Thursday, August 7, 2014

Pulling Away The Vines

I suppose there comes a time when circumstances ask us to contemplate what we're doing and why. If creating art is a journey then perhaps these introspective moments are akin to pausing on our path to survey the surroundings and check our bearings. Sometimes we may even opt to cut a new trail entirely, forging into unknown territory altogether. Every so often, however, our journey can be about rediscovering forgotten trails, retracing erstwhile steps, or uncovering old paths tangled over by the dense overgrowth of our everyday. They wait for us to wander down their twists and turns againwiser, beleaguered and perhaps seeking solace in remembrance. Not all new trails are cut fresh!

I've returned to such a trailhead. It was around 2011 when life first introduced me to the experience called depression. Entirely new to me, it took me by surprise and laid waste to nearly two years of my life. And while I thought I'd left it behind me early last year, the subsequent backslide proved it still haunted my psyche. What to dowhat to do. But does anyone actually really know what to do with depression? We have an assortment of stopgaps, but an actual cure still seems to remain elusive. (Though modern science is certainly spearheading that effort! SCIENCE!) Nevertheless, some good has come from the ordeal much to my surprise, one of them being a stout rethinking of just what the heck I was doing in the studio.

It's often the case for artists that identity and practice, that our sense of self and purpose in life are the very same thing. One just doesn't do art, one is an artist. So it is for me: I am what I do and I do what I am. I am my art and my art is me. That means creating my art isn't just a passion, a job, a joy, a pastime, a pursuit, or even a routineit's me being alive. It's as natural and necessary to me as breathing, and so to stop is to literally stop living, to cease being me. This is both a blessing and a curse. Making a living at what reaffirms who I am is wondrous beyond words and I'm grateful every day!

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.
Joseph Campbell

But it also means that the very essence of my being can be vulnerable to circumstance. If life decides to get between me and my ability to create art then, I'm faced with a crisis well beyond missing work. This being so, the vacant detachment imposed by depression not only threatened what I am but who I am as wella frightening proposition. A rescue mission had to be launched post haste, to save not only my productivity but my personality too. But in deploying that salvage operation, I was stunned to excavate rediscovered treasures almost forgotten in the dark deep of myself. Bringing them up from the brooding depths, I never suspected how these bygone imaginings would breathe new life into me and conspire to save me from drowning in that abyss of ambivalence.

So in a roundabout way, that melancholy drudgery, that yawning bleakness did offer a great gift. And though wrapped in howling indifference and topped with a soulsucking bow, it was a great gift all the same. Depression may not be the best wrapper of presents, butheyit tries. And by "gift" I mean this: I realized that I'd been working almost exclusively in equine realism for about thirty–seven years. This isn't so incredulous once you realize that time, effort, dedication, and sacrifice in freakishly large quantities are necessary for this demanding art form. And I've relished every moment! The singlesubject and focus isn't a limitation in my opinion, but an enthralling challenge. To explore the possibilities and interpret variations has truly tested my mettle each time I've touched tool to clay, and has only served to intensify its appeal.

But stillthat's a long time to be singleminded about anything! When I was my typical crazy–busy self, I was probably too distracted by all the goingson to realize my creativity had developed an itch—one that would need a pretty good scratch too boot. There's nothing quite like inertia to pinpoint the deficiencies in one's trajectory. Slowly becoming aware of a restlessness in my creativity then, I diagnosed a need to be wanton again, to wallow in a kind of innocence found only in unfettered imagination. Strange that in the midst of spiritsnuffing insouciance, one last little spark would want to detonate itself into a thermonuclear bomb of emotion! 

So there I was, armed with a sizable mental library of anatomical rules accumulated over nearly four decades of intent studyand now my insides wanted to pitch it all into the wind?! What gives? Did my creativity want to expand on familiar themes because of its expanded appreciation for the subject? Hmmm…could be! Then maybe my insides pined for this kind of exploration as a way to complement and puzzle over those learned for realism? Quite possibly! And just what was this new compulsion for artistic abandon in the studio? Where the holy heck was that coming from? As I peeled back the smothering layers of depression, there in the gooey amorphic center, grinnin' back at me like a cheeky Cheshire Cat, was the repressed need for

Play. Play? YesPLAY. Whoa! How wild! OK, thenplay! Ta-da!

