Sunday, December 1, 2013

In the Studio - Late Fall

This has been a nice Thanksgiving break: lonely without our families, but easier in that we've not had to travel. I've been able to get into the studio more and that feels great. A smart friend on the phone today said something like, "I'd love to see images of what you're working on. Maybe you have a blog?" and I cringed because I do have a blog, two in fact, but don't often post and even less frequently show the work I'm making. So here to remedy that are some images of the things I've been working on in my home studio.

My main focus is, or should be, preparing for a solo show that opens this February at St. Norbert College. It will be a retrospective of sorts and will feature three distinct bodies of work-- Costumes to Save Your Life, the Land Scouts, and the LAND BOOTS-- with a few other newer pieces.
A floor plan of the gallery and a thinking-drawing.
In the meantime, I'm working to extend To What End?, a 30 foot chain with oversized links made of stitched mylar food wrappers and lined with various found materials. It is my piece of purposelessness and helps balance out the overthinking I bring to the other work.
To What End - Katie Ries, ongoing
I'm also working on fleshing out and making paper patterns for some head pieces. I hope this will grow into a series, but will start with (It's a Great Day to Be a) Red Bird.
At left: notes on the head pieces and other works. At right: the paper pattern waiting on the mannequin.
I'm also trying to stay up on drawing and to push myself to draw more often and with greater ambition-- which I define as experimenting with materials, methods, duration, and content. Drawing often and for more than an hour at a time remains a challenge. I think it is more important for me (right now) to keep limber and draw often. Hopefully the duration and content will build from that.
A drawing started at bar drawing and worked up further. Also studio detritus on the table.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Credit Is Due

I like consuming images. I enjoy looking at things and sometimes not having to think to hard about where they come from, who made them, or what they mean. This kind of image consumption doesn't sustain me for long, but I understand the impulse to look at pleasing or pretty things and not have to analyze why it works or what's going on. When I want to scroll through images curated by other people I turn primarily to two websites: pinterest and tumblr. Both are visual echo-chambers in which popular images are "repinned" or "reblogged" by others. This means an image picked up by a popular blogger can get a lot of eyeballs on it, or impressions. This could be great exposure for the people who make the images, except that most pinners and tumblrs don't credit their images. Often, I assume, because the source where they find the images has not credit the photographer/designer/artist/maker. And so all the hype around a provocative or pleasing image doesn't benefit the work or page hits of the image-maker. It's lazy and a disservice to people who make their living creating said images. This is a losing battle, but I don't repin or reblog images for which I cannot find a author/artist/designer/source and I'd like to ask you to join me in this. So there you are, a small rant for the weekend. And back to work.

If you're so inspired, you can download a higher-resolution version of this file here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thank you, thank you, thank you

There's a lot of fluffy wisdom on the internet telling us how to attract a partner/mate, how to be at peace with ourselves all the time, how to deal with difficult people, and so on. Much of it comes to me in the form of precious jpegs on pinterest and facebook. It's not that the suggestions of how to be better are off base, it is that I am annoyed by the implication that my problems and solution are a function of my outlook, bad attitude, or gluten intake. Some of them might be, but that's something else. Complaining aside, there is one positive meme that resonates with me and that shows up well beyond the scope of pithy life-coaching pics: cultivating gratitude.

Six radially-oriented holes carved out of a piece of stone in a stone wall

Monday, July 29, 2013

Landed Gentry

Now we are in Wisconsin-- near the Fox River-- settling in and learning a new place. The unfolding adventure has been bolstered by many fine friends and our loving, furniture-schlepping families. It is odd and a little lonely, especially in these first couple weeks, to be without those people in our daily lives. Phones, email, and video chat mean my longing for distant folk pales in comparison to that of say, Laura Ingles Wilder, author and protagonist of the Little House on the Prairie series. But hark-- as Ms. Wilder might have, I've been taking solace in writing letters to friends. It feels joyous and urgent: Hey! Respond! It scratches an itch and helps me use up some of the abundant small materials in my studio.

If you'd like to receive a piece art-like, joyous and urgent mail, please send your mailing address to

Lake Michigan and algae

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Joyful, joyful

Recently we got to travel to Italy for a friend's wedding. It was beautiful and festive. Below are some photos from our time there.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


We're moving again. This time to sunny Wisconsin for a full-time teaching job (yeah!). In the meantime we'll prepare to bid our fond farewell to Nashville and Tennessee. In honor of the impending move, I'll be hosting an Open Studio and Art Sale on Sunday, May 12th, from 12-5 pm at 336 Whitebridge Rd. (former location of the Pig and Pie Restaurant). If you're in the Nashville area please plan to join me for art talk, age-appropriate drinks, and, if you're so inclined, the purchase of some very affordable fine art. Bring the family.

