I have a residency at Leland Ironworks for the month of October. Leland is owned by sculptor Lee Kelly. He keeps a studio and small second home there. PNCA has partnered with him to use his beautiful property as a space for classes and residencies and I’m honored to have been chosen for this great opportunity.
I fell in love with Leland the first time I visited in 2013. The property sits in the middle of farm land in Oregon City. Surrounding it are mostly open horse pastures. When Lee bought the property back in the 60s, he brought up a bunch of Sugar Pine saplings rom California and planted them all over the property, transforming from pasture to a mini forest. The resident studio is a sweet little room with one electrical outlet and fully windowed walls on both sides. There’s a comfy reading chair and plenty of tables and wall space to work on. I brought my inflatable air mattress and it’s quite comfy at night. The only sounds are the strange noises the cows in the pasture next door make through the night.
I haven’t had this much alone time since before Juniper was born. It’s great, it’s terrifying, and it’s hard to relax… but I’m working on it.I’ve been spending weekends and Tuesdays there. In these first three days, I’ve been just trying to play. I walk around and just respond to things I see. My favorite so far has been making my own leaf kites. I love it when leaves get caught in spider webs. They seem magically suspended in time and space. I’ve been attaching leaves to invisible thread and tying them to branches so they float around in the breeze.
I liked the way bugs were leaving track marks in leaves, they looked like etch-a-sketch drawings, so I started noodling around with paints and made some of my own, also inspired by the book on sailing knots I brought along with me. And I’ve been whittling with my sailing knife. I’ve gone whittling crazy. I found a maple sapling that had been cut down recently on the property and I cut it up with my band saw. I’ve been whittling all the sections down. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for, I just know I love them. The urbanite in me battles with the incredible inefficiency of whittling, but the insomniac in me, the high tension, can’t be still, can’t focus part of me loves it. It’s physical, it’s tedious and repetitive, I get to respond to the wood and work around all the weird little knots and bumps. There are several layers of “skin” that I have to whittle through to get to the heart of the wood. I don’t know, It’s just satisfying. And maple is so beautiful. I have another larger branch to cut up, I just need to bring my saws-all next time.
One of my favorite places on the property is a tree house, built by Lee Kelly and a bunch of students way back. Lee wanted to show them a way to built a treehouse that didn’t harm the tree. It’s made of steel and wood, and there’s a lovely spiral staircase up to a platform that sits about 15 feet in the air. You can see the little creek that runs along the property, and the tree that it’s built around offers lovely shade and protection from the rain. I do a lot of whittling up here.
I’ve been so busy in my head. I wish it would shut up, but I suppose I need to let that idea go. Instead, today I just tried to focus on thinking about my thoughts in a more positive light. I have a vivid imagination. It’s so loud, so vivid, it’s keeping me awake at night. My head is overflowing with fantasies and narratives. And maybe in trying to shut them out, I’m doing them a disservice. Maybe instead of trying to quiet my brain, which seems impossible right now, I should bring some of these narratives into the light. Maybe I can shape them into something useful, entertaining, funny… Today I made a circular pencil scribble, sort of to the tune of my “meditations on neurotic thoughts” videos. But this time, instead of writing words and then burying them, I made up a story in my head while I was making the drawing about two people playing chicken. On a separate piece of paper I wrote “Neither one was the type to back down from a game of chicken, so a collision was inevitable.” I liked it, and I felt like it could go somewhere. I could start making up little vignettes and do drawings for them, or vice versa. It seems like a good way to start a regular drawing practice. I’d like to fill the wall buy the end of the month with an assortment of drawings… anything that comes to mind, good or bad. Who knows, maybe this new practice will stick after I leave Leland.
Today I was tired and felt unproductive. I gave myself permission to take a nap. It was just a half hour nap, and honestly it was probably more sleep than I got all last night. It felt so good to give in. When I woke up, that was when I got up and started this ew drawing/vignette idea. See, sleep is good for you. I should do more of that. Maybe if I work this stuff out of my head, onto paper, I can do more of that sleeping stuff.
The property is full of Lee’s sculptures. When the sun sets, they light up in pinks and oranges. It’s a magical place to be at the end of the day.