Apparently I'd been creating "by the book" for so long, my creativity simply wanted an opportunity to concoct new rules, or even play with existing ones in new ways. But this would be risky! I took pride in pushing my skills in the accuracy department, in duplicating real life as closely as possible, and my work was known for this careful attention to technical detail. And now my guts wanted to just make stuff up?! What?! My production schedule was in total chaos, too, no thanks to the apathy induced by depression. So the wad of existing work that was waiting for my attention was obviously far more pressing, right? Only now my creativity wanted to switch gears tofrom this perspectivewaste time?! Perish the thoughtNO! Absolutely NOT—no no NO! Shut up little spark! Was it out of its mind?! (Don't answer that!)

But…butperhaps there was method to this madness, a lunatic wisdom. Hmm. See, those two gremlinsrisk and backlog—were highly skilled at spinning a pointed and powerful guilttrip each and every time the urge to focus on something different sprung up. So "play" just didn't seem justifiedso it wasn't and I didn't. And I'm a working artist too, darn it! It's unacceptable that my drive could be so capricious and easily compromised. I should just get down to work, efficiently and effectively, right? Buck up, Mink! Geez.

Yet I had to admit that the more I forced the "real" work, the more frustrated I became. Few things turned out as desired, and what was once effortless and joyful was now browbeaten toil. I found myself uncharacteristically rationalizing more and more, and so the studio sat empty and Minkless more and more each week. Bit by bit then, that natural impulse to continue creating simply evaporated. Depression had made creating art hard enough, but then having to battle these selfinflicted guilttrips of "I shoulds" made for a kind of emotional agony. It's so true that only we know how to most cruelly torture ourselves.

Smoosh that whole seething mess together and what have we got? Yepa terrible negative feedback loop. One that was becoming ever more entrenched and powerful every day, too, and that's bad bad juju for a working artist. And if that wasn't enough, being attached to my identity and sense of purpose also meant that I faced some rather unwelcome and unsettling deeply personal implications. I became desperate. Frantic, really. The life I saw before me was without art—was without me being me—and it was unfathomable. How do you deal with a future so unwanted and unlike you, but with you still stuck inside it? I didn't want to be a prisoner in my own life! And I certainly didn't want to be that kind of broken person for my family and friends either!

Things eventually reached critical mass, a kind of fork in the road. Going absolutely nowhere, I was stalled out with real work on one road and preventative guilttrips rallied a gauntlet on the other. Wounded, frightened, despairing and bewildered, another meltdown was imminent. Then outta nowhere some forgotten advice popped into my head, neatly summed up thusly

Action is the antidote to despair. 
Joan Baez

When stuck, moving in any direction isby definition—being unstuck. If my insides simply refused to create real work then it was the guilttrips that had to crumble. So I began to wonder…what was my psyche trying to tell me all this time? And why had I deafened myself to it? Had I become so accustomed to internal mental combat that I simply forgot how to stop fighting? Rather than swallow play as frivolous excess perhaps I should see it instead as the storied "spoonful of sugar"? As therapy? So would indulging play prime my parched creative pump? If play really was rehabilitation, would it regenerate and release that torrential, unstoppable gush of possessed creativity so typical of my drive before depression? Or would it backfire catastrophically to sink me forever in an endless ocean of hopeless despair? Would it finally and totally break me? How the heck did I get to this point?! How did I become so afraid?! Why did I doubt myself, and so blithely? And when did I become so distrustful of the one thing I'd always been most certain about—making art?! BAH! That's not me whatsoever! Even so, I had to move

So I gathered myself up, took a deep breath, riled the maniac minkie moxie that served me so well in life…then looking it square in the eyes, I steeled myself and gave that smug, disapproving, overbearing conscience The Bird. Take that you putz! GET OUT! And clean the dirt behind you! So I metaphorically tossed my red curls, spun around and sauntered back to creativity's waiting, warm arms, feverishly and rebelliously embracing the whole crazy idea of play. Play play PLAY!

