Thursday, October 23, 2014

Full Circle: From Breyer–Crazy to Breyer–Creator

Our journey through life is a meandering path, isn't it? Surewe like to think of it as a diligent march forward, goal in sight with steadfast gaze and detailed map firmly in hand. But the truth is that despite our resolve, it's all just rambling. And though we may have some inkling of what we're doing, none of us really have any idea of where we're going. How could we? Life is unpredictable, and we're all just wingin' it.

Honestly, I look back over my life and wonder what would my 10yearold self think of my now. How I am now. And I think that's a good thing. We may still hold onto memories, but we become many different people throughout our lives. We're wanderers in our own unfolding adventure. 

And that keeps our options open, doesn't it? This blissful, blind freedom to choose our paths, even when we're unaware we're making choices, characterizes the collage of our lives. And if we "big picture" it all, these unique twists in our evolving odyssey not only contribute to who we are, they eventually test who we are, too. And in 2013, I had the opportunity to engage such a test.

But let me backstory this for you…starting around 2008, I suffered severe clinical depression for the first time in my life. Up until that point, I'd been a highlydriven, cheerful, happygolucky girl, but when that mental storm hit, it was devastation. The Creatures song Slipping Away was so very aptit's like you're being systematically turned off. And so new it was to me, it caught me totally unawares and so cascaded with such destructive force that I was left wondering just how much of me would be left.

And in that "me" category was my creativitymy art workthe very core of my being. I'm not exaggerating when I say that my art is me and I am my art. To not create my art is to essentially cease being me. Like not breathing anymore. And what's so insidious about clinical depression is how easily it chiseled away at this very core of who I was, something I thought impervious. So there I existed, stripped bare of all that I was, stuck in a reality utterly devoid of identity, purpose, and emotion. I was nothing. This is the power of clinical depression. To continue existing for one more moment—at that point—is the insane decision. It's madnessbut such a blessed madness it is.

So when I eventually emerged into the light with recovery, I was left deeply shaken, and full of self–doubt about my ability to create art—even about my will to create art. For the first time in my life, I was hesitant, afraid, and distrusting of myself and my abilities, and saw a horizon in which my art didn't blaze the trail. Did clinical depression destroy who I had been so completely that art simply wasn't in the cards anymore? Could it be that my survival came at the expense of the old Sarah, leaving in her place this doppleganger in the mirror? Another Creatures song, I Was Me, kept ringing in my head.

I realized I had just emerged from an alien landscape and found myself in an even stranger one. I stumbled along, trying to make sense of this uncomfortable new self I'd become, disliking her, wishing she'd go away. I missed myselfmourned for my old self. I tried to coax her back, but I feared she was gone forever. I was so very lost. Afraid and lost.

Then out of the blue came an email from Stephanie Majecko of Breyer—would I be interested in sculpting a piece for their Premier line? Specifically an appealing pony broodmare? A Connemaraish pony broodmare who could also plausibly be other breeds, too? Whether one believes in coincidence or not, the critical serendipity of this invitation is hard to escape. Indeed, this inquiry came at such a pivotal moment in my life, I consider it a personal Black Swan Event. It'll forever define that moment when I had to choosechoose to fight for who I was or remain this unwelcome thing I didn't recognize.

I realized in that moment that I had to earn my art back. I had to fight on an internal battlefield to reclaim it and reignite its flame.

Strange, isn't it? Every once and a while a golden opportunity opens its arms to you. But only every once in a blue moon, such an opportunity invites you precisely when you need it most, as though the Universe conspired to give you a leg up onto that proverbial horse. And this piece for Breyer, Dancing Heart, was exactly one of those blue moon moments for me.

Cuz, seriously…talk about a childhood dream come true! I remember being that little girl with a new, out–of–the–box Breyer in my hot little hands. (And oh!—that heady aroma!) I remember my bedroom shelves lined with my treasured Breyer horses as a girl, carefully arranged and lovingly oogled. I even remember dreaming of sculpting for Breyer when I "grew up" (whatever that means!), about bringing to life the same magic in plastic for others. And here it wasBAM. To be able to (hopefully) give that gift to someone else is a joy beyond description. It's full circle.

Plus, the idea of my work being massproduced is more than a welcome approach to meI eagerly seek it. Art is for sharing, for connecting and communicating, so my motto in this sense is The More The Merrier! Because previously I'd focused on my own limited resins, customs, and originals, but now I could tap into the collections of OF (Original Finish) enthusiasts as well. Best of all worlds! How could I say, "No"?

