A Peek in My Guest Bedroom

If you visited Thursday, then you know I participated in Seth Apter’s online collaboration to share how folks live with their art. As promised, I’m giving a little peek into my guest bedroom today.

Jen's Guest Bedroom Opening Door

While I definitely have a quirky industrial/vintage/found object vibe to my home, most of my house is pretty lived in family life. My guest room is the one place I was able to decorate just for myself and my family and friends who stay with us. I wrote a post about my French Flea Market Bedroom, but I’ve updated the room to add a tad more color and some of my collages (You see them in the photo above). I also wanted to incorporate more of my found objects on display as well. Truthfully, while I wanted to keep it a black-and-white palette, I just couldn’t maintain that no color look.

Guest Bedroom Desk Vignette Jen Cushman

This room is a work in progress. I want to get more pillows for the bed and a vintage bed skirt. The walls need the molding put back into place but my hubby just hasn’t had the time (ok desire) to finish it off from over two years ago when we moved in. The bed is super comfortable with a new memory foam mattress and that’s what counts the most; that the people I love feel safe and warm and comfortable when they visit.

Jen Cushman Guest Bedroom Bed

 

My little vignettes of found objects are vintage items, most of which I’ve picked up at Sweet Salvage. Since they’re a once a month vintage sale in Phoenix, I’m always finding new treasures to add to and replace in my home.

Vintage Found Objects Display Jen Cushman

 

What do wheels and real Amish shoes (you should see the cool handmade iron nails on the soles!), a beat up school photo and a vintage printer’s block have in common? This is the visual representation of what went through my head as I was arranging the vignette – A sweet, scared Amish teenage girl dreams of leaving home attend collage to study English Lit and become a university professor. However, she loves her mother and sisters dearly and is torn between the only life she knows and the life her soul longs to live. The beauty is in the longing and in the precipice of her decision. The vintage train case is my mother’s. When I open it, it still smells like cold cream. I cannot tell you how much I played with this as a girl.

Vintage Dress Form Display Jen Cushman

 

This vintage dress form – another Sweet Salvage find – is one of my most treasured objects. She’s been in our Susan Lenart Kazmer ICE Resin booth a bunch of times, not to mention at Art Unraveled, Tucson To Bead True Blue and other shows. She’s starting to get a little too fragile to be attending more shows so I think she’ll be staying home from now on.  The gorgeous piece of handmade lace on her was found in an old trunk at a tag sale. I passed on the trunk but I had to have the lace. Some of you might even recognize this vintage chaise too. It’s been to CHA and back a couple of times. This is what it means to be an artist-based company. Our art and our displays are always personal.

Hope you enjoyed my little virtual home tour. Be sure to check in next week. I have some very exciting news to share with you!

JenSig

 

Taking a little (bloggy) break

Jen Cushman Spring Bird Necklace

 

Hey everyone. Happy Spring! Well, it could still be mighty cold depending on what part of the country you live in. Here in the sunny Southwest, Spring has sprung, and guess what? I’m cleaning my studio. I still have to work my regular gigs so the cleaning and sorting is going slowwwwwww. I manage to do about two hours a day on it. The rest of the work day is taken up with my normal deadlines and projects. Weekends are still reserved for family time and household chores.

I was chatting with one of my best girlfriends over the weekend while our littles played. I groaned that I was the epitome of spring fever right now. I want to enjoy the gorgeous 75 degree weather and do anything besides the dailies. I’m also having a heck of a time finding my normal creative juice that usually flows through me. Do you ever have times like this?

As we continued chatting (and me doing a little more bitching and moaning than I should have), I realized that I need to give myself a little break. My soul is wanting to take a few daytime naps here and there and just flat line on some of my normal to dos. I made a list of everything in my life that gives me energy. Then I made a list of things that are not currently feeding my soul. The final column was a list of things I enjoy, but want to just take off my plate for a little bit. At the moment, blogging falls into that last category.

I’ve had various conversations regarding blogs over the years. Some people advise to never let your foot off the gas pedal of your blog because its “the driving force of your business.” (Picture me doing air quotes with my fingers and rolling my eyes) Others say it’s OK to do it, but for goodness sake, never tell anyone what you’re up to. Other social media folks have said they will let up slightly on the pedal by filling in the gaps with curated content (either their own past posts or other’s stuff on the internet) rather than coming up with new ideas. I could opine about all these scenarios, but instead I’m going to do what I would advise you to do if you were my friend having the same conundrum.