Nothing happens until something moves.
Albert Einstein

Then a curious thing happened: the moment I allowed myself to embrace this idea, to give myself permission to play, something shifted, clicked on and loudly sputtered to life—rusty, smoking, grinding and clanking at first thenFLASH! BANG! Clink clink clink *POP* WHHHHRRRRRRRRRmy creativity and enthusiasm snapped into synch and in one mad instant, catalyzed an explosion of superheated liberation, generating a massive, supersonic shockwave of eager, joyful, shining fervor that instantly leveled and vaporized the diseased, gnarled landscape of depression. For a moment I was blinded. I actually physically felt a cool, calming wash in my brain (???) then all of a sudden, clear as day, I opened my eyes and knew exactly what to play with

As a girl I spent hours filling my sketchbooks with horses and ponies, painstakingly drawn with as much technical accuracy I could muster in those tender years—which waswell, pretty darned lousy, to be honest. But we all gotta start somewhere! Created alongside these spirited steeds, however, were teeming herds of imagined animalsfantastical creatures of all kinds. Scales, horns, feathers, claws, antlers, finsthese beasts evolved within a creative landscape governed only by my boundless, youthful imagination.

So now that I was finally listening to my creativity, I realized that these bizarre creatures tickled and amused different parts of my creativity, exercising bits that were equally and uniquely important for my creative wellbeing. It dawned on me then that these wild things could represent different aspects of my creative drive, different totems in a way, and they needed attention, too. In a sense, they were spawned in my depths whereas my equine art was about diving into the depths of another

But somehow and quite unintentionally, I'd forgotten to feed this extraordinary menagerie so they'd simply wandered off, in a manner of speaking. Out of sight, out of mind. After all these years though, this pressure point became exposed like a shrieking nerve, laid bare by depression. Along with truth and reality then, my insides yearned for its dreams and delusions, too. And that's no small matter, mind you, because the difference between duplicating biological rules versus simply making stuff up is like night to day. One is like a vocation and the other like a vacation! 

Now I suppose I should have figured all this out earlier, and had I actually been paying attention to my creativity, I would have. The zeal I relished when sculpting Mr. Pony

The cheer in spawning the little clay critters for BOYCC

The glee spurring my spirit when creating the Chemo Critters

And the winesoaked revelry in painting Godzilla

All the clues where there. With these projects came no strings, no rules, no expectations, and all adventure. Had I been honest with myself I would've accepted that more of this mayhem was needed in my art life. Had I been respectful of my insides, I could've admitted that other inspirations weren't to be dismissed, but were instead equally rewarding and equally necessary for keeping my creativity stoked and burning white hot. Had I been attentive to all the parts of me, it wouldn't have taken the emotional silencing of depression for my guts to finally get it through my thick skull that what was real and what was unreal were two sides of the same coin. That each would inform the other to combine into a luscious, piping hot artistic plasma of higher energies and greater purity than either one by itself. Who knew?! Just whip into stiff peaks and serve! Sweet synthesis!

Now granted, the (ongoing) rigorous workout with all the anatomical rules is obviously essential for equine realism, by definition. One must master the rules first before gaining the authority to bend or break them. And these aren't complaints! I keenly remember those frustrating early days when I lacked this kind of insight and was forced to clumsily fudge and muddle my way through ideas. I can't tell you how much I disliked this. And when my efforts would predictably fall short of my soaring ambitions as a result—well, I still feel that sting despite the interim years. Oh, how I bitterly resented my childmind's inability to grasp for the rings I so desperately wanted to pocket becauseyes, I admit it freelyeven at that tender, wee age I expected a great deal of myself. So when equine realism introduced me to serious anatomical study later in life, it was like being handed an actual treasure map promising a wealth of structural credibility just waiting for plunder! I threw myself into it, of course, with all the wild abandon of a starving dog at an unattended picnic. I gorged! The potato salad didn't stand a chance.

But it seems now that the tables have turned. My current predicament can be described as the very same frustration but only in the opposite direction. In other words, since my creativity now has a firmer grasp on the rules, it wanted to jettison them! Bah! Seriously?! So no longer having to fudge things out of ignorance meant it wanted to just make stuff up again?! Really?! I swear, the art life can be so goofy. So many quirky drives to feed! How ironic though that the fantasy and frivolity born of my youth would come back full circle to sound the rescue, to add balance to an adult life weighted so heavily on facts and reality. Maybe our craziest visions really are our most loyal minions who, like gargoyles, can chase away pesky demons prowling our inner landscape.

