Time Traveler

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness — in a landscape selected at random — is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain … It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with the sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern — to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.” — Vladimir Nabokov, “Speak Memory”

 

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pastel on paper. "Flower Camp" garden in Buckingham County, Virginia

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pastel on paper. “Flower Camp” garden in Buckingham County, Virginia

December, 2013 / As someone who can “smell snow” on its way, I feel in my bones the coming winter is going to be a cold one. But as the chill sets in, I have a good store of sunshine on my back and joy in my heart set aside to keep me plenty warm.

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Sundown

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Sundown

Such fullness has me almost welcoming this change of season, as I reflect on the tapestry of experiences that were woven into my summer and fall. In early spring I sowed seeds of resolve to make the most of my time. It took some tending to, but I harvested a crop of experiences that only time allows. Time to hike a forgotten railroad tunnel and explore a forlorn and unforgettable grand estate with best friends. Time to putter in my garden for the better part of most mornings. Time – a whole wonderful week with my sister – reliving old and making new, precious memories. I played with pastels in a plein air class, and …

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Charleston, SC

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Charleston, SC

… spent a few days in Charleston (a city that has always haunted me — in a good way), right on the heels of digging in dirt where Dolley Madison and her kin once trod. Any one of these experiences, in prior years of twisted priorities, I might have made excuses to forgo. But I didn’t. I made a not-so-secret pact with myself to not believe in time as limited, but limitless.

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. "Twisted Twig"

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Twisted Twig”



November, 2014 /
Obviously, I indulged myself in “taking time” to the extent that I didn’t even post the above musings, nor did I write a single entry into this blog over the ensuing seasons. Now I find myself an entire year later with an even heftier weft to add to the warp in this time tapestry. Yes the winter was as long and cold as spring was long and lingering. And the oncoming winter by all indications is to be the same. These months have been so full of activities, weekend retreats and extended travel. A wedding and ancestral search in northern Italy consumed much of the mid-year creative brain trust, but my, what a swath of color that trip weaves into the “magic carpet” ride that was this past year.

IMG_2544

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Gordon/Trible Wedding bouquet. Merate, Italy, 2014. Mary Garner-Mitchell floral design: hydrangea, David Austin and spray roses, dusty miller, seeded eucalyptus and vintage brooches.

Gardening took a back seat to many creative pursuits that I found as engaging, such as figure drawing and jewelry design and woodland hikes with kindred souls who like to study birds, tree bark, rocks and sky. Instructing a flower arranging workshop in September forced my hand at doing what I probably do best, followed by a long, solo visit with my mother, brother and sister in Georgia that reminded me of what is truly the most important thing in my world — family — my immediate family, of course, but not exclusive of all the loved ones that are the threads and binding of the thick carpet that daily warms my soul. Yes, I am “one lucky mortal.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Flower Camp friends

Taking it with a grain of …

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”  — Stephen King

© Mary Garner-Mitchell for Media General, "Balancing Act"

© Mary Garner-Mitchell for Media General, “Balancing Act”

How many of us start the new year vowing to eat healthy? Yet, two weeks later those good intentions have likely become stirred into the indecipherable, lumpy, day-to-day mush of work and life. Before you know it, meals are dining out, grab-and-go, or the standard fare at home that may or may not be exactly “good-for-you.”

For someone who really enjoys food and enjoys cooking for someone who loves food even more, being told to eliminate salt is like taking away a surgeon’s scalpel. Oh, sure there are herbs and seasonings that can ramp up flavor, but those options are like handing the skilled doctor a pair of dull scissors!  It just doesn’t cut it.  Nevertheless, the Mitchell diet will be sans sel for the foreseeable future.  I’m not exactly happy about it, but one’s health, of course is paramount.

Balance, be it in life or whatever, it seems, boils down simply to one’s ability and willingness to practice good habits.

It’s a lot of hard work staying healthy.  (And it ain’t cheap either!)

 

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pen and ink; Graphix board

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pen and ink; Graphix board

“Nothing terribly important, but your big, little sister could use an empathetic shoulder … or something …”  was the message in my email.

Within minutes, his voice on the phone asking, “Are you ok?” gave me permission to cry.

As the author of “The Little Prince” wrote, my tears came from “a secret place” that few may understand. They had been collecting in a reservoir deep, deep within for the past several months, and I knew the gene pool that my brother and I share made him the logical lifeguard. He tossed me the ring by way of his own experiences at low tide when one chooses any art as a vocation. God bless him.

Don’t misunderstand, and I don’t want your pity. I am full of gratitude for all I’ve been given by way of talent, family, friends, clients and more love and good fortune than I deserve. And, while slowed, business remains steady. Yet recently my creative spirit seems to be drowning in the sea of change within my profession.

I’m sad to say that cheap stock art now consumes my original work more often than I care to admit. I cannot compete with $30 spot illustrations, pay for health insurance, office rent, all the while swimming against a current of ever changing software and equipment and still bring jobs in on time and on budget. Fast, cheap, good – the designer’s holy triangle — as the saying goes, “choose two.”

The sharks are circling ready to gobble up guppies who have nothing to lose (but their livelihood!) by swimming in schools politely called “crowd sourcing” and “contests” — Candy Land names otherwise known as “spec work.” I have not and will never take that bait.

Worse still are clients who see graphic design as a commodity, demanding native files as deliverables, ignoring the fact that to transfer licensed fonts and stock art is copyright infringement for which I would be liable, not to mention risking the integrity of the finished piece at the hands of another of unknown skill. Their message is play by our rules or you’re not in the game. Well, I won’t play that game and risk sinking my reputation and what’s left of my industry.