{Please note, the stunning portrait below is by Andrew Wyeth.}

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ten Thousand Words

Friday, February 15, 2013

American Love Poems

Below is a poem by Ted Kooser that comes by way of my grandmother by way of her friend and just in time to sum up my long-distance longing. My grandmother's friend, Emily, wrote of Kooser, "Pulitzer Prize winner, US Poet Laureate, and Presidential Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kooser is known for finding wonder in seemingly ordinary things. For many years, he wrote a new poem each Valentine's Day.

'Pocket Poem' seems to me quintessentially American, stripped down, direct, as if the poet were explaining something simple in serious in words that only happen to be the language of love."

Pocket Poem

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I'd opened it a thousand times
to see if what I'd written here was right,
it's all because I looked too long for you
to put it in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.

Ted Kooser

It reminds me of the beloved found poem "this is just to say" by William Carlos Williams. Another one in stripped down "words that happens to be the language of love." It is also one that I consider personally to have great social currency, an attribute I judge by the frequency with which friends and family find ways to quote and parody the poem.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

William Carlos William

Monday, January 28, 2013


Today I am thankful for the inspiring and spirited (in all sense of that word) model of the women of Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, TN. I've just returned from the annual Women's Retreat in Montgomery Bell State Park and feel so fortunate and grateful. It was profoundly humbling and energizing to be in the company of such smart, kind, and joyous women.

While on the retreat I thought and talked a lot about the students in the three classes I've just started: Graphic Design, Drawing, and Art Appreciation. Art Appreciation satisfies a humanities requirement for the school where it is offered and, for the most part, my students seem interested but relatively unexperienced in looking at and discussing art and visual images. The Drawing class is made up entirely of art majors; I am eager to get into the more technical elements of drawing with them. The students of my Graphic Design class are, so far, the most enthusiastic and the most diverse in terms of age and experience.

Each class offers me a different way to approach the idea of seeing and learning to see anew. "Be thou my vision," we sang this weekend. What is our vision? How do we learn to look at or recognize vision? In art and design classes we use basic language to describe what we see and this has been more challenging than I anticipated. The more I think about the classes and the idea of learning to see, the more I think there is a place (and an importance) to incorporate non-traditional ideas of mindfulness and physical action (like walking, sitting, and touching) in addition to exercises in comparing and contrasting, building negative space, and so on.

Nurse, lawyer, and ethicist, Kate Payne-- the speaker of the women's retreat--  talked about two physical gestures that signal comfort to us, both visually and physiologically. (Do them now as you read them, please.) The first is placing your hand on your heart with gentle pressure. Kate told us that it slows the heart and it is, in Western society, an indication of being moved. The second gesture is to cup the side of one's face with the palm. Kate told us this gesture stimulates the release of oxytocin, the "peacemaking hormone." Oxytocin is commonly associated with mothers and birth, perhaps why Kate described the cheek-cupping as a feminine gesture.

Soon, I will ask my students to place their hands over their hearts. And then we will draw. It will not turn my classroom into the Dead Poets Society and it might not even stave off boredom or frustration over the distance between what we see and the marks we make, but I think it will help us move closer to seeing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The great, creative, and prolific Dale Mackey (long may she live) once revealed to me the clever way in which she maintained work/life balance and perspective. She said (I paraphrase), "I think of my full time job as a grant I get every two weeks that allows me to pursue all the creative projects I do."

That slight shift in mindset-- from job as drudgery or chore to job as opportunity that funds creative work-- is a smart one. I think it could be an especially helpful way for creative people to frame the less-than-dream-jobs we take to make ends meet, pay the bills, keep the lights one, and other such practical matters. It's a more optimistic point of view.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Make Good Art

An inspiring talk from Neil Gaiman (whose Sandman series I'm halfway through). I especially like his recommendation to pretend to be the person who can do the task at hand.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rise Up

For now, the early gray days of the new year, I aspire to wake with Mary Oliver's benevolent mindset. I am training slowly to greet the world in happiness, in kindness.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Mary Oliver, 2004