I would tell you to listen to the whispers of your soul because only you can hear the small, still voice within. The key is being quiet and stopping long enough to hear it.

I have no idea how long this little bloggy break is going to last. It might be as short as an afternoon, making this post irrelevant. It could take a week or more, or as long as my studio purge. What I promise myself, and everyone who subscribes to my blog and cares enough about me to follow me, is that I will never write a post just to publish. There’s a thousand big and small things in life that’s that way more fun and fulfilling than spending time reading half-assed blog posts.

Now get into your studio (or not) and have an Artful day. Whatever you decide to do, please be sure to live with it all your heart.

JenSig

Always have a pocket

Pocket1

Like millions of mothers my mornings are spent waking up my children, getting them fed, dressed and ready for school. My teenage son does this on his own, but my daughter still needs a lot of help. She has very definite ideas of her world; what she wants, likes and dislikes.  Add that to being in kindergarten where the reasoning skills are not yet fully developed and you’ll understand when I say I sometimes have challenging mornings. Lately she has been on this kick where she only wants to wear uniform skirts (no shorts, no pants) with pockets. The only problem with this is that she has one skirt with pockets and eight other typical pleated uniform skirts sans pockets. After about a week of her wanting to wear the same skirt every day, it finally occurred to me to ask her why she needed pockets.

She looked at me thoughtfully and answered a very well-reasoned response. “If Mrs. H. gives me something special during the day I want to have a place to hold my treasure.”

I looked at her just as sincerely and smiled. So many thoughts were running through my head from her sweet little answer.

  • How much she adores and admires her teacher. That’s a good thing!
  • How likely is it Mrs. H will be handing out special gifts to individual students when she’s doing her best each day to manage 24, five-year-olds?
  • How innocent my daughter is to patiently hope and wait for special gifts.
  • How the world would be a better place if all adults would hope for — and here’s the key — believe in and expect treasures at any given turn.

I don’t think it’s an accident that our children are innocent and open. I believe we all come into the world this way because the Universe truly is a magical place and we instinctively know it. Life is hard and bad things happen, which makes us more cynical as we age. We shutter our hearts, close off our vulnerability, stay on guard. The consequence is that we wrap ourselves in so much protection that we fail to see the little miracles that can happen at any given moment of any given day. We stop believing that a stranger – or worse, someone we love -will bestow upon us a special unexpected gift.

Pocket2

Having an open heart is something that’s been somewhat challenging for me as I continue to put myself and my work into the world. As an artist, showing your work is the same as showing your heart. Your work is the essence of your thoughts and emotions made manifest in a tangible way; be it a piece of jewelry, an art journal, a canvas, a quilt, an art doll, a handmade book, a scrapbook, etc.  I’ve learned over the years that I like some pieces of my work much more than others. (Everyone feels this way!) When I first began my teaching career, I used to hide the pieces I didn’t like in a box, shut tightly and tucked away in a corner of my studio. Then one day as I was packing for an event and getting my jewelry together to sell at the Artist Fair night, I realized I didn’t have enough work to display. I didn’t have time to make anything new because I was down to the wire and the weeks prior had been particularly hectic with our company.

I looked over at the box in the corner and sighed. I hadn’t been in there in months and months. I sat on the floor and started pulling things out. To my surprise, it was like looking at brand new work. The wonky wrap on one necklace that I despised so much after I twisted it actually looked pretty cool. The odd color combination I experimented on one piece later became Pantone’s Color of the Year and was found in the fashion magazines. Other pieces had great components but I could see the design was slightly “off”. I knew it at the time but wasn’t in the head space to fix it. Time gave me what I needed to see with new eyes. I grabbed a handful of  pieces, pulled them apart and spent an hour or so re-configuring them into something fresh.

Learning this lesson was an important part of my growth as an artist and educator. Knowing who I am is one thing. Believing in myself another. Truly understanding that my life and my work is fluid and ever evolving and that every piece is “good enough” — fabulous even — was life changing. Today, I try to wear my pocket in my heart. I do my best to keep it open so that when life presents me with treasure, I have a special place to tuck it.

Pocket3

Here’s wishing you an Artful week and a full pocket.

