Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fabulous day, art therapy, making more monsters, and flocking love

Had a wonderful day with Bebe the dog I'm petsitting who is just pure love. So beautiful to be around. When I take him walking he has such a spring in his little terrier step, it's infectious. Worked on some sample monsters for Saturday's class and then went to my art therapy group with the fabulous Majica Phillips of @Midtown Art Therapy. We did our check-ins and lo and behold we were going to make art about our shadow selves and inner monsters - woo-woo. Got to make some dark art (way darker than we will be doing on Saturday, tho who knows) and and wrote a few words describing our feelings about this part of ourselves on the back of the small canvas panels. Then we did this neato thing of passing our piece around with the instructions for each of us to to make the next person's shadow self beautiful with what we know about this person, so once again it was going to a place of giving love and ultimately receiving gobs of it. Each person added art to the front and words to the back and mine went from being this dark sad and spooky painting to full of light and joy as it went around the room. I loved working on everyone's piece and experimented with glitter and flocking powder and I flocking loved it! Really. Flocking is awesome. Our pieces turned out so beautiful, and the words on the back were incredibly touching. We had to read them out loud saying "I am" and then each of the words our group members had written. I got teary with mine as I've been a little hard on myself for not being more of a mainstream success (i.e. money maker) lately. Sigh. Someone wrote that I was bountiful which was a lovely affirmation, also that I was beautiful, talented, funny, smart (I think) and glistening. Must write these in flocking somewhere so I remember them in those self-judgement moments.

Here's what I love about art therapy: It's all about getting stuff out quickly and visually (not about the aesthetics) which is hard for me because I like to take my time and craft each piece so that it is as beautiful as I can make it, but not doing this is incredibly liberating and unprecious and this approach or loosening up is spilling out into the art I make at home. I alos love how art therapy acknowledges, validates and utilizes the healing power of art for personal growth, and working thru blockages, and for me personally, I get to experiment with materials I would never normally use, be unconcerned with outcomes, have lots of fun, and form community with wonderful people. My Transformational Arts Practice courses are like a modified version of art therapy that also teach systematic art skills and allows more time for an aesthetic experience. It works more on an affirmation and exploration level integrating what I've learned from research, being an art ed prof, teaching art, and being involved with personal growth for many many years. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to be in Northern California where this way of being is so accepted? Right now am in a place of gratitude.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing with fears and inner monsters

I goofed in my last posting, writing that we would be making totem and protective animals this Saturday, but it's actually Playing with fears and inner monsters. We'll be making playful monsters that contain our fears, owning them so they don't own us. As I'm playing with some of these fears, I see how many of them are the inverse of my hopes or the fear that if my hopes are realized I wont be able to handle it. Also coming up is the "not enough" fears. That I wont have enough money when I'm old, that my art isn't good enough and on and on. It's amazing how much power we give these crazy monsters that are simply that. Am loving cleaning this negative energy out and cutting my fears down to size. I'm taking lots of photos for when I teach this course online but if anyone is in the Sacramento area and would like to join us, please contact me at miraguy AT (time and place info on the top right of this page). We'll be using collage, cut paper, and mixed media. Making them will be pretty wild (pun intended) and lots of fun.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Teaching, Painting Animals, Bebe the Wonder Dog, The Central Valley

Returned from the Central Valley where I taught classes in kid's books and graphic novels for teens in the afternoon and adults at night. Had a wonderful time and met some delightful talented people. Was pretty pooped afterwards and stayed at a friend's who lives in a fabulous house but in a suburban area with no community. Lovely houses on a lovely street and no-one walking or talking on the street, no nearby cafes or bookstores. Made me think about suburban versus urban alientation and the importance of community. The land was full of golden siennas, ochres, and beiges. A surreal beauty with the occassional swath of green produce in abstract shapes. Came back late Friday and Saturday morning taught the first class of my Transformational Arts Practice course which was about self-portraits, self-knowlede, self-care, and portraits in general. Not many students but the ones that were there were very happy. It was so magical teaching things that they've never done before and watching the beauty and magic of creativity and self-care.
Next week's class is teaching students how to draw and paint realistic and/or stylized animals that are personally significant. I have a whole pantheon of totemic animals that I call upon for different occassions - bears for strength, alligators when I need a thick skin, hummingbirds when I feel like a small miracle and want to give thanks and so on. Because the classes stand alone am making them 3 for $75, 2 for $60 and single classes $35. Kind of an incentive plan. If you know anyone within a 2 hr radius of Sacramento - please let them know. I have a flyer a few postings below with contact info etc.