All considered then, my depression revealed a curious idea: it wasn't enough to simply create more work, I needed to work more creativelyAfter following Nature's rules for so long, my insides had made it quite clear that it needed balance, an expressive conduit where anything goes, just from time to time. When I was a child, I wanted to create as an adult, but now that I'm an adult, my insides wanted to create as a child again! So there ya gomy gut instincts speaking loudly and clearly. Where does this put me now though? 

Right back at those old sketchbooks, that's where! Musty, dogeared, spiralbound sheets stuffed with dragons, pegasi, unicorns, seahorses, hybrids, monsters and all manner of incredulous critter dreamed up by the quirky imagination and naiveté of one very enthusiastic child. It was time to go back and find that Sarah again, for that healing infusion of her raw, unpasteurized, primordial energy. And how better to grab her innocent, wideeyed attention than with a customtargeted version of the Batsignal? A Unicorn signal! Ah HA! Gotcha girlie!

I've long been fascinated with Unicorns. Drawings, paintings, illustrations, sculptures, architectural flourishes, books, Coat of Arms, logos, movies (remember Legend?)…everything "Unicorn" fed my enchantment. Besides their beauty and strangeness, their cultural appeal charmed me, too. Like the Dragon, the Unicorn holds a unique position of deep mythological significance across a wide variety of cultures, each interpretation customfitted for its parent belief system. From this perspective, understanding the nature of the Unicorn in any given culture is to better understand that culture—and that's cool! This phenomenon also caused the Unicorn to morph into countless variations, each one stranger than the last—and that's even cooler! Not many other fabled creatures can boast this kind of universality and influence, except perhaps the Dragon. All this meant, of course, that huge swaths of people throughout history believed this creature was real, adding another layer of intrigue to the mystique—and that's super–duper cool!

Yet from the very beginning, the Unicorn wasn't simply a white horse with a horn. Nope. To me the Unicorn was a most exotic being with a variety of characteristics such as cloven hooves, twisty lion tails, antelopelike ears, bizarre eyes, or any manner of oddity I fancied. I thought if people could be alternately charmed and alarmed by this beast then it was probably quite extraordinary, right? Almost alien. Even evolutionary traits derived from specific ecological niches were fair game, and got me studying real animals in similar habitats for inspiration.

The Unicorn has walked beside me as guide, muse, guardian and totem. Looking back though, perhaps most curious was how I imagined his nature. While childhood peers interpreted this animal as innocent, gentle, sweet and benign, that cloying image never resonated with me. To me the Unicorn was fierce, free, strange, wise, ancient, and ethereal, with a tad of menace and danger. These were immortal, otherworldly, magical beings with abilities, senses, and priorities wholly unlike anything familiar to us. They walked between dimensions at will, observing, viewing time in eons, tuned in to energies and presences beyond our coping mechanisms. Coming from a primeval world homo sapien became dumb to long before memory, the Unicorn is a sacred harbinger, herald, bearer and keeper, a sentinel waiting for us to wake from our collective fog to see them again. Being so full of potency, mysticism and indescribable power then, would it really end well for us if we encountered one? I suspect not.

Yet at the same time, the Unicorn is closely associated with comforting memories from my childhood. The feel and smell of a new sketchbook and eraser. A sharp pencil. The aroma of brush cleaner and oil paints. The rich, warm musk of a freshly cleaned bridle and saddle. The sound of birds and squirrels squabbling over the buffet growing on the apricot tree in the backyard. The sweet sanctuary of my bedroom and soft cushion of my twin bed, with the wall pressed against my back as I thumbed through my "Horse Of Course" magazines. Daydreaming. My pet rattie bruxing on my shoulder, his warm, fuzzy body pressed against my neck. I could feel him breathing. Sharing my cookie with him, watching crumbs bounce down my arm. The look of my riding boots shined up in the corner of my room. The eyes of my Breyer® horses peering at me from my bedroom shelves. The aroma of Mom cooking dinner. The sound of my brother softly playing guitar or playing the Atari®. Our Budgie bird chirpin' and warblin' contently. The creaking of Pop's chair as he sat outside for his evening cigar. Yesthis elusive, rare beast has tread quietly throughout my life, bearing deep symbolism for me each step. 

