will be able to see me in action and understand why I made the choices I did.




To be an observer

Jen Cushman Breaking Out of the Mold Class Sample

I have a fully developed observer side to me. It’s an inherent trait I possess and it’s one of my qualities that made me a good reporter and also serves me now as an artist.

I’m keenly aware of details. How my children are doing when they come home from school each day, what color people are wearing or other outwardly ways they choose to express themselves. I notice body language. I notice facial expressions, like a slight down turned mouth or knitted eyebrows — both which tell me something about what’s going on inside the person. I always make a mental note to myself when teaching to be aware of micro expressions so I can look for clues as to what my students are experiencing and if I can possibly help them through any bumps in the class — emotional or technical. Art is an expression of one’s soul and, sometimes, it’s messy in there!

I also notice shapes and colors and oddities – natural or man made.  I love to see shapes layered on top of each other, like the way leaves on a tree are all similar but still unique and the depth and dimension they have when the sunlight filters through them. While I have never had any formal training in drawing (yet!), I taught myself to sketch by breaking the whole into individual shapes and building from there. It’s the way I look at an art piece. I see the whole and then begin breaking it down to the details. Once I’ve seen every small mark and studied it. I zoom back to the whole picture so I can fully appreciate the work and thought that the artist has put into his or her work.

My husband says my brain never stops. It’s true. Life is just too interesting and there are too many details.

Recognizing this inherent trait has allowed me to hone it over the years. Like a muscle one builds. I want to keep my brain sharp, and I believe that noticing and remembering details is a way to accomplish this. I even do it with my children. Not so much my son any more because he’s not into my “pretending” games that we did when he was younger, but my little one is all for it. When she notices something in the store and says, “Mama, I like that lady’s pink shirt.” I respond with a question that makes her study further. “Do you like it because of the color, or is it the lace detail on the sleeves you like? What else do you see in this store that you like?”

I want her to see that color, shape, form and beauty are everywhere. When she grows up and people ask where she gets her inspiration, I hope she replies “everywhere.” It doesn’t matter if she chooses to be an artist or a teacher or truck driver or an at-home mommy. What I want her to understand is that happiness is found in the details.

I’m sure most of you can relate. Being an observer of life is not a unique trait to anyone who makes art. While it’s always been part of me, I sincerely believe it’s a skill, and a vital one at that if you work in a creative field. Being a good artist, or dancer or musician means doing your craft so well that micro details are executed so seamlessly that the big picture of your work is ultimately flawless. Not perfect, but flawless. Perfection is overrated. A technically perfect piece with no soul can leave one feeling as cold and flat inside as a three-day-old dead fish.

If this is a new concept for you, think about it. Try it on for size. On days that might be a bit slower, use the extra moments to flex your observation muscle. Take a new route home from work, try a little harder to notice your coworkers’ expressions. Take a few more minutes to be fully present in whatever mundane task you always perform and notice how expertly you’re executing the details. If you’re not already doing this, it will become second nature if you wish it to be. Soon, you’ll notice the integration of this into your art. Trust me, it’s a very cool thing!

I’m curious. Do you consider yourself an observer? What are your favorite things to notice?



My home has gone to the (cat) and dogs


Four months ago we brought home a feral kitten. She was about five weeks old and from a litter of four. She was most definitely the runt, and she had a bad eye infection that was so sticky that she could hardly see. The kittens and mom lived outside at the house of my daughter’s babysitters. These people are cat lovers and have been feeding and watering and keeping ferals alive in the neighborhood for 20+ years. Unfortunately, our neighborhood has a bad feral cat problem. Fortunately, there are some families who’re active in getting city grant money to participate in the catch, spay/neuter and release program.

Each morning this summer as we walked to the sitter’s house, we’d have to spend an extra 15 minutes outside catching and playing with all the kittens. This sweet little tuxedo kitten was the first one to always get caught by my girl. I think it was partly runt, partly eye infection and partly because she was used to being picked up by children and adults already. My daughter begged me for a kitten. I said no. Every afternoon I would send my teenage son down the street to pick up his sister, and the two of them would spend another 15 to 30 minutes playing with kittens. He started begging me for a cat. I said no. I was holding strong because my husband was dead set against it.