JenSig

Craft Fail

If you follow my blog at all or my social media, you know I tend to look at the glass always as half full rather than half empty. It’s just easier to live my life feeling positive about things rather than unhappy and grumpy. Not that I don’t have my moods, but I’m pretty quick to shake most things off. I also try to live by the golden rule my grandmother taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” When I do go on a rant, it’s usually pretty legit.

Being a creative mom, I’m always looking for fun craft kits and ideas that my daughter can do. She’s five, so I know that’s on the young side for lots of crafty kits sold at the big box stores, but to be fair, she’s been making art since she could hold a crayon and scribble at 7 months. At three, she was even featured in Stampington’s Create with Me Kids magazine, making art using Faber-Castell’s Gelatos that I later used in a bezel with resin.

This past holiday season I saw a cake pop making kit on sale at Khols and bought it as a craft for us to do together. It required no baking. I was a little skeptical, but hey, how can you go wrong with chocolate and sprinkles? We opened the box, assembled the plastic unit intended to squirt the cake pop batter into the cute little cake pop molds and read the directions from beginning to end before starting. (Hard thing for me to do, admittedly because I usually think I know enough about any craft to dive in.)

Craftfail1

The batter, which you only use warm water with, is supposed to set up and harden on its own in the refrigerator. Apparently my water was too hot because it set up too quickly and we couldn’t get it to squirt neatly into the cake pop molds. We had to use sticks to push the batter into the molds and even then that didn’t work. We ended up with one overfilled cake pop and three sad looking ones.

After filling, I placed in the refrigerator as directed for 15 minutes. I took them out, popped off the top as directed and handed them to my girl to decorate. We made the frosting, again just a packet of dry mix that you add water to and stirred. The frosting was thin and runny. I can say the cute little pink candy crystal stencils worked well and made my daughter smile.

Craftfail2

Finally came the time to enjoy our hard-at-work crafting time. They were ready to eat. The taste was…hmmmm…what’s the word for it? I know, foul. My girl took one bite and said “Mama, is it supposed to taste this bad?” We even tried to give one to her 15-year-old brother, thinking teenagers will eat anything sweet. He took one look at the cake pops, wrinkled his nose, took a bite and then spit it out into the trash can.

I washed up the entire messy project and put the pieces and parts back into the box. Giant Craft FAIL.

Craftfail3

Now that you know the background, here’s the rant. Remember this comes from someone who’s in the crafts industry and works with manufacturers as a designer. Of course, I’m a mommy, but my DIY skills happen to be a bit more advanced than many of the parents these kit manufacturers are marketing their wares to. The point here is not to have a big ego but to say, “Heck if this is difficult for me to accomplish with my child how is a non-crafter going to feel?”

Tell me, please, who is making these types of bad kid’s kits and why? What is their background? Do they have any working knowledge at all of crafting…of children? Have they tested their products? Have they even tasted — let alone swallowed — their “treats”.  Are they really only concerned with making a profit to the point they completely lose site of their customer’s wants? And, frankly, my final question: Why even bother? If you happen to be the manufacturer of this kit and you happen to somehow read my blog post, please feel free to leave a comment. Honestly, I’d love to hear you thoughts.

One of my best friends is a wonderful, fabulous mom. She’s a single mom and literally lives every moment for her children. Her 7-year-old is like my girl. She’s been crafty since birth. My friend is not only NOT crafty, but the entire process of it makes her squirm. However, she’s bought every children’s craft kit for girls on the market. I asked her opinion after my craft fail how many of these kits did she feel like she got her money’s worth and how many of them not only felt like a rip off but annoyed her? She estimated the good vs. bad for her money is roughly 40% total craft fail, 50% OK and only 10% wonderful (Stay tuned for a wonderful kids craft product review!). How sad for this industry that I truly love.

Since I don’t usually buy these kits — we tend to make everything from what I have in my studio, plus her crayons, paint and paper — I wanted to ask you what you think about children’s craft kits. Do you ever buy them? Are there ones that you would recommend to other parents? What do you do when you’ve spent money on them and they’ve been craft fails?

Thanks for taking the time to listen. I feel so much better now. (grin)

Here’s wishing you a successful and Artful day!

JenSig

 

Home then gone then home again

TeachingCharityWings1

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.

TeachingCHA3

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.

TeachingCHA1

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.

JenSig

 

 

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?

JenSig

 

My home has gone to the (cat) and dogs

PetLove

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.

JenSig