Who better then to guide me out of this darkness? Heckthat horn points the way! So I snatched the Unicorn armature that sat here for the better part of two years and with a blind madness flowing directly from childhood, I threw myself into the clay. This was playserious play, of course—but play nonetheless. 

And it's felt great. Indescribably great! Fantastic!

The creative flowwhich until now had to be meticulously rationedall of a sudden burst forth in a deluge, flooding my insides with the lunatic enthusiasm my soul devours. To say I was astonished would be an understatement. Here I was hoping for a mere glimmer, but what I got was a psychological HypernovaFor the first time since depression blew apart my spirit, I felt whole again. Truly happy. Content. Joyful! That cursed negative feedback loop evaporated too, replaced by a positive loop now ramped up to speeds that would make the LHC blush! 

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

I really shouldn't be so surprised that this Unicorn has materialized so easily and naturally—but I am! Heck—my hands can barely keep up! I'm so thrilled, in fact, that I've actually missed sleep some nights, and not because of anxiety or dread, but because of delirium and devotion. My soul sparks and buzzes with hightension creativity, and to my thankful delight, that hypnotizing, euphoric Zen my essence craves is back full throttle, with time zipping by unnoticed just like before my mental implosion. I couldn't ask for a better outcome. I'm not just as good as new—I'm better than before!

And here's the weird, cool thing about all this: I'm more than me now! A synergy of Sarahs, I'm like Sarah3: the childSarah + the pre–depression–Sarah + the now–Sarah = Sarah.2. We three are fused into a kind of creative chimera with each informing, embracing and advocating for the other. A sisterhood made up of three phases of my being, I'm recharging, reshaping and reinventing myself right along with my art. 

All the struggle and angst that plagued my guts are now totally gone, replaced by a bristling of exhilarationjust as it should be. I can't wait to wake up in the morning to get into the studio, a feeling I thought was gone forever. Two years of being the droning living dead can suck itI'm alive again. Rejuvenated and renewed, the Unicorn has healed my wounded soul. Even if this creature exists only in my dreamsI believe. And I intend to continue accepting the hallowed medicine this uncanny creature delivers.

So this Unicorn heralds the beginning of a new series, one that draws from the youthful happygolucky zeal of my childhood to enlighten my ambitious and determined adult future. Each Unicorn will also serve as a retrospection, a culmination and a declaration, reclaimed every year.

As regularly scheduled playtime then, each new Unicorn will explore a different physique, each accompanied by a little Moth friend. I love Moths with their big beady eyes, plumed antennae, array of unusual wings and big, fat, fuzzy bodieswhat's not to love? But don't be surprised if a Dragonfly or Butterfly show up from time to time too! Symbolic accoutrements for each Unicorn will also be available (as separate purchases) such as ornate collars, special wreaths, other companions, or whatever floats my boat at the time. It's playtime, remember—I can do whatever I want! That said, I do hope to keep the scale of the series more or less the same for everything to be interchangeable to some degree. I think that would add to the narrative fun for all of us—you get to play, too!

Joy is but the sign that creative emotion
is fulfilling its purpose.
Charles du Bois

So here I am, reflecting on the past couple of years and I see now that the whole mess wasn't such a waste of time. Truth be told, in some ways it was even beneficial. I may be bloodied and still blinking in the radiance of glorious new potentialbut clawing out from the bottomless pit of depression entailed an act of will that reclaimed my life with renewed affirmation. As only hardship can beget, a fresh perspective now permeates the studio to imbue my efforts with more reverent substance. Bright days are ahead, made even brighter by this brush with darkness. 

Today is my birthday as I write thisJuly 31st. I'm 46. Curious how all this good stuff oozed to the surface just in time for this day of reminiscence. Perhaps I have two Birthdays now—one for my birth and another for my rebirth. In honor of this new occasion then, I've decided to give myself a longoverdue gift: the permission to playSo stay tuned for the debut of Unicorn I and steady yourself for the madcap onslaught of Sarah.2!

And serving as rich symbology for me, the Unicorn does so again…fearless, impassioned and truly free.

"Whoever wants to understand much must play much." ~ Gottfried Benn


Sunday, June 8, 2014

ZAZZLE Dazzle!