But at first I was full of trepidation. How could this Golden Ticket come to me right at the moment when my taste for candy was so dubious? That lingering selfdoubt just poisoned my creative well still so badly. Then I realized this could be framed as a test. If I could pull this off in the full vision the project needed to be realized, then it was possible to regain my former life. This sculpture could be the proverbial battleground. So I jumped in full throttle and cried, "Banzai!"

So to start the project, Stephaniewho was a wonderful partner in all thispresented the specific needs of the project, and we worked together to come to a final decision after chatting about a concept that would be both feasible and appealing. And that's the tricky bit in all this: when it comes to mass production, getting "feasible" and "appealing" to intersect can be the pesky part. Going into this, I already knew it wouldn't be easy for me from that standpoint alone. Ordinarily, I'm not used to such design limitations, all the "don'ts." I'm accustomed to flexible silicone molds and small editions that allowed for fussy bits or the coddling of tricky areas. I'm inured to creating pieces dictated only by how I wished them to be, without much of a care, without all the "you can't do thats." Just ask my moldmakerstheir grey hairs tell the story!

Ooooooh, but not so with this sculpture! Oh nothis piece was the exact opposite set of criteria, defined by nearly every "don't" you can imagine. No undercuts, no tendrils, no thin bits, no pockets or dips, no depressed cavities such as the bottoms of the feet, the tailbone/dock area, or under the jaw. Basically anything that could hang up on the mold or require careful fiddling was clean off the table. Even the head couldn't be turned too much. On top of that, a base was out of the question, yet Heart needed firm points of solid contact since no one wants a tippy model! But wait, there's more…she had to fit inside that famous Breyer box, and that dictated more limitations for the head and neck, legs, and mane and tail, as you can imagine.

But these aren't complaints, mind youthese "don'ts" exist for very good reason! Heart wasn't one of my artisan editions, but destined for mass production, and that required a shift in design precepts. It's just the nature of the beast. Indeed, how a Breyer gets created is quite a feat of production engineering. Plastic is melted into a liquid and then shot into a two–part, rigid metal mold. It's then de–molded, glued together, with any gaps filled with molten plastic, then seam–cleaned and smoothed for painting. The amount of work just to get a casting paint–ready alone is mind bogglingand this has to happen exactly the same, without a hitch, over and over and over. 

And it's all those "don'ts" that ensure this sequence won't get interrupted or compromised so that each casting will be as faithful as possible to the original sculpture. So for the first time, I had to essentially "sculpt flat." That is to say, each side had to pull cleanly, straight out from the side without hooking onto the mold in any way. And the cleaner it would pull, the more faithful the casting would be.

All of that in mind, Heart also had to stand out in the Breyer catalog, she had to have that eye–appeal and hold her own over the long years she'd be in production. And despite all the "don'ts," too, she had to really grab you. Not so easy! So with all this whirling around in my head, I whipped up five preliminary sketches exploring different ideas, and sent them to Stephanie. Because I was new at this, looking back, there were some wild ideas in those sketches—now I know better! Ha ha! So in the end, Breyer chose Sketch #2b, one which would fit the bill perfectlyit was feasible and appealing, a combination not so easy to concoct.

This was sketch #2, and Breyer chose option "b," the head downversion. As you can tell, I'm a sculptor, not a flatwork artist. To me, a sketch is simply a basic idea, not a full drawing. I wanna get sculpting!

The next step was amassing a smorgasbord of references and distilling them down into one archetypal individual based on the qualities I believed would serve the project best. Luckily I was given free rein to independently research and convey Dancing Heart as I saw fit, and thankfully so since my best work is produced when I'm left to my own devices. Now what struck me most perhaps about the Connemara was the degree of variation within the breed. Some looked like tiny Andalusians, some like small Thoroughbreds, some like wee Hunters, some like HalfArabs, with a whole menagerie in between. I read through several sources of breed requirements and found that much was left open for that variation to manifestwhich is great!

After some pondering then, I decided to create a bigbodied, bigboned mare, a heavier kind of Connemara, since that would be a unique niche for the Breyer line, and open up some fun possibilities for future runs of "pony." So I took inspiration (and measurements) from a herd of champion Connemara mares as well as ideas from here, here, here, here, here, and here and conjured up an archetype that would serve as the template for Heart. So while she was Connemaraish, she could pass as other types of ponies, too. Breyer's only real stipulation was that Dancing Heart be prettybe that beautiful, little pony broodmare we all love in our hearts, and happily we were already of the same mind about that! Woot!  

So it all starts off with an individual soul, a personality or character, and what it wants to convey to the world once complete. And this little soul wanted to be that special blend of lovely and puckish, beautiful but loaded with presence and moxy, that fun kind of ponyquirkiness that's so darned endearing. If that wasn't enough, she had to have the substance and style of "pony power," that quality that makes them so stout and sturdy. I researched like crazy, and took so many measurements and crossreferences, I was dreaming them in my sleep! 

