Designing as a way of life
December 20, 2016
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Your true calling

Today is one of my favorite days of the year, the first day of winter and the daily step towards more and more light as we build back up to the summer solstice. Waking in the dark of winter simultaneously confuses my body and inspires me. The quiet of this time, before most other mammals wake feels like bonus time, extra time, my secret time. Occasionally it feels like I’m wasting this magic time by trolling the internet, and then I discover something like this. I’m coming late to Quest 2017, 12 prompts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during the month of December all designed to help you create your best and most creative 2017, but I’m going to play a little catch up beginning today with day one of the quest.

The first prompt is by Krista Tippett. Krista Tippett hosts the podcast On Being which I listen to regularly and she is also a graduate of Yale Divinity School. (I am too!) She asks in her prompt what is your vocation at this time in your life, both in and beyond job title. If you read my post from yesterday, you know I’m reading the book Designing Your Life, and actively trying to wrestle with exactly this question.

Simply, my vocation at this time in my life is to share the magic of art-making and letterpress through teaching, making and writing. This aligns with my job title of Associate Professor of Art at MCLA, with my work as PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project founder and chief, and my practice as an artist.  If you have ever hiked up Mount Greylock from the south on the Appalachian Trail you may know the very long ridge that you must traverse before you get to the last rocky bit of the trail and the summit. That ridge can feel unbelievably endless on a cold, rainy day or a hot, buggy day, or a day when the snow sinks to your knees even with snowshoes. This is where I am right now. I keep waiting for the lightning bolt to hit me, for inspiration to strike, for the challenge to ease or something to come into my path that says “Melanie–this is it, this is the direction you need to take right now.” I don’t see my vocation/mission statement changing, or even my job title changing. But something needs to change.

It’s not as if I don’t show up, as Chuck Close says, Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work. I do get to work, but perhaps the work I am doing isn’t the right work right now. Perhaps it’s just the smallest of shifts that needs to happen. For example, in my design classes, choosing to show examples to students that come from social justice movements. I already have a project on propaganda in my spring design course, do I find ways of stretching that throughout the semester? Or maybe it’s something else, something more elusive.

I don’t need more work or projects, just a different way of weaving my vocation/mission into my life. The good news is that I know I am on the right path, that many things are solved by walking, and I must keep on keeping on. I’ve walked that ridge on the AT enough times to know that that section is arduous regardless of the season or how fit I am, but that I will get through it. And the same is true of this moment in time. I will just keep walking towards that light of summer.

Big thanks to Suzi Banks Baum for writing a post that helped me find Quest 2017.advent-12-21-16

Today’s Assignment:

I love using gesso to transform a collage, drawing or painting by using it as a masking tool, with a stencil or on it’s own through the addition of dots and shapes. Rarely do I use it as intended, to prepare a surface for painting. Gesso can neutralize a busy background when diluted with a little bit of water. One can layer it over collage or paint and then sand away portions of it to reveal lower layers. In a pinch one can use white latex flat house paint, or white acrylic paint or other colored flat paint.

  1. So today, use gesso or other kind of white paint as a primary element.
  2. Add other elements using only black and white. The other elements can be text, collage, pen/ink, etc. Just keep your final collage to black and white.

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