The studio has delved into new projects, thanks to the opportunities provided by ZAZZLE and my new ZAZZLE store! It's been a blast creating these new pieces that allow you to wear my work while letting me explore the equine in new ways! You'll appreciate the quality of the items, and I hope you enjoy the vibrancy and distinctiveness of the designssomewhat tribal, always colorful and definitely unique. You won't find these designs anywhere else!

I'll be creating more designs and new pieces over the coming year, offering a wide variety for you to choose from for your own wardrobe or as gifts, but for now check out the 2014 Spring Collection of MinkModeTM!

Sporty Tees

Elegant Tees

Casual Tees

Assorted Styles



Look for new designs over the coming months, plastered on all sorts of new items! It's Mink mania! Let me color up your life!


Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Day At Devon...And Then Some

For my Bachelorette Party in 2000, I was whisked away by three longtime buddies for a weekend of wine and wackery in Napa, California. It was such a blast that it became a tradition that we four regroup for a Lost Weekend once a year, each at a different location. And this year we decided to take in the prestigious Devon Horse Show in Devon, PA since the four of us are lifelong horsecrazy girls. Started in 1896, Devon is the largest and oldest multibreed horse show in America, and it's been on my Bucket List for ages. And seriously, what better way to check it off than with my bodacious, pugnacious pony posse?

We had Grandstand tickets for Friday, allowing us to enjoy everything from Roadster Ponies to FiveGaited Saddlebreds to Coaching classes to Stadium Jumping. For a horse–lover, it was truly a smorgasbord! And for an artist like me, it was gleaming, snorting parade of redunkulous awesome! 

The Saddlebred is a distinctive American breed, bred to be stately, easygaited, intelligent and tractable. They're naturally highheaded and highstepping, and many have an additional fourth and fifth gait, the Slow Gait and the Rack, respectively, the latter which is very fast and thrilling!

Another lovely Saddlebred—this breed is known for its presence and charisma, as you can see here.

It was so cool to see Kathleen at work! She's a very talented sculptor who imbues her pieces with lots of energy and life.

Stadium Jumping is a popular sport, albeit very dangerous! Those jumps are much bigger in life than they look in the photo, easily almost as tall as I am and about three feet apart. And that's a 17hh stallion! Isn't he handsome?

Devon is one of the biggest and most prestigious competitions for driving in the world, and we were lucky to have a whopping eleven brilliant coaches competing from around the world! In this class, the driver must maneuver his team and coach through the course laid out by a series of paired cones without knocking the oranges off the topand there are lots of tight turns and expert strategy involved. If they do, they're penalized points which counts against them in the placings. Essentially, this is the Stadium Jumping equivalent of driving. Getting four horses to the same level of schooling and working together as a team, while keeping them sound, healthy and happy, is essentially an art form in itself.

Guy McLean was also there from Australia, demonstrating his horsemanship skills. One of his horses, Nugget, is a Breyer horse, too! And yesthat's a horse under there!

To keep us fed, Kay prepared a fantastic homemade brunch and picnic lunch—complete with champagne! A cheese and paté starter then delicious dill and cream shrimp, a delish tomato and feta salad, and one of my favorite pasta dishes, The 5Ps: pasta, pesto, parmesan, peas and pine nuts! I porked out! We definitely dined in style between classes, sipping our bubbly and leisurely taking in the equine beauty around us, discussing which entries we liked most. It was seriously marvy. 

It was one of those totally perfect days—so thank you Kay, Steph, and Laurie! And I took a ton of reference photos for sculpture and my howto books, since the variety of breeds and riding disciplines was so impressive.

All the hoofed lovelies were positively exquisite and meticulously turned–outI don't think I've ever seen so many impressive, imported Sporthorses in my life! Such handsome creatures! The Budweiser Clydesdales were there, too, in all their massive, charming goodness. They're about 72" (183cm) at the shoulder and weigh between 1,800-2,300 lbs (816-1,043kg)! Yes, they are big! It was so cool to see that giant hitch maneuver in the ring, with the thundering thumpthumpthump of their dinner platesized hooves. I also got to see Kladrubers for the first time—white grey, regal beauties, living masterpieces. And Friesians! Those highstepping, black beauties who prance right out of a dream! They were all uunbelievably splendid, and incredibly inspirational for clay. Heaven on the hoof.

