The In Between-sies

What do you do when you don’t know where you’re going next?

I’ve been thinking about the legendary Bay Area artist David Ireland and how he would make his wonderful Dumb Balls when he couldn’t think of anything else to do in his studio. He would toss the wet concrete back and forth in his gloved covered hands for hours until a spherical object would form in his palm.

Through this repeated action the concrete object would manifest a physical shape of an internal world – worry, anxiety, excitement or simply just being present in the moment (these are all my guesses, btw, or maybe better described as my projected emotions on a beloved deceased artist).

I like thinking about Ireland’s Dumb Balls because they are objects made consciously from the place of not knowing. They give shape to the uncertainty of what’s ahead, perhaps allowing the mind to pay closer attention to what is here right now.

It is wonderful to think of the accumulation of Dumb Balls made during his life. For me they signify the patience, time and vision that occupy a life of creative work.

A creative mind is a relaxed mind. This was the inspirational text printed on my friend’s tea bag recently.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to what I do during the time between projects. There are things that I do that are more about dancing around my anxiety of the unknown: I sweep the kitchen floor. I sleep more. I reach out to friends. I read.

But I’m also experimenting with consciously documenting this time – as a way to alleviate my mind from the anxiety of the unknown but also to be open to what’s in front of me now. I’ve been making line drawings and using this process as a form of meditation, where each line represents a question or thought I repeat over and over until the page is full.

I’ve given myself permission not to judge them (and I feel a little funny about putting them out here for you to see at this point, but what the heck, it’s just the internet, right?). I’m enjoying the process of making something with my hands and connecting a gesture with an internal state. And for now that’s all they have to be.


I’m curious: what you do in your time in between things? Are there projects, gestures, activities etc you do to allow your mind to be present and open to the next thing?


4 Thoughts

  1. Sieglinde says:

    I too use line drawings as a form of meditation Susan! For me they are not repeated questions
    though, but paths of an inner excavation; a visualization of a thought, a memory, a story, an experience … And then I started drawing them on my back (“Things change and then nothing happens” video). Line drawings can say so many powerful things, without the use of a single word. They always remind me of the following quote:
    “With words we can say anything, we can lie as long as the day. But we cannot lie in the recreation of an experience” ~ Louise Bourgouis

    Now about those Dumb Balls … I need to make some asap, or at least find out what they would be in “Sieglinde’s world”. A constructive way to dance in-between the known and the unknown, we could all benefit from that. Thank you for sharing the above!!

    • admin says:

      Sieglinde, I love that you connect line-making with words – how drawing a line can communicate something different than language. Of course language holds such a special place in my heart, but I also think there is something exciting about limits of our words.

  2. Having just seen Hung Liu’s show at the OMC, there was something I read there about how she paints circles when she doesn’t know what to paint, just to keep the rhythm of painting going. Makes me think it’s sort of a painter’s version of dumb balls.

    As for myself, I make collages. As a printmaker, I always have old proofs, state prints, tests, etc, things that I messed up or that didn’t work out. These I cut up and make into collages – sort of destroying something old to lead to something new. However, I make them rather quickly – usually 2-3 in 30-40 minutes. Instead of contemplating, like you are doing in your drawings, I’m trying not to think or justify, but instead to just play and be free. So much of my work over the past few years has been “projects” – that have been long and developed ideas, and I need to spend time playing to let go.

    • admin says:

      Michelle, thank you for reminding me about play and letting go, deconstructing and destroying things to make something new. Yes to it all.

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