On top of all this, Dancing Heart had to look like a broodmare, with their unique proportions and that special "soft" look of of an experienced Motherthat sweet, wistful look of a Mom who knows her child will grow up and plot their own course in life. I hope I achieved that. I think I did. I studied a lot of broodmares for this, and I had my previous research from sculpting Elsie, too, so I was wellequipped. I also drew much from my own Momshe being the best Mom ever! (Hi, Mom!She has unfailingly supported my pursuit of art, making sacrifices, listening to my worries, offering advice, and always offering encouragement and unconditional love. In many ways, Dancing Heart is an hommage to hera kind of, "I love you, Mom—thanks!"
From my perspective then, coming to these conclusions was easy since it seemed we were all of the same mind on most aspects already. Stephanie trusted me, and that in turn, inspired my trust in the project. It was wonderful! And Kitty Cantrell, who has sculpted several pieces for Breyer already, offered some most welcome advice, since I'd never sculpted for plasticinjection before. For instance, she suggested I sculpt in the details a bit harsher than normal, since the plastic softens ridges and depressions just a bit. That one tidbit really helped to realize all of Heart's bells n' whistles better for the final product. Thank you, Kitty!

All said and done though, Dancing Heart was designed for the horsecrazy kid we're all still at heart. She's that pony who dances in our dreams, embodying all that's wondrous, free, and limitless in horse formand that's a universal message. 

It's also a tall order! I'm pretty much selftaught, lacking formal art education. It's been discipline, diligence, and proactive researchand the willingness to follow it wherever it led— that has formed the basis of my development. I gravitate towards what's novel, fresh, and sideways, but a above all, I go where this animal leads me. And Dancing Heart had a very important quest for me…and it was now time to start sculpting

I like to use aluminum wire or wire coat hangers for my armatures! You can see that I've articulated the joints as close to an actual skeleton as possible, keeping symmetry and proportion in mind.

Each posture presents its own curiosities to explore and narratives to telleven a standing horse is moving! Yet for a moving posture, you have to think from the spine down to the hooves whereas with a standing horse you need to think from the hooves up to the spine. So getting Dancing Heart to balance properly on a threepoint stance would be tricky when keeping the final plastic version in mind. No one wants a model that'll tip over!

I use foil to built up the initial bulk of the piece.

A 3point stance is definitely the easiest way to achieve all this, but it does present its own challenges. A lean too far in any direction means instability just as quickly as anything else, and a base wasn't an option. I wanted her to be as solid as a rock, to be as close to an even tripod stance as possible, but without sacrificing one iota of that lovely equine motion we find so appealing.

Now I suppose compared to other approaches, my process appears chaotic and unschooled, but to me it's quite straightforward. And while I have a very clear image in my head, down to each detail, I allow the piece to evolve on its own because no matter how clear a concept may be, no on ever knows it all at the onset. So I let the piece guide and teach me in ways only that piece could. In this sense then, my process is instinctive and visceral while also focused on learning—but not only about technique and equines, but about myself, too. In many ways, it's a meditation. A sanctuary. I'm not just focused on the journey thoughI have to finish what I start. There was a looming deadline! So I'm very much a "destination" kinda girl, too. I don't believe the journey is the sole repository of insight. Enlightenment can be most profound in the moment we can say "done" with confidence.

I use a cheaper epoxy putty to add further bulk. You can see here that I've cut and readjusted her limbs a bit—you always have to be open to necessary adjustments! She's rather gruesomely suspended by two wire hooks suspended from my studio ceiling while I make these adjustments.

As for the nitty–gritty, I always start with the withers and shoulders, then work my way out, basing all measurements on the predetermined head length. I find this allows for a more freeflowing approach, and from this viewpoint, I suppose my process can be best described as organic.
Now I start using my preferred epoxy putty for the real sculpting!

I had a difficult time getting the head just right for a largeish pony mare. And symmetry is important, too! 

I usually sculpt the eyes in last. She looks waaaay funky here, doesn't she?

Here you can see how my eyes start as blobs which get refined throughout the epoxy cure time.

Having worked with this headmeasurement method for so long, my brain is fast to keyin on disproportionate sections quickly. I'm a very fast sculptor. Now granted, that said, I invariably get the back length too short in the initial stages, so I'm always having to lengthen it as one of the final steps! We all have our quirks.