There were also the Saddlebreds. Now I've never seen them in person, let alone in action, and, boy—was I floored. I'm still blown away to tell the truth. I've had a Saddlebred stallion sculpture in the works for some time now, but he's really big, much larger than 1:9 scale. Depicting the older, original archetype in barefeet and natural tail, I was forced to put him on the backburner when the economy took a downturn due to higher costs induced by his size. But now he's been reinvigorated with new energy thanks to Devon! Being able to study and admire the real thing in person has really helped me with this piece, and I gotta saymore Saddlebreds will definitely be coming out of the studio! WOW. 

It was a long, wonderful day and we got back at midnight, thoroughly satiated on equine goodness, and me very much inspired for the studio. We all slept well that night. Now since we had a couple of extra days, we decided to do another of our favorite activities—be ridiculous while we watch some favorite movies, and just laugh until our sides split. Mystery Science Theater and Monty Python were definitely on the roster, and we were introduced to Wreck it Ralph, which instantly got absorbed into our lexicon.

Now I hate zombies because I think they make stupid monsters as far as monsters go, but I fell in love with the "Wreck It" zombie during the BadAnon Meeting. "GOOD! BAD! YOU MUST LOVE YOU!" became my tagline for the weekend. And the girls would ask, "Do you have your hatchets?" to which I'd answer, "Aaaaaaaaaghhhhh!", armflinging and all. And for the record, Steph bears an uncanny resemblance to Calhoun—which is awesome.

Sidenote: This being a fiveday trip, Fate would have Laurie forget to pack extra pants! All she had were the pants she wore on the plane and a Fred Flintstone–esque dress. That's it. I kid you not. Don't ask why, it's just easier to accept it. Oddly enough, however, as I was packing for the trip, the Universe insisted that I pack twice as many pants than I would ever need for five days. I can't explain it—it just was a strange compulsion, much like carving Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes. And we were all grateful.

But it didn't end there! OK—backstory time…for years, Laurie and Kay have been exchanging vintage cookbooks and recipes. Not the good ones, mind you. Oh no no no no. NO. I'm talking about the ones where various forms of unspeakable foodstuffs are entombed in gelatin and molded into jiggling nightmares. You know, that scary stuff from the 50s and 60s. That colorful, creepshow cuisine that killed off any sense of culinary decency our parents and grandparents otherwise might have had. Yeahthose cookbooks. 

And so Kay diabolically hosted a Regrettable Food Weekend, squarely aiming things at us that should never be combined, let alone draped in Jell–O. It was truly a dryheaving, regrettable roundtable of gastric gourmangeddon. An abomination to all things from gourmet to greasy spoon to even gas station burritos.

I now totally understand why liquor and cigarettes dominated the social scene those days: you needed the really strong stuff just to get this gelatinous sludge down your gullet!

Kay, of course, documented the whole escapade with photos and incisive descriptions on her Facebook page for everyone's sadistic enjoyment. People followed along and posted comments as they watched us suffer and sputter our way through the malformed menu—and I gotta say that as questionable the experience was, we had a riotous good time! Let it not be said we won't suffer for a laugh! So if you're interested in hosting the same form of tantalizing torture on your loved ones, you can find some of these rancid recipes by Googling "regrettable food," or through this or this. Bon Appétit. And consider yourself forewarned.

But it wasn't all bad! As is traditional for our weekend, we indulge in every culinary hedonism possible, being the devout foodies we are. To that end, Kay's husband, Gary, graciously treated us to one of the very best meals I've ever mowed down at Bar Ferdinand, a Spanish tapas bar. Everything was brilliant, though my personal favorites were the cheese and apple foam "pops," the offthecharts paella, and a lobster and roe cream dip, which I pretty much scarfed down all by myself. No remorse. We liked the place so much, in fact, that we returned a couple days later, and gorged on the best mussels I've ever had in my entire lifeholy smokes, they were good! And there were these braised short ribs with roasted cauliflower that I know would have sent Ham over the moon in sheer euphoria. If ever there was His Dish, that was it. 

It was a good sign, I must admit, that the bar was based on Ferdinand the Bull, which still remains one of my favorite kids books. The story, the illustrations, and the idea of this big, hulking mass who seems scary on the outside, but is really a misunderstood sweet, gentle soul on the inside has captivated me since childhood. Heck, it's no surprise I married Hamhe is Ferdinand the Bull!

