The state that raised me….Part 1

The apple tree the deer use to eat the fallen apples from.

The apple tree the deer use to eat the fallen apples from.

Every summer I try to go back to the state that raised me, Oregon.  Living most of my adult life in SoCal has its plusses but Oregon has my heart.  Trying to fit all the things I love into one short visit is a challenge, to say the least.  This year the timing is around a family reunion that will be held this weekend at Depot Bay, on the Oregon coast.  Having a lot of work projects about to begin my time was limited so I had to streamline my visit…no more lolly-gagging vacations for me!

What was imperative for me this trip up was to touch base with my aging Aunt Pat.  There are some people in our lives that mold us, influence us and guide us to be the people we ultimately become.  One of mine is my dear sweet Aunt Pat.  Although I saw her infrequently in my earlier years of life, as I headed into the double digits I began to visit her every summer with my brother in tow and experienced the slow rhythm of the country life.  And when my kids were old enough to travel I would take them and expose them to what I had loved as a kid. Up until recently she lived in the small town of Drain, Oregon a town once booming with timber activity.  There I chewed countless amounts of Juicy Fruit gum, while running around exploring the surrounding land, walked through the creek, played on the covered bridge, walked into town to the only supermarket to get an ice-cream and rent from the local video store movies for the evenings.  Deer would come down off the hills in the late afternoons to snack on the falling apples and wild turkey would cross the gravel road in front of their home, all of which could be seen from their dining room window.

Aunt Pat in her new residence

Aunt Pat in her new residence

Back when Uncle Ed was still alive he was often seen at the table gazing down the long driveway, with his cup of freshly brewed coffee in his favorite mug, contemplating who knows what as he stared off in the distance.  His love for Marlboro’s finally took his life some years back and I was lucky enough to have made a special trip to visit with him before he passed.  He still called me by my Mother’s name, never thinking Michelle really fit me I guess and gave me a hard time for being one of the “tree huggers,” but I loved him to the core.  He felt like home, like a warm soft comforter on a rainy day, you just felt better being near him.

As with all things in life, the one constant is Change.  Its one of the reasons living in Gratitude is so important.  I would much rather live in gratitude then live in regret, it’s a choice really.  It is one the most important things one can learn in this life is to be grateful in the time you are living, because change is sure to come.   Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop just look closely to your surroundings, embrace the ones you love, express that love and be present and your life unfolds.

Aunt Pat has since sold her property and home they themselves built in the 50s, it became too much for her to care for and has since moved closer to my cousin in Roseburg.  I missed seeing her last summer as my attention was getting my eldest daughter acclimated to being a college student and setting her up, my usual visits  were not in the cards.  This year however, regardless of how much time I had I needed to visit.  My awesome cousin Kathy let me stay at her ranch in the hills just past the city limits of Roseburg and experience a whole other life of being in the country.

ranch 1ranch 2ranch 4

This is their Ranch!

This is their Ranch!

I found my Aunt to be frail, but her personality still as bright and humor still as sharp as a tack.  Our visits were short but so rewarding.  I wanted to give her so much more but didn’t know how.  How do you thank someone for being so loving?  How do you say you invited me in and made me feel amazing at a crucial time in my life? I could be dirty from head to toe, covered in who knows what, having experienced creek walking and chasing frogs to covered with blackberry stains reaching for that one beautiful plump one… just out of reach and she didn’t even flinch. How do I thank her for teaching me how to make apple pie, and blackberry jam?  How do you simply say thank you for being this amazing example of how to raise a family and enjoy the process while you are in it?  You just do.  Then to see her eyes glisten as you stammer out the words and hug her frail body and know that one day you hope to make the same difference to those who follow me.  “I love you too Shell, I always loved your visits,”  she managed to say.  With that my heart smiled and I became once again Grateful.


Bring on the routine of the school year!

A mini vacation was all I needed to get a little perspective and recharge my batteries.  One of our favorite destinations has always been June Mountain in the Sierras just past Mammouth along the 395 going North from Los Angeles.  Sure it is a long drive (5 hours) but once you are there in the valley of the town, your soul simply smiles.  For me it had been a few years since I made the journey our weekends with various commitments of our three active children.  The days of packing up our car and just taking them seemed to be a thing of the past.  As fate would have it two of our three children were able to join us and it was enough to get us there.  I made this as a visual reminder of what I need to do every now and again in the care and keeping of ME.

A visual reminder for me to not forget what makes my soul smile

A visual reminder for me to not forget what makes my soul smile

As summer winds down part of me is a little sad to see the late nights out and the slow mornings give way to structure and the demands of a calendar and yet the other part knows, that it is in the structure, that I most thrive in when it comes into the business of being an artist.  My art is transforming into a way to make a living.  Not according to my husband or conventional survival living but I’m getting there.  There are certain disciplines however, that I need to do in order to make that happen and those are muscles I depirately need to work on!  Lets face it… they are basically jello at this point.  Structure and routine are welcome… I think.

