As with most great things that happen with me the best ones happen by accident. And so it was with the Willow branches that I use in my stick artwork projects. I used to get the materials for my artwork from plum trees that I would spot in landscapes around the bay area and where I live in Nevada City. They were hard to find and took a lot of my time and attention. Sometimes it felt like I was almost having to steal them from roadside medians and along freeways.
I needed to find a new way! I used to think that willow was kind of cliche/ common. and that I was above using it. I got a job using willow on a fence and it changed my mind about it. I would drive from where I live in Nevada CityCalifornia to Mammoth, Ca going through Nevada on the way looking for materials. Usually when I put my mind to it what I am wanting usually shows up mysteriously and gracefully.
I put up an ad in small stores and stations along my way to find ranchers who had willow and were wanting to get rid of it. I made connections and one thing led to the next and before long I had pretty much all the willow I needed to finish the 400 foot willow fence I was building.
I started to appreciate willow and the history of it’s use by the tribes in the area where I got it namely the Wa She Shu tribe in Nevada. Little by little I was instructed in the beauty and utility of this plant. My arrogance started to melt away. I stopped into the tribal office of the Washoe tribe and asked if they had willow I could harvest. Since I had already gotten enough to finish my project this would be for the future. This was a gift that I couldn’t see at the time.
Eventually I started to make trips to the reservation to harvest and also to read about the Wa She Shu tribe and the way they related to the land and plants. It was more of a sacred relationship than a consuming one. A giving and receiving. When I went I would bring a gift to offer at the somewhat official trailer office of the environmental protection office and kind of sneak it to the first tribal person I came to at the desk and thank them.
As I assumed this “give a gift receive a gift” positioning I would be available to learn all the sacred land and plants could teach me.It was harder at first and then became easier over time. I could even find my way to give the tribe a gift of money to make it more lawful to take the Willows.
I could also mention the tribe in my description of my art. To me using sacred materials from sacred land made my artwork more special and meaningful and exposed more people to the tribe and what they had to offer.
This process of learning makes my artwork more part of my spiritual and money making life. I am grateful!
Some of the most gratifying moments as an artist have been my stick art collaborations with talented and generous architect Fu Tung Cheng at Cheng designs. Fu Tung is able and willing to design on the fly. My job as an artist is to take his ideas and make them come to life. The first project we worked on together was lighting for his Tea Bar, Celadon in Berkeley, Ca. His ability to sketch project concepts is so helpful to take me along with his overall vision.
Then I can go home and see what works with the materials I have pulled together to work with. It takes inspiration, and buying into the whole vision for it all to come together in a great way. At the first there is always a feeling that I am not going to be able to do it. Then little by little in spite of my doubt, gracefully it all comes together. I love the scale, subtlety and edge that Fu Tung is able to work with. It is so fun! Things flow and I work as late as it takes until it’s done.
Our collaborations have included smaller stick lights for over dining tables, a trade show canopy, stick and paper pendant lights, and also a willow fence.
Fu Tung is always generous in his collaboration giving credit to everyone who participates. His home designs and interiors are covered by magazines and newspapers such as Luxe, Dwell, the San Francisco Chronicle and others. I look forward to more creativity with Cheng Design – whatever challenges it may bring!
Creating new stick art and being inspired by other’s work
Sometimes my art can become uninspired and by the book. Making money on tried and true options takes over and spontaneous art gets kicked to the curb. As I am writing this I can see I am in the latter mode and needing to consider and strategize on ways to make the process more from the heart. Inspired art can be things I have done before, done in a conscious way or by stepping out and being willing to rely more on intuition. Connecting in this way has to do with breathing and actually feeling into my own heart and feeling Self.
This is the inspired Self where creativity is a side effect. The body relaxes and happiness seems to ooze into my body from all directions. Intuition seems to come from this Divine Ignorance and relaxation of the usual way of being and thinking. This is so much more pleasurable than the usual status quo way of doing anything.
I learned this in a big way from my Guru Adi Da Samraj, who is an amazing artist doing truly epic and transcendental art. His art is not readily understood by the mind. It draws the viewer into a deeper feeling of Ignorance and going beyond the ego.
Immense,striking and awe inspiring. His art makes me feel where I stop and to see how I can go beyond this self imposed limit on creativity.
Another artist who has inspired me is Richard Tuttle. His art captures the essence of simplicity. It also stops my mind because I say what the heck! This is art?
Sort of crazy what lengths people will go to do and collect art! Tuttle’s art does stop the analyst inside me and makes me want to capture the simplicity of a line. I love it for that reason alone! Waiting for my big next organic stick art project!
I’m fascinated with interior design. I love to see the work of established designers and up–and–coming ones. Here are a few of my favorites: Yabu Pushelberg, one of the legends of design in my opinion. Their interior design is so elegant and seamless. I also like Super Potato, a Japanese design company. They do really edgy designs sometimes using large rocks and natural materials.
Kara Mann, and Nicole Hollis are maybe not huge names but do super classy, clean and modern interior designs. A recent project of Nicole’s is Hall Winery in the Napa Valley. Kara’s lobby and loft are also very impressive. I have contacted these designers to collaborate with them over the years with no luck yet!
Here is one time when a cold call paid off. When I was first starting out doing stick artwork with branches I called Michael Taylor Design in San Francisco. Somehow my call got transferred to Paul Weaver the president of the company and also a partner with the design icon Michael Taylor back in the day. He was very open and receptive. He said bring what you have down to our warehouse and I will check them out. He bought a number of them as I recall if not all of them, I think I brought 4 wall sculptures.
He liked one in particular and made it the MT Designs signature piece. He showed it in his showroom, at that time Randolph & Hein in the Design Center in San Francisco. This was my door into the design world and gave me some street cred. He started carrying them in their showrooms around the country and they still do to this day.