But then I stated to hold this little one, and the mama in me kicked into high gear and I found myself worrying she would go blind from the eye infection. I have never in my life owned a cat. My mother can’t stand them. Dogs only. My kids begged and then we all started begging my husband. Outnumbered, he gave in, but he made it very clear this is not his cat. My daughter kept calling her kitty cat, kitty cat so she named her Kit Kat.

We took the kitten to the vet and cleared up her eye infection. She’s had her shots and next up we’ll be getting her fixed. We kept her in my son’s room and slowly introduced her to the dogs (all shelter animals because I believe these animals have an endless capacity for love, like they know they’ve been saved somehow). Kit Kat didn’t have run of the house until just last month. Her and my little dog play every day. She likes to hide in a box and then when the dog isn’t looking, the cat jumps on her kamikaze style and scares her. Then the two of them tussle and play for an hour. Even my old boy (the white one) has taken to kitten. He won’t play, but he’s usually the first one she snuggles up next to for nap time. I believe Kit Kat thinks she’s one of the pooches.

This picture is what I see every morning about 10:30 a.m. when I walk from my studio/office through the living room and into my kitchen to get water and a handful of nuts. My animals napping, all touching on our old, worn-in sofas where babies, kittens, puppies, kids and animals are welcome to sleep, jump, play and chill. Our home is comfortable, lived in and people/pet friendly. Sometimes I dream of having an artist’s abode where the entire house is magazine worthy, but then I remember that in my world love looks like this.


The soundtrack of our lives



My children are both going to new schools this year. My son is in high school and my daughter just started Kinder. I had them together in a charter school the last two years where I drove them to school and back each day. It’s lovely that we can now all walk to school in the mornings. I get a little exercise and also get to hold my daughter’s hand while we walk. I had a moment this morning where I held her hand just a little tighter because I recognize these days, while they seem long when I’m in the middle of them, will go by in the blink of an eye. Soon she will be like my son and not even want to walk next to me, let alone show mom any public affection.

One of the small details I enjoy every morning as I’m walking her to class is how the school tells its students to leave the playground and get moving to their classrooms. Rather than a bell, like I had at my school as a kid, her elementary school plays music. There are four songs that take about 12 minutes to cycle through, giving the children plenty of time to get from point A to point B. The first song is always Pharell’s Happy. Every day when this song begins my daughter and I can’t help but dance/walk. We naturally do a little jig every time he gets to the line, “you can’t bring me down, love is too high to bring me down.” I smile seeing her little blond head bounce up and down as she’s responding intuitively to the song.

After I’ve dropped her off and started my walk home, I get the sincere pleasure of hearing What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. The last song each day was a new introduction to me but I don’t think it could be more perfect and profound message for our children to hear. It’s called Nothing More by the The Alternate Routes. If you get a chance, read the lyrics and then click on over to hear the song.

Here’s a little taste to whet your whistle:

To be humble, to be kind.
It is the giving of the peace in your mind.
To a stranger, To a friend
To give in such a way that has no end.

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

Can I say how much I adore the music teacher who put this little daily program into action for the kids? Arts in the public school system. YES! As important as reading, writing and arithmetic as far as I’m concerned.



Collage Class with Crystal Neubauer

Crystal Neubauer, Jen CushmanThe Mixed Media Art Retreat Art Unraveled happens every August in my hometown. I’ve been hanging out at AU for a long time. Not as long as Linda Young has been organizing it, but since I first learned about it in 2005. As an educator myself, I rarely ever get the time to take an art class from the amazing instructors at the retreats I’m at. We’re all too busy working and teaching, usually on the same days! I didn’t teach this year at AU other than a mini class for Iced Enamels. I’ve been looking at the lineup of classes since the schedule came out, secretly wishing I could sneak away for a day to simply fill my own well.

