I'm all about figuring out how to be an artist and still pay the rent. I have kids. But I'm just not the type that thrives on instability. So it's one thing to get an idea for an art-related business and think, wait a minute... that's a great idea. And over cocktails and on the phone everyone confirms, Yeah, that is a great idea, you should totally do that! That's one thing. An exciting thing. A fun thing. Ideas are cheap. Even the good ones. But it's something else entirely to jump the fence and actually invest in that idea. And by invest, I mean spend down our savings trying to drag stubborn, Miss Great-Art-Idea from the downy world of fun what-if's, onto the concrete, trying to make her real.
Once I started spending money, that great idea ... well, she quickly morphed from sexy babe to scary, out of control monster. 150 bucks on art supplies was fun to spend. And even more fun to use. $600 at Legalzoom to make the thing official, seemed like a good deal. Then came $1500 for a logo and branding package. Gulp. But if the business doesn't have appeal, then what chance does it have? Suddenly the dam breaks and it's a gusher - website development and packaging, supplies and inventory, insurance, marketing and advertising - whoa ... hold up!
For my inaugural RokoPack project I decided to learn about making paper, something I've never done before. I picked it because I've always thought it was cool. In hindsight it would have been much smarter and way less stressful to start with something I actually knew about. Or at least had tried. Even once.
I loved how the pack of tools and materials came out. (Special shout out to the extremely talented Sheila P. Lemke for the watercolor that appears on the box.)
I loved the process of seeing my team of 12 testers all take the same materials and end up with radically different results. That was super cool.
I loved so much about my new business. Except for what I was making. Which, to be honest, wasn't much.
In addition to being in covid-lock down in our tiny apartment in New York City for the past 8 months, and enduring a national crisis of incivility, my days have been punctuated by nighttime panic attacks over skyrocketing credit card debt and crippling insecurity. Too much junk food. Too much Pinot Grigio. Not enough exercise. (Or any.) I’m easily overwhelmed by all things tech. I just set up my first Instagram account which sent me careening off a cliff of comparison-despair. So many artists / doing such amazing stuff / with their zillions of followers / and full on careers / and who am I to be starting out - at my age / seriously / it's a little ridiculous / plus spending down our savings / I have college payments to make / what was I thinking / I should quit.
I made some notecards to give to my mom. Her birthday is coming up and I never know what to get her. She loves greeting cards ("love" is code for hoarding) so I thought maybe...
They came out pretty cute.
Then I experimented with embedding twine. !!! FAILURE ALERT !!!
Next I tried embroidery thread
Which came out stupid.
Hemorrhaging money, all I could think about was getting my business up and running as fast as possible. Yuck alert.... nothing I was doing was about making art; I needed work to post so I could "grow my following." Fear of failure was driving me to frame everything as tasks to be accomplished.
Until I volunteered to work the polls on November 3rd and everything changed.
I'd never been a poll worker before (not to be confused with being a pole worker - which I also haven't been). In this divisive moment, I felt the need to stand up and pitch in. But it turns out, there aren't shifts - you have to commit to the whole day. That meant getting to my assigned location at 5:00am and staying until 10:00pm. Wow. Shout out to poll workers doing a very important public service! (And to pole workers who in their own way also do an important public service.)
I got there promptly at 5am, ready to do my part. Disappointingly, my assigned job was 'line manager.' The poll location was on 13th street in the heart of NYU territory, which has a much smaller number of registered voters than most districts, many of whom must have done early voting, or mail-in ballots, because by 7am the site was a ghost town. I wasn't going to have anything to do for the next TWELVE HOURS, except stand in the lobby and point occasional stragglers in the right direction.
So I did what my kids do, pulled out my phone and got on instagram. And there was my celebrity crush, DJ D-Nice, hosting one of his Club Quarantine live dance parties. (He's amazing in case you didn't know.) 7am in NYC meant 4am in LA. He said as long as any polls were open, he'd be there, keeping people motivated to stay in line, to cast their vote. To participate. To stay engaged.
Coincidentally, I happened to have a bluetooth speaker in my bag (long story), so I cranked it up. By myself, like a loon, I kept D-Nice's Good Vibes going for any voter who might walk through the door - until the polls closed. I was the star of my own sad, middle-aged, crazy-lady, dance-a-thon. My kids would have been horrified. Mom...! But I was inspired. And filled with awe that this man was stepping up so hard, sharing what he loves with the world, to bring people together with joy. WITH JOY.
Throughout the entire day, only 3 people joined in, which I'll admit, was disappointing. I envisioned a flash mob. My polling site erupting into a legendary dance party. But maybe it's just strange times and people are on edge and brittle. Except there were 10 thousand people on D-Nice's feed getting their groove on. Getting out the vote. Coming together from all corners, all colors, all kinds. I opted for them, listening, dancing and letting my yuck go, until Instagram finally shut D-Nice down SIXTEEN HOURS later! It was a profound experience. I felt free.
Until the next day.
Because where was the joy I create? Not absorbing someone else's, but making art because it's what I have to give. Where was the joy in my work? After 30 years as a professional artist I was sticking stuff in, hoping it would look cool, so I could post it. Seriously? Just getting it done? Gross! Who's that person? I don't know her. She's not someone I'd hang out with.
The last sculpture I made was like a decade ago. A little bronze bee.
So I turned back to my little bee for help. Maybe if I made her a mate, they might guide me back to my artistic process. To deep engagement with the materials. To making things because it's who I am in the world. A place that had always been my truth.
I got steel wire.
and made an armature
then made a stack of paper
Then ripped the paper into strips and rolled them into blossoms, held together with floral wire.
Then wired the blossoms to the armature.
And.... allow me to introduce, Señor Abejorro. My long lost friend.
Then, different thought hey are, these 2 fell in love... and there's nothing better than being in love.
We have so much divisiveness right now - in my own family the political divides are extreme. It's easy to forget that the country was founded on deep collaboration and hope. Read The Constitution and you'll see. It's alive with evolution. People trying their hardest to get it right. Then failing. Then trying again, failing, trying over and over for 250 years.
I have a copy. Our dog ate part of it when she was a puppy, which made me like it even more. We got that puppy 2 weeks after my dad died, when my kids were small.
I ripped out the pages, put the pieces in my deckle and poured paper pulp over it.
Then rolled them up. And did that like a zillion times.
I wanted it to feel like when you break your leg and it's in a cast - to heal.
Then I cracked 5 eggs - CAREFULLY!
Wired the constitution into the eggs
Wired the eggs onto a base.
and cooked myself up a Constitution Omelette.
Because the truths we hold to be self evident are actually fragile - and require open heartedness and joy to keep them in tact.
A profile of painter Joanne Onorato Tschida by Melanie Curran.
She remembers meals fondly. There was zeppole and laughter. Everything happened at the table. The extended Italian family came together in Astoria, Queens and Joanne Onorato has painted all of them.