But it didn't end there! We were lucky enough to have Gary make us his famous crab cakes. Now I've heard of these spoken in reverent, hushed tones for years. They are the stuff of legend, of tall tales that grow taller every year. Now unlike Jim Gaffigan (who was also infused into our weekend hilarity), I'm a seafood junkie—and I'm freakishly obsessive about shellfish, in particular. So I've consumed just about every kind of crab cake across the country, and long maintained that the overall quality of a chef's seafood prowess can be determined simply by their clam chowder or crab cake. These dishes are sneakingly difficult to make well, and so the better they are, the more likely delicious the rest of the seafood menu.

And so it was that after biting into my first GaryCrabbyCake, I instantly understood its legendary status. Do you remember that moment when Anton Ego first bites into Remy's ratatouille? Yeahthat was me. It was the single best crab cake I'd ever had, let alone one of the best things I've ever chowed down! Served with melted lemon butter, it was pure ambrosia. So thank you twice over, Gary! You rock!

On our last day, the Regrettable Food Roulette continued with Banana Day, and it was just as heinous as you'd expect. And given how I hate bananas, the nasty was ramped up to Barfcon 1. But for the afternoon, Kay and Steph had a surprise activity planned! All Laurie and I knew was to pack clothes that could be stained, which was an intriguing prospect!

Again, Kay packed a picnic with chips and fresh, homemade mango salsa, plus two bottles of lovely cabernet: Turnbull and Clos du Val. After a cab ride into Center City, we discover we'll be playing at Painting With A Twist, a franchise operation that combines painting and partying! They supply all the materials and instruction, and you get to bring your fun, food, and vino. There were twenty of us in the class, and everyone was fun and the instructors were fabulous! 

Our target painting was of a Bird of Paradise flower with a colorful background, as the instructor led us through the process one step at a time. Think of it as a cooking class, but with pigments, brushes, and a canvas. But…well…I didn't want to paint that…and happily I didn't have to. Because what's also cool about this class is that they let you paint whatever you wantjust as long as you have fun! So I decided on another subject, one of which I'm especially fond

Now I haven't painted flatwork in nearly twenty years. We were using acrylic paint with two big, wonky brushes"Big Daddy" and "Little Daddy"six colors, and about an hour and fortyfive minutes to work. I totally winged it. Oddly enough though, painting Godzilla not only came easily, but was a blast. I suspect that beautiful cabs, scrumptious mangoes, and maniac friends are an ideal combination! With the big reveal, the whole class and the instructors loved him…heck, one of the instructors begged to buy him. But nothing doing! Ham called dibs, and we're going to frame him and hang him in our front room. On the way home, a gal in the airport and two guys on my planes also wanted to buy him! But who doesn't love Godzilla!? What's not to love!? LOOK at 'im!

So here's the gang with their super cool paintings! We joked that Kay served as the "control group" since she followed the instructions exactly. And despite not being an artist, her painting was very well doneclean colors and lines with meticulous brushwork. That speaks well of the experience me thinks!

Laurie took a different route, creating a variation on the theme to great effect. It's moody, wistful, and a bit contemplative, and beautifully detailed. 

Steph took a completely different route, since she interpreted her background as more oceanic. If you look closely, you can see her peekaboo fish cleverly hidden in the pigmentit's a really cool effect! 

Throughout the weekend, we enjoyed all the wines and champagnes Kay had carefully selected based on our previous trips, and we ventured down memory lane with each bottle. Bottle after bottle. Oy. But each one was delectable, and attached to so many great memories! And we definitely added more this year. Incredible friends. Incredible food. Incredible libations. Incredible weather. Incredible experiences. Trollopfest 2014 was a smash hit, and though it'll be hard to top, I suspect we'll have a great time trying in 2015, our 15th anniversary! 

Thank you again, Kay, Steph and Laurie for another brilliant time! Totally "Turbotastic!" I miss you already so much, and can't wait for next year! Each of you is totally A Dynamite Gal!

"All right, ladies, the kitten whispers and tickle fights stop now!" ~ Sergeant Calhoun, WreckIt Ralph

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