One of the classes that I kept going back to every time I had to look AU up on the Internet for work was Crystal Neubauer’s intuitive Drawing and Mark Making with College. Of course, I know of Crystal as an instructor because she teaches some of the same retreats, but it wasn’t until Seth Apter’s book The Mixed Media Artist; Art Tips, Tricks, Secrets and Dreams came out that I really got to see her work, which is spectacular. There is something about her organic color palette and the way she uses her lines in her composition that gives her work beautiful visual breath and space. I’m drawn to it.

Life is a little sped up busy more than normal right now because Arizona kids go back to school early. AU always hits at back to school time. Work, deadlines, back to school, leaving for Chicago next week to teach at CREATE all made it seem like taking a class was a pipe dream this year. But then, something amazing happened. I managed to finish all my deadline things and I just knew I’d be able to sneak away Wednesday. I literally took the last spot in her workshop at the last-minute (by the way, teachers really dislike this sort of thing because last-minute sign ups can wreak havoc on supplies/kits and one’s overall sense of peace and wellbeing. I’m just sayin’ (wink)).

My workshop with Crystal was exactly what I needed, though not what I expected. I planned to go in with an open heart and mind, to be quiet and just learn her process for art making. I expected my work to be loose and languid. After all, I was a collage and assemblage artist before I started making mixed media jewelry. Easy peasy, right? Nope. Crystal started us with small 4 inch by 4 inch pieces of 100 lb cold press watercolor paper. Since I work small and collage bezels all the time, this should have been slam dunk. For some reason, I just couldn’t loosen up. My first collage was tight with A LOT going on (below). There was no breath, just busy.

Jen Cushman Trptich Detail 4

I felt my shoulders tighten, my fists clench, my belly constrict. This was all ME. Crystal was calm and peaceful and so supportive of everyone. As an instructor, she was nothing of what was going on inside of me. Luckily, I’ve been doing this long enough that I suspected what was happening. I decided to take a break. Walk away. Use the restroom, wander in another classroom for a quick hug and hello to a fellow instructor (NOT when they were demoing of course). I loosened my shoulders, rolled my head back and forth, took deeps breaths and placed my hand on my heart to center myself. Then I walked back into the classroom after a 15-minute cooling off period and calmly sat down at my table.

Jen Cushman College Tryptich detail 2


I began again and reminded myself that I was here to learn and enjoy Crystal’s process. Honestly, I was not caring about how my collages looked. I had no problem that if, at the end of the day, I took them home and put them away to get turned into work later. The pressure I was putting on myself was not about the work. It was about being out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to just not know any answers. The odd part is that even when I was stressed, I was happy. Just happy being there and doing something 100% for ME.

Jen Cushman Tryptich 1

In between the exercises Crystal planned for her class — which were FANTASTIC by the way, but that I won’t go into because they are her class and her story to tell — I kept doing collage. By lunchtime, I had a lovely triptych that I didn’t initially intend to go together, but related because my inspiration for all three was a colorful piece of old wallpaper and old magazine ad for trim in the same color family. Always inspired by color, I was happy I had thrown into my bag my watercolor sticks at the last minute so I could give shading to my pieces.

Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 3


Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 2

After lunch, Crystal gave us an 8×10 sheet of watercolor paper (I let out a sign of relief and a happy dance to get a larger canvas to work with) as we embarked on more mark making exercises and practicing figurative drawing. It felt like coming home. I was back in my comfort zone and my creative juices were flowing. I had a piece of old sheet music in my kit that said Good Night Nurse. This reminds be of my mother-in-law. I built a college around the love story of my in-laws. She is a nurse and he was her patient. The fell deeply in love. Six weeks later married. Nine months later their son (my husband) was born and the love affair continued until his death five years ago. I thought of her sleeping alone after a lifetime of marriage and how melancholy it must be. She floating, dreaming of being in her beloved’s arms. My collage intuitively came out as the story ran in my head like a movie. I love this piece.

Good Night Nurse by Jen Cushman

Over the weekend I went to Target and bought frames for the work I made in Crystal’s class. The small collages did not work visually with the frame I chose, but I liked the bullnose clips on the black cord. I needed to mount the collages on a larger piece of paper. I burned the watercolor paper as I wanted irregular edges, and quickly clipped them up. Take a look at the piece, which is now hanging in my guest bedroom.