And now I'd like to introduce Bebe the Wonder Dog. Bebe is a wonder dog because he is so wondrously loving. Up for a cuddle, a belly rub, a walk, anytime. He also loves to kiss, but I draw the line at tongue kissing. I'm housesitting a beautiful house and getting some exquisite solitude just me and Bebe. We love gazing into each other's eyes and plumbing the depths of each other's souls. The only other time I get to do this is when I'm doing portraits and can really look at someone without having to self-consciously avert my gaze. Reminds me of how much I love doing portraits. I had a wonderful time doing my self-portrait sample for class. My old publisher, Harriet Rohmer, used to say that I liked to "reinvent the wheel" by experimenting with different materials and techniques so this one I used charcoal and an acrylic burnt umber glaze, then introduced different subtle glazes on my dolphin, hummingbird, and blossoming flower. It's not finished yet but am loving the process. Am thinking of using this technique in one of the books I'm working on. It has a really nice loose quality, but because the white is the white of the paper (like watercolors) it's not very forgiving. No idea how it's going to end up but will show you when it does.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teaching in the Central Valley

Off to teach in Livermore tomorrow. My first time in the Central Valley. I imagine it will be hot and dry but I know that a lot of farming happens there so it may be hot and green from the crops. One of the classes is working with teens doing a workshop on children's picture books and graphic novels. Should be fun. Always a treat getting to work with kids. Will let you know how it goes.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Please forward or come to these unique classes in Sacramento

If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward this to them. It should be pretty extraordinary and a lot of fun, especially for those wanting to learn art skills or do something different. Click on image to enlarge.

San Francisco with the Bay Area Bookies

Had the delightful privilege of going to San Francisco with one of my mega talented continuing students to a Bay Area Bookies meeting of amazing children's book authors and illustrators. Here's a group photo that Ashley Wolff of Miss Bindergarten and a squillion other beautiful books took. It was so wonderful being among my kin and sharing ideas, projects, art, and love. I was in piglet heaven.

From the littlest heads in the back left to right Katherine Tillotson (It's Picture Day TodayWhen the Library Lights Go OutPenguin and Little BlueSongs of Papa's Island), Marissa Moss (Amelia's Itchy-Twitchy, Lovey-Dovey Summer at Camp MosquitoAmelia's NotebookHannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant GirlAmelia's Guide to Gossip: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Pharaoh's SecretHannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl and many more) Sharon Levin kid's book reviewer, Elissa Guest (lots of books - click link), Sarah Kline does great books with her sister, Jane Wattenberg, (it got to be too much work linking to all the books so am just linking to their book pages, sorry), next row left to right Susan Myers, Elisa Kleven, me looking VERY happy, Wendy Lichtman, Julie Downing, Lissa Rovetch. Bottom row left to right Bev Gherman, Jim Averbeck, Kristen Schwartz (up and coming author/illustrator), Maria Van Lieshout (and baby), Ashley Wolff (who hosted the party in her fabulous Bernal Heights home - when I have time will show pics), and Bob Barner. Just checked Ashley's link and they include Ashley Olson groan but they also include many of her books. You can also always just copy and  paste their names into a browser, remove any spaces, and put .com at the end to see their websites (a couple of which I designed long ago and now need updating.

OK I can't resist. Here are a few. The last ones show the "show and tell" we all did of recent and forthcoming projects. Having all given many school presentations, even the introverts did great. It really was a blissful day and quintessentially San Franciscan.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sneak peak at the Transformative Arts Practice header and offering

Here's a sneak peak of my Transformative Arts Practice website header. If you can, do let me know you think.
The first offering will be a "self-portraits, self-knowledge, self-care" course that will be very powerful, fun, and empowering. I am reading and re-reading the following books to deepen the underlying theoretical perspectives and pedagogical approaches: A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, Teaching Visual Culture: Curriculum, Aesthetics, and the Social Life of Art  by Kerry Freedman, The Re-enchantment of Art by Suzi Gablik, Claiming Face by Maya Christina Gonzalz, which is a complete self-portraiture curriculum for educators (also available on Maya's website where she is currently offering a super dooper discount), The Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy A. Machiodi, The Lure of the Local by Lucy Lippard and Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself As Effectively As You Care for Everyone Else by Alice Dohmer and Henry Dreher. 
I am going to be launching the first in-person series in Sacramento at University Art on Marconi near Fulton on Saturdays 9.30-11.30 beginning July 24th and the online courses will start late August or early September. Am very excited to put it mildly. If you or anyone you know might be interested please forward this to them and have them contact me directly at artspractice AT I will have a registration form as soon as I have my TAP site up. 
Any suggestions/comments much appreciated.

Peace and love - Mira

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Basking in the Teaching Afterglow (and books we're reading and using)

Another gorgeous sunny Sacramento day. It's the day after teaching one of my kid's book classes and am reflecting on what a joy it is to teach warm, funny, smart, talented people who are really happy to be there. We have a wonderful system of group teaching that is transforming the student's writing, art, and lives. We begin with the assigned readings. 