You can see I've had to cut her apart at her barrel and lengthen her just a snidge. I've also started work on her mane and tail. The tail was the easy part, but the mane was tricky. It has to compliment the piece and the face while also following the rules of passive physics, yet still pull from the mold cleanly each time! That means no extreme undercuts or too many artistic liberties. The plasticinjection molds are rigid, not pliable like with resin casting, and production, which has to be speedy and reliable, can't be compromised by anything that would catch on the mold parts.

Checking  myself to make sure I stay true to the project! You can see the adjustments I had to make to ensure she stands, but still maintain the spirit of the original design.

I like to use a wire mesh for mane and tail armatures. It provides lots of flexibility and versatility, so this is how they get started. You can find this wire mesh at most craft stores.

Here's her final head and mane. I wanted to color in her eyeball with a pencil to see if I caught the expression I wanted in crisp detail.

In the end, with a breath of relief, I looked at her with great satisfaction. I hit my every criterion, plus those requested by Breyer. She was exactly the pony broodmare we had all envisioned! And I hoped and hoped she would inspire that childhood magic we all felt when we held that blessed Breyer box tightly in our eager little hands on some Christmas morning or Birthday afternoon. I paused and marveled at how this animal, the horse, and Breyer had influenced so much of my life, personally and professionally. They'd always been there, and now I could give back, so to speak. I could contribute to that wonderful alchemy. Heart could make that magic for someone else, and what a lovely feeling that was. I'll hold it close to my heart for the rest of my life.

No small matter, though. Creating Dancing Heart had been a tremendous challenge because despite all my own priorities for her, I had to deliver a piece according to the strict parameters of the mass–production process and the project requirements all the same. It was a curious task to see how far I could push my more freestyle approach up against those boundaries without bursting beyond them. Fortunately, the Breyer team I worked with were absolutely splendid. The kind of room Breyer granted me to bring her alive fed back on itself, and really propelled the whole sculpting process forwardsI'm very grateful! Cuzhey—they even let me give her a "pooky" lip, whisker bumps, and eyelashes! That's unprecedented!

Done! Now to smooth with sandpaper and detail in the veins, moles, chestnuts and little fiddly bits. Then with a coat of primer, she's off to the caster to have resin production masters made! PHEW.

Twisty fun!

In the end, through it all, I was also elated to find that I had won the psychological battle for my art—for my old self. A bit bloodied perhaps, but unbowed. Apparently that part of my old self was still in here, eager to come out but buried under the wreckage of depression's storm. It needed something truly monumental to be coaxed out, a universal cry to muster up its braverya real motivation to get back into the fray again. It needed something worth dying for, I suppose, and Heart was definitely that! She was worth one last epic effort, yet rather than being my last swan song, she ended up being the calvary galloping into my salvation! It was Dancing Heart who came charging into the rumble as a trusty steed to faithfully carry me through! How unexpectedhow wonderful! And even more surprising, I found that I wasn't just my old self again—I was better than I was before. Indeedy, subroutines had been at work the whole time, processing sculptural information below my consciousness to make Heart and my postHeart work better. The whole experience also made me a better person. What a surprise! Heart had enriched my own.

A box o' Hearts, fresh from my caster! Thank you Barry Moore of BearCastLLC for your superb craftsmanship! I couldn't have done this without you!

So from internally crippled to Dancing Heartit's a literal metaphor. To those currently suffering from clinical depression, I'm here to tell you that you can survive that mental mindfield. Find something goodanythingthat motivates you and grab onto it fervently. It's your guide back to the light. Dancing Heart saved me and my art. How curious that what first got me going down the path of realistic equine sculpture—my Breyer horseswould be the very same thing that would swoop down to my rescue all these years later. Again, full circle.

Cleaned, packed, and off to their famous destination, Breyer Animal Creations, with the help of one of my trusted Post Office buddies, Steph, otherwise known as "Mayhem" to her cohorts! Steph, you're famous!

I now measure my career as preDancing Heart and postDancing Heart, this particular equine soul being that instrumental in my life. I cannot convey with words how reaffirming and wonderful it is that Breyer afforded me the unique gift of sharing this strange, personal journey with you. It's a beautiful thing. I sculpted her just for you, and I hope she brings you as much joy as she gave me as I brought her to life. I'm now back in the saddle, so to speak, so thank you, Dancing Heart! Thank you, Breyer! And I thank you, you. With Dancing Heart, you travel this marvelous journey shared between all of us, hand in hand, hoof to hoof. And so my final wish for you is

May your heart always dance!

Colorway #1: Sooty dappled buckskin, painted according to specification.

I am perplext, and often stricken mute.
Wondering which attained the higher bliss,
The wing'd insect, or the chrysalis
It thrust aside with unreluctant foot.
~ Thomas Bailey Aldrich


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

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