JenCushman Collage Tryptich

While I wanted to write a blog post telling everyone how wonderful Crystal is (Take a class from her. She’s worth every penny!) What I really wanted to do was share my day with you. My take away lesson in this is that we must make time for ourselves to do things that make us happy. Life is sometimes so difficult to juggle, but there is no personal growth without a little discomfort. I felt like I grew as a human being as well as an artist last week. I’m grateful, once again, for this journey and for having some tangible reminders of it along the way.


A green drink every morning

My daily green drink and I'm enjoying it so much!

My daily green drink and I’m enjoying it so much!

My Facebook friends know that I recently tried a program called the 10 Day Detox Diet by Dr. Mark Hymen. As much as I dislike talking about it because it leaves me open to criticism, my weight has always been a challenge. I was a chubby baby, a chubby adolescent and then, in middle school, my mother put me on the Weight Watchers diet with her. I lost a lot of weight right about the same time I was blossoming into young adulthood, and it became almost too much to go from being the chubby girl with a pretty face to someone the boys  noticed. In high school I was on the swim team and we would work out every morning and after school. I thought I was overweight — compared to the other high school girls I was — but I had a lot of muscle mass. I realize now that I’ve been dieting since puberty, and the yo-yo of it all is what has me at this point in my life.

I decided about three years ago to just quit. Get off the stupid diet cycle and work on my internal self. Figure out a way to feel beautiful in the body I have. Last year when I went to the doctor I decided I wanted to get healthy. It was awesome for about 12 weeks and then it just became too hard again. I was following what I thought was the healthy eating plan of whole grains, low fat dairy, protein and more veggies. I lost weight but I was hungry and crabby. I gave up…again.

After coming back from a Disney cruise with my family on Spring Break, something happened during those 10 days of checking out from work completely and just being with the people I love the most in the world. I decided I feel better when I’m trying rather than when I’m giving up. My doctor recommended a book called the Blood Sugar Solution by Dr, Hymen. I went on Amazon and looked for it. That’s when I discovered his newest book the 10 Day Detox Diet. I bought it and read it. Whoa! No sugar, processed foods, gluten, dairy, coffee, alcohol, soda, legumes, whole grains for 10 days. What he promises during the time of cleaning out your body is improved health and more energy.


I decided I could do anything for 10 days. Hubby got on board with me. I was so sick the first day by lunch time, I was in shock. Never had any diet hit me this hard and fast. I had awful headaches days 3 and 4. I felt like I had the flu days 5 and 6. Still, I stuck with it. I finally felt better on day 7. By day 9, I was finally in the groove, but I didn’t want to take his suggestion after day 10 of continuing for another 90 days.  I feel like I could write an entire essay on my experience of this detox, but to keep this post as short as I can, I simply want to say that I learned I can live WITHOUT sugar. I know, it sounds so “duh!” But sugar is a big purple-eyed monster to me.

I can honestly say I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel vulnerable even putting this out there for anyone to read because my battle with weight is obviously a public thing — you see it on me. However, I feel like I can’t not write about it either because I know there are others who share the struggle and are looking for some help… a tool, a small end of rope to hang on to.

I truly believe that help appears when you need it. However, you also have to be ready for it. My experience with the 10 Day Detox Diet came at the right time when my heart and mind were ready and open to hear it and to look at myself without judgment. It is what it is. I got here how I got here. The only thing to do now is keep going. I have strong motivation for health and well being. My kids are young. I adore my husband. I love my work as an artist and I’m passionate about teaching others cool art techniques so they, too, can stay in touch with their happy creative emotional centers.

While I’m no longer technically on the detox diet, I enjoy my healthy green drinks for breakfast every morning. I’m back to one cup of coffee in the morning with coconut milk (ahhhhhhh coffee!) and I’m staying completely away from carbs (gluten, wheat, rice, legumes), sugar and processed foods. I sincerely hope I’m not in the same place again this time next year (like I was last Spring), but if I am, well, I’ll just do it all over again. Even if I remain the chubby lady with the pretty face for the rest of my life but my insides are healthy and my heart is healthy and my mind is healthy, then heck yes! I’ll be living the life and crooning about it.