I’m taking my sketchbook and going home so to speak — per my wise brother’s advice. I’ve dried my tears.

Until tomorrow.

C’est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante.

(“It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.”)
From “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The remains of the day …

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

© 2012 Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Parsley at Flower Camp”

It’s the season for seeds, and the skeletal remains of flora are just reminders of past verdant hues. The air has become thin with chilling whispers of what awaits come winter. I look at these forms and remember all so well their splendor, the way they garnished and the flavor they lent to what otherwise was ordinary. I mourn their passing, but celebrate the memory of their being — their deep roots, their flowers and how they stretched to reach their potential and the promise that life will go on in all things left behind.

Sue. You are loved.

On living “kind”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic airbrush. Editorial illustration.

Somehow I want to coral my thoughts today around a personal and heartfelt mission I’ve been considering these past few months with the hope of it becoming a habit. I’ve decided to live “kind”… really try to, at least, and already I’ve seen that it truly helps smooth life’s rough spots.

It all started one recent summer evening when my friend Absolut and I met at my favorite watering hole. (We meet in a couple of chairs in the front yard to ponder the pond and life’s mysteries more often than is healthy, I’m sure.) Our conversation wound its way beyond the week’s woes and wickedness to ways to combat the general “snarky-ness” snaking its way into my psyche of late. (I owe such malaise to yet another vice — social and broadcast media.) ANYWAY… as my ice was melting, so was my mean streak and I came to the conclusion that the remedy might just be a good dose of “kind” and that I needed to live it in order to receive it.

So I asked Absolut (btw, his last name is Truth) just what is kind, what are its origins, moreover, why has kindness become so elusive these days? I was reminded of a most cherished phrase — “I kin ye…” — from The Education of Little Tree.* “Kin” as a verb extends far beyond the noun version meaning of familial ties. More than I love you, it says I really, deeply and truly understand you. Someone, I suppose, somewhere down the page in the English lexicon decided we needed an adjective version of this word kin and added a “d.” So there’s my hypothesis as to the word’s origins, and therein lies the answer to my query regarding kind’s meaning and elusiveness. Kindness has a direct correlation to one’s ability or willingness to try to understand.

According to the Talmud, “deeds of kindness are equal in weight to all the commandments.” So, here’s my plan: Simply taking a moment to first consider and maybe kin the person who cut me off in traffic before flipping them off; to maybe hide, but not “un-kin” Facebook friends who can make my blood boil; to remember that I kin the someone who left some trivial household chore undone before I bark out my displeasure; to pay it forward at every chance; to write a handwritten thank-you note once a week; to believe the best before assuming the worst — That’s living kind.

God help me.

* Read more about “The Education of Little Tree” and “I kin ye … ” here:  http://www.fivemoreminuteswith.com/2011/03/the-real-meaning-of-kin/

Far from perfect

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Watercolor. Botanical illustration under the tutelage of Lara Gastinger http://www.laracallgastinger.com

If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice it’s knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully. Matthew Fox

“Only God is perfect…”  I’m sure I’m not the only person who grew up hearing this — for me mostly from Sunday School teachers. But in my kid brain, as now, I’ve always balked at this notion, though perfectionism is a disease I fight every single day of my life. Be it in relationships, art, business, cooking, gardening — everything I attempt, I have this unattainable vision of a perfect outcome. And as for the Creator being perfect? I don’t think so. Cases in point: Jellyfish.  Now tell me that wasn’t an experiment that eventually was just tossed in utter disgust where it plopped into the ocean and multiplied!  Or,  crazed gunmen in movie theaters. Hmmm… maybe we humans are just experiments, too.

Shadows of my past

© Media General by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Acrylic air brush, paint, Prisma colored pencil on paper

I came across this illustration the other day amongst many, many long forgotten pieces from my years as a newsroom artist. The VCU Medical College Auxillary’s antiques sale was coming up and we needed cover art for a special feature section highlighting this annual benefit event. Me being the girl in the art department, such assignments usually landed on my desk. The guys got all the air and space and truck illustrations (Everyone knows girls can’t draw trucks!). Anyway this girl was always fine with the “ladies’ pages.” But back to this illustration: We had the catalog, but the photos were iffy at best.  So I composed what I thought would be a good mix of key pieces. There was much emphasis that year, as I recall, on the Chinese influence in the show, thus the table and the porcelain vase. Then there were the usual European porcelains and a few American pieces (the clock and portrait). Sure wish now that I had taken notes on the actual items and their provenance. I’m sure the beat reporter was responsible for the “words” and captions associated with this as with any story. (Everyone knows artists can’t write — or spell!) What I distinctly remember is that I had a WHOLE DAY to do it! I developed this “square on” style because of such crazy deadlines.  I could cut out shapes from frisket and block in the piece with my airbrush very quickly. Next I would add the details by hand with paint and brush and/or Prisma colored pencils. Then hit it again with transparent gray airbrush paint using a “hand frisket” for some shadows and modeling.  I enjoyed recreating the patterns of the porcelain wares in particular. (Maybe this was foretelling of my ongoing assignment of designing fine Limoges porcelain for a current client, who must remain nameless for now.)  As for the grandfather clock, this one struck up memories of the one my father built back in the 60s. My mother painted its face and wrote his name in the center, much like I added my signature on this illustration. I saved the guy in the corner for last, which is probably why he is the weakest part of the illustration as I attempted to capture the antique style of the primitive portrait.  It didn’t work in airbrush and anyway, this guy was so creepy, with such little hands and I was running out of time. The dude reminded me then, as now, of Barnabas Collins of the old “Dark Shadows” serial.  Johnny Depp would have been much more inspiring.