This semester we are using my Writing Illustrating and Publishing Kid's Books Handbook which also includes exercises the students didn't do because they are so passionate/obsessed about working on their own projects. I suggested they do them as party games with friends which would really be fun. They did however, read all the informative text (yay) and one student's young daughter drew all over the cover because she liked it so much (I felt honored). We are also using Writing Picture Books: A Hands on Guide  by Ann Whitford Paul, and the 2009 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators Market by Alice Pope. In the past, we have also used The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb, which was also very helpful. We are using the 2009 CWIM because by the time the current guide comes out many editors have already switched publishing houses (it's the only way for most editor's to get raises) and this is the main information in the book that is time sensitive. I also like a lot of the articles in that particular year and because it's not current it's much cheaper new or second hand for my students to buy. 

After we've discussed the readings and how they relate to where students are with their projects - it's critique time! The students bring enough copies of their stories for everyone to have one, and those that haven't been critiqued recently get critiqued. Because this is early in the course we are focusing on the stories, although one of the students is working on illustrations that I have assigned her to meet criteria that editors look for in portfolios, and another brought a story that was almost complete and we are bringing her illustrations up to a publishable level. I cannot describe how much fun this all is, or the intense concentration and focus required to almost psychically tune into how that particular author or illustrator can fix whatever needs fixing, tweaking, clarifying, or playing with. What is also amazing is how far the stories go from beginning to end and how wonderful it is to witness this and be a  part of it. 

For the critiques, we divide up the remaining time between the number of students needing critiques, and that's how much time they get. Someone reads the story out loud and we follow along and jot down notes. Then we read and proof the story and include suggestions before we discuss it as a group. I usually lead the discussion and everyone else jumps in to help solve issues or problems or with suggestions to make it stronger or funnier etc. The class is designed to be a gestalt and everyone is bonding beautifully.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On Dying and Living

I just found out a dear friend from my time in Illinois recently died. I thought it was a bad-taste joke posted on Facebook about someone of the same name in Northern Illinois dying but it turns out it was her. She was someone I really loved and admired but we were rarely able to do anything together because she was determined to finish her dissertation, which had to be the greatest dissertation ever. Her husband was also frustrated by this but of course we all respected her wishes. And now she's dead. I'm not saying her dissertation killed her, tho I doubt that the stress and pressure helped (she died of a fast acting breast-cancer relapse). I looked up Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief and I seem to be somewhere between stages 1 and 2 - denial and anger (am not in the sadness yet, perhaps because of the distance and my continuing sadness over the loss of Guido). I have lost a ridiculous amount of people and loved ones in a relatively short time beginning with most of my relatives killed in the Holocaust before I was born, and caring for many wonderful men who died of AIDS. I have done many living and dying workshops including some fantastic ones with Steven and Ondrea Levine. For anyone dealing with loss, dying, or grieving, they have written some extremely helpful books including these -  Who Dies?  A Year to Live, and A Gradual Awakening and then there is Kubler-Ross's seminal text and Ram Dass's wonderful work (the original Be Here Now and the updated Remember, Be Here Now, and Still Here, Embracing Aging, Changing and Dying.  These folks helped change how we deal with death and dying and helped found the hospice movement which has helped many folks die consciously and with dignity. They have also helped me deal with death in a more present way. When my father-in-law and different friends were dying, I read guided meditations from Who Dies? and some of the other books mentioned here and I truly believe it helped both them and me in the process of letting go.

All this has me thinking about a meeting I had with 2 friends last week called a "Pressure Relief Group" where they help you create a roadmap to deal with your hopes and dreams and goals and relieve pressure from whatever is causing stress. I came all prepared with my little folder about the different exciting projects I am working on including the school for Transformative Arts Practice that I am creating, 14 different e-course ideas, my beginning business plan, and the what needs to be done to complete the 2 books that I am currently creating list. They looked at me and said "Mira you are doing too much." I knew this and told them about doing my PhD in a record 3 years while teaching a full load, publishing 3 articles, winning a teaching award, and graduating with a perfect 4.0 GPA. I also mentioned that it nearly killed me. They asked me "What is the common definition of success in America?" To which I replied - "How much you do, earn, and have." They pointed out what a quantitative rather than qualitative criteria that was and asked me to redefine this definition for myself and of course the answer was having peace of mind and a high quality of life that included creativity, community, love, friendship, art, service, relaxation, exercise and so on. In other words - how to have more relational quality and do less. So have decided that my first e-course offering will be about "Self-portraits, self-knowledge, self-care." Will let you all know how it goes.

The image at the top is a portrait I did of Maya Gonzalez, one of the 18 pieces of original art that I created as part of my dissertation. I find it very calming. You can see more of my dissertation art on my website at