To any of you who are struggling, I hope this post helps a little. If nothing else, remember Hope is a thing with feathers. When you let it free it feels so good.


What do you love?

Resin Clay heart and Wirewrapping that I created for Making Metal Jewelry; How to Stamp, Form, Fold and Forge Metal Jewelry Designs

Resin Clay heart and Wirewrapping that I created for Making Metal Jewelry; How to Stamp, Form, Fold and Forge Metal Jewelry Designs (North Light Books 2013)


Years ago in my life before children and before art, even before marriage I once had a very intellectual collage roommate. She and I would stay up drinking red wine until the wee hours of the night and discussing random things when we should’ve been studying. I remember one conversation very clearly on a Valentine’s eve (which unfortunately coincided with the one month breakup from her boyfriend) where the topic of love naturally came up. Not love as in relationships but people using the word so casually in American society. My friend, born in Canada and raised in Israel, insisted that Americans “love” everything. I remember agreeing with her, mostly because I thought she was much more worldly and smart than I was at the time. Fast forward 20+ years to the person I am now and plunk me down in the middle of that conversation and I would have lots more to say. Since I’ve long lost touch with my collage friend, I realized today — Valentine’s Day 2014 is as good a time as any to opine on love.

The word love is a staple in my vocabulary. It’s part of my speech and my immediate thinking. It’s how I define and categorize the things I see, hear, smell, feel and listen to in my life. It’s one of the ways I incorporate my experiences into my daily life as a wife, mother, artist, instructor, business partner, writer, daughter, sister and friend. When I have a new experience, even something as simple as choosing to take a different route home from dropping my kids off at school in the sincere hopes of getting a glimpse of something new that might inspire, I tend to immediately identify in terms of clarity and contrast — love/hate or even the more benign like/dislike. Did I love it? Did that poppy colored jacket on the pedestrian walking along the street inspire me to look at a different color palette? How did the poppy look against the green of the grass behind her? How would it look if I lay on the ground and looked at the poppy against the bright blue of the sky? A three-second glimpse can turn into a full 15 minutes of questions, answers and discoveries in my mind if I allow it the time to wander.

I also love things because I’m a fairly passionate person. It’s seems easy enough to love when you find life interesting. Not that life is always rosy, because goodness knows there are hardships and heartaches at many turns and bends for everyone and everything fortunate to walk the planet today. However, I tend to think curious people are also passionate people. How can one ever be bored when there’s another question to ask and answer to uncover? I think it’s these inherent traits that makes me not just love things, but looooovvvveeee them. I bet you and I are not that much different when it comes down to it.

Here’s a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head Valentine’s Day list of things I looooovvvvveeeee. When you’ve read through these, please take a moment if you have the time to respond with an item or two of your own. I really, really want to know. What do you love???

Jen’s Hopelessly Incomplete List of Loves -

Rainstorms in the desert ◊ The shape of a house – tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones, crooked ones, anything that represents home ◊ Any color, tone or hue of blue ◊ A slice of red cutting through the cool of blue ◊ Laughter unfurled, leaving a trail of sound for others to follow ◊ Birds nesting ◊ Dogs sleeping in the sun with real smiles on their faces ◊ Imperfect physical beauty; a mark, a mole, a scar, a gap in the teeth – anything to not be Barbie beautiful ◊ Strong legs ◊ A generous spirit ◊ Kindness offered in the most difficult of circumstances when people are watching ◊ A sharp and clever wit ◊ People who know how to set and hold boundaries ◊ Double rainbows ◊ Sharing information so others can grow and I can learn ◊ The amazing feeling of love.

And just when I thought I couldn’t add one more thing to this post, I open a few days old emails and there’s this gorgeous inspiration from Design Seeds. The second I opened it (a full 2 hours after I wrote the above list), I squealed with an extreme burst of color inspiration. I just had to update so you can visualize it too.