I have to say though that this summer has not gone by without me being productive.  I have managed to take all of my wood out of one shed and organized it so I could actually use the space as a shop and KNOW what I have to work with.  I then emptied out the secondary shed which has my overflow salvaged wood in it too.  I finally got in and got my own studio at a point where it is not just a dumping ground for my creativitive supplies until I have time to put it away.   So I will pat myself on the back for those accomplishments.  I do however, still have a number of overflow driveway projects that I need to finish so with the remainder few weeks I will accomplish that.

Time to get moving…the house is beginning to stir.


The Softball Season…

Those who play it, know it!

Those who play it, know it!

For the last few years, we have moved beyond the days of “rec” ball and having a Saturday morning dedicated to a game of softball, to the life of travel ball, a more intense, competitive softball life.   The culture of travel softball… my friends is a whole other ballgame, altogether.  To the outsider, this lifestyle can sound anything but appealing.   When shared with friends and family who are not in this world, it sounds not only time consumer, but down right grueling.   To be honest, sometimes it is both.

However, for the most part, is an exciting world with life lessons that will serve these girls well for the rest of their lives and keep us adults in check as well.  We parents often times bond over, shade, snacks and early morning Starbucks runs while the girls warm up.  Our weekends are no longer our own, our motorhomes gather dust, and family vacations are limited around softball tournaments and practices.  Some parents get a little more intense, with their strategies and opinions and can lose perspective as to who is really playing the game and why.  For the most part, however, it is a positive experience.  It all depends on the team… and the parents, and the coaching style.  We’ve been lucky so far in all of our competitive softball experiences with all three.  We’ve experienced a few twilight moments when one shakes their head and wonder if they are getting punked, but that’s life in general isn’t it?   This last week, I have to say, was by far the best team experience we have had thus far.

We had some of the everyday, average softball experiences that go with any tournament as well.  During various tournaments and showcases there is what I call, the softball migration.  It happens every tournament when the players go from one field to the other with parents in tow carrying, umbrellas, chairs, coolers, and younger siblings behind them.  Once settled the girls again warm up for their second or third and in extreme cases their fifth game of the day.  Their stamina is breathtaking, their athleticism is often measured by how much pain and discomfort they can endure and they are in every sense of the word, Athletes.

The heat can also be brutal and a character unto itself.  Living in SoCal the temperatures range drastically in the wee hours of the early morning cold and gloomy, to triple digits afternoons where an endless supply of water and Gaterades to kept handy for our performing athletes.  Most of the time these girls are piled in cars before sunrise in sweatshirts and are warming up before most people are even up for their first morning cup of coffee.

Could not keep enough of these...gallons of bottled water this week!!

Could not keep enough of these…gallons of bottled water this week!!

This past week was my week to take our daughter to her tournament, not just any tournment but a showcase tournament.  This is where colleges come and look at the girls and see what they like.  This is what our coach calls, “Chasing the Money.”  These girls want scholarships.

Denver was our destination and the whole team was going.  I and five other moms were the assigned chaperones.  We all met at the airport and after a series of tranes, planes and automobiles we settled into our under construction, air conditioning-broken, with suspicious elevators hotel, that we would call home for week.  We each had three teen girls to a chaperoned room and the altitude to adjust to.  We spent more days at Walmart than I have in my entire life so that  each room was oozing with snacks and leaking cheap coolers of waters.

As awesome as this all sounds the truth is, it was a blast.  The comradary and laughter was in surplus, the music pumping and lyrics that make a rap star blush, was pulsing through the vans to and from games.  The vans smelled so badly by the third day an air freshener intervention was done while we were inside strategizing what we would feed the group for the next meal.  Before the games, music was played, prayers were said.  Injuries happened, bags of ice placed in various places, scrapes off and on the field, one scare of concussion, more prayers, fast food, laundry lines, sandwiches “Again??”,water runs, ice runs, one downpour, hot Denver heat, is that lightning?,awesome firework displays, wins, losses, f-bombs, and plenty of photos to share…

What an amazing group of girls!

What an amazing group of girls!


Dancing and singing a huge part of this week!

Dancing and singing a huge part of this week!


Just a few of the amazing moments these girls displayed.

Just a few of the amazing moments these girls displayed.



Even in the pelting rain these girls worked their butts off!

Even in the pelting rain these girls worked their butts off!


The Process…Keepin it Real!

This month my name made the cover!

Summer image transfers by Michelle E. Black

Summer image transfers by Michelle E. Black

I was so excited I posted it on Instagram that MY name made it to the front page of Somerset Studio Gallery Magazine!  I loved the layout, how they photographed my work and the amazing artists that I share the magazine with this month.

Sneak Peak of Michelle E. Black article  in Somerset Studio Gallery June 2014 magazineIMG_5650

More of my work!!!  Thank you Stampington!!

More of my work!!! Thank you Stampington!!

Michelle E. Black June 2014 Somerset Studio Magazine article4So now with a few articles under my belt, having even shared some random moments with strangers as they are looking through various Stampington’s magazine publications… I now feel a sense of peace. To a point that is…do not confuse this with stagnation, however.  I am in a creative whirlwind of activity, but a sloppy artist at that.  Yup!  Just when I get my act together and get things all straightened up, something gets a hold of me and I’m off and creating!!  So as much as I would love to have my studio looking as fantastic as Cathe Holden’s, I’m afraid its just not going to happen, not yet anyway.

Friends and family alike have suggested that I share the processes that take place  in order to create my art.  After all, I do teach workshops on how I do what I do.  What’s wrong with a little show and tell?  I, myself, love to indulge in the magazine, Where Women Create, for that same reason.  I want to see how they create what they do, where do let their brushes dry or where do they make those amazing collages?  These incredibly talented women and their studios make me drool with envy.  Whenever I read it I find myself in the company of kindred spirits, embracing not always fitting in the square peg part of my personality. I respect them, immolate them and they have given me the more courage to blaze the trail I have before me than I thought possible.  It is by their inspiration that my art is now to that next level.   ( Which at this point is not accosting anyone who is coming over my house to show them what I have recently made or photograph!  “Oh really you are selling cookies?  Well, I just made a collage out of music sheets and fabric swatches…you want to see?  What??  Where are you going???”)  Being a constant buyer of these types of publications however has made me scared…my studio and surrounding area looks NOTHING like theirs!!  Although much like how I felt inadequate to Martha Stuart’s clean and tiny craft rooms and immaculate garden sheds, I too find myself falling far short of these beautiful ,elegant spaces that these magazine articles portray.  Truth is I’m lucky if I don’t dip my paintbrush in my coffee!  Here it is anyway…some of chaos.  I am a firm believer that things often have to fall apart in order to come together and my work is exactly that.

A dozen projects created this perfect storm and now I

A dozen projects created this perfect storm and now I’ve spilled out into the driveway!!

My name is Michelle E. Black and I

My name is Michelle E. Black and I’m addicted to Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint…

See!  You are never going to see a photo like this in a magazine!

Truths out…I suffer from my own self diagnosis of “Shiny Squirrel Syndrome”.  (A combination of Up and the Simpsons) I often have several projects going on at once, which renders nicely to this character “flaw”.  When something is drying, I go to the next thing, then when that is drying I cut out something over here, or I go to the table saw, or…  This crazy behavior however, is what keeps me going.  I am happier now that I have the space and time to create and produce my work.  Happier that all of my random interests and collections make sense in my life.  I love also that the material I use is something out of what was discarded or no longer needed, that I create new life with it and that people actually like what I do.   So regardless of the messy method in which I create, the art that emerges is a beautiful collage of flaws. Much like how I see myself, I suppose.  Anyway… I must be doing something right, even if I do so by making such huge mess!

So alas, this post is called Keepin it Real!

Black Out!!

How image transfers can add to a store…

Bakers Twine is a huge hit but a sign adds to the attraction

Bakers Twine is a huge hit but a sign adds to the attraction

People often mistake me for being the owner of the store knot too shabby ( a partner of it, but I am merely a fan and contributing artist and you can find me behind the counter every now and again covering a shift.  I am not minimizing my role in its success especially with visual displays or product lines.  I have been a positive influence in the store’s development for sure, I am simply stating a fact.

Michele Rivard’s ability to see the jewel in what most will overlook has been one of her greatest strengths.  Although she specializes in turning a disheveled piece of furniture into the rooms focal point, she also couples those pieces with carefully selected repurposed, vintage home decor pieces that pull a room together as a whole.  She has an innate ability to put a variety of, often times unrelated items, together that visually inspire much like a living magazine.  People often visit the store who may never even purchase a thing, but come in to browse and be inspired.  Its as if it makes their soul smile with decorative contentment.  I know this because that is how I came to know Michele, doing that very thing.

Fast forward two plus years and here we are today, growing together and separately in our businesses.  We have collaborative projects from creative brainstorming and inspire each other to be more and put more out there.  As product lines have been introduced and seeing a need I began to make signs to showcase those product lines.  With creative fonts,  sometimes painted backgrounds, my own personal stash of scanned clipart, coupled with my madd photography skills, here are some examples where a sign can answer a customers question before they even knew they had one.

I set up this little tiny photo shoot to showcase the packaging and then did an image transfer on salvaged wood

For the actual transfer itself, I set up a little photo shoot to showcase the packaging and then did an image transfer of my image onto salvaged wood

This is a sign I created with a the combination of one of my favorite fonts coupled with personalized vintage price tag clip art.

This is a sign I created with the combination of one of my favorite fonts combined with a personalized, vintage price tag.

Vintage clip art to show the price on something the store has a large stock of.  This helps reduce having to price each individual package by hand.

A close up of vintage clip art to show the price on something that the store has a large stock of. This helps reduce having to price each individual package by hand.


To tag every single knob was hugely time consuming.  This cut down literally hours of tagging!

To tag every single knob was hugely time consuming. This cut down literally hours of tagging!