It’s taken me a whole lot of frivolous spending and a deeper appreciation of the short life-span of my favorite flowers to realize it.
I remember a newspaper column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman I read many years ago, when I was in my early 20s and I thought 30 was old, about how she measured the rest of her life in lilac blooms. Goodman hoped she had at least another twenty lilac blooms to go. I thought this was the strangest thing I’d ever heard.
But now that I’m on the back side of forty, I understand.
As the iris bed I planted last August begins to reap museum-quality beauty each morning, and then fades within a day or two, I understand. Another year. An entire year before I will see them again. Another year older, if I’m so blessed.
Crocus. Daffodils. Tulips. Flowering crab trees. Lilacs. Poppies. Peonies. Irises. I cherish the succession.
Each of my lovely blooms last just a few exquisite days. I look forward to each of them like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. I wake up each morning, grab my camera, and run outside to see what is opening, what has blossomed over night, what is peaking and what is fading.
I photograph each beautiful iris bloom in dusky morning light and in full afternoon sun. I marvel at the irises’ frilly apricot standards, the fuzzy lavender and pale yellow caterpillar beards, veins of fuchsia and purple speckled falls.
This year is especially poignant for me. For the past two months, I have been watching as my mother’s mind slowly slips away, succumbing to the final throes of dementia. She has been staying with me a week now. While she has been frustrated, fearful, angry, sobbing, sometimes all of the above, I have seen her soothed by the familiarity of my garden. She remembers the peonies of her grandmother’s garden. She felt the satisfaction of mimicking me, as I planted container gardens. She recognized the feathery Cosmos seedlings, just three inches high.
My poppies are thick and lush right now, as they are each Memorial Day weekend. The tight round balls of luscious pink peonies always follow in the first days of June. It’s a succession you can count on like Monday follows Sunday.
These are the luxuries that I cherish.
Flower blooms are free to everyone. A beautiful peony is no more beautiful to the rich man as it is to the poor. In a world of technology that moves at warp speed and dissolves in the seconds of a Snapchat snap, moments spent observing the smallest details of a flower petal are savored.
I try not to think of how many more magnificent lilac blooms I will enjoy, how many opportunities I have to inhale their delicious perfume. As I see my mother follow the same path my grandmother took with Alzheimer’s, I wonder if I, too, will slip away too soon. But then I pull my attention back to this day, this moment. I am grateful to enjoy this bloom. I wake up each morning, a little earlier to see what’s blossomed.
I hope you do, too. Because time is the ultimate luxury.
Here’s the thing I find about nature. As you look more closely at it, when you let your mind be still, training your gaze only on what is right in front of you, in just a moment that singularity of focus turns appreciation into wonder. That’s when the magic happens.
When I kneel down to take a closer look at a daffodil and notice a tiny dew drop clinging to its bright orange trumpet, the rest of the world falls away. It happens to me all the time…the shock of a lone red speckled mushroom in a sea of green forest, the neon chartreuse fur of a moss-covered rock, a gnarly, decaying log full of holes where an entire mini-universe could exist, the pleasant tinkle and splash of a stream, burbling over shiny wet stones. Wonders abound, for those who look.
“Discovering magic in nature can be done anywhere. Be it a garden the size of a postage stamp, or acres and acres of fields and woodland. The Wood is my world, and one I enjoy sharing with others.” — Pamela Harden
My friend, illustrator Pamela Harden, author of the Whippety Wood books, is a master of capturing these tiny moments and turning them into something wondrous, and yes, magical. She is a creator of worlds as they should be, and I love her for it. I knew immediately after finishing my interview with Lauren Delaney, that I wanted Pamela to be May’s featured artist!
Tell me about your passion for art. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I have always wanted to be an illustrator, and have never done anything else. I probably never concerned myself with the fear of supporting myself through illustrating. I was young and naïve enough to think that if I did something that I enjoyed, I certainly would get paid enough to support my passion.
I have been fortunate enough to find outlets for my work in books and magazines, and met some of the most talented and interesting writers and editors ever. It has always been a joy to work with those incredible people. I was a freelance illustrator for more than 30 years and then I decided to chance my hand at writing my own stories as well as illustrating them.
Thus, the Whippety Wood was born. I have been able to create all sorts of animal characters and always try to make them as believable as possible. Keeping the traits of the individual animal is important. I am not interested in making them completely human, but want to give them a voice, and express what I think their feelings might be, in an entertaining way.
You and I share a mutual love for animals, especially our beloved terriers. Through art I can give voice to their thoughts and feelings in a unique way. All creatures of the earth are able to convey their feelings without words Animals are filled with merriment and joy. The Wood is a perfect place to allow them to exhibit those feelings.
I’m curious to know about your childhood in the UK & US. What were you like? How did you recognize that you could channel your love of nature into art?
I think I probably had a rather idyllic childhood. Both my parents enjoyed the great outdoors and shared that passion with my sister and I. Being keen on learning, drawing, painting, and playing in nature was first and foremost for me. I was always fascinated by Beatrix Potter, Native American art, and anything illustrated by John Wesley Dennis. I was always drawing or painting from an early age.
My grandfather taught me all about wild flowers, wild birds and the plethora of wildlife that surrounded his farm. I was encouraged to illustrate those very subjects that I enjoyed so much. Any attempt was considered a masterpiece, and I grew to love doing those field studies.
I was also one of those children who just knew that Santa Claus or Father Christmas was definitely real, at least as real as fairies, elves, wizards, and magical animals. I have always considered nature to be magical. Just how amazing is it to see a tiny bird hatch from a beautiful egg, or a glorious flower spring from a seed. That certainly is magic!
I’m like that, too. I still believe in Santa. You’ve lived in both the UK and the midwest, here in the US. What are some of the differences you find in your natural surroundings?
In the USA we have always lived in the countryside and in the UK, we have lived a rural life in tiny villages or in the country. I cannot imagine living in a town or city. We are country bumpkins for certain!
Many of the same species of mammals live in both countries. Some, like badgers, are slightly different in appearance, but many are the same. The countryside is different in the US and the UK. Or, at least it feels different to me. There are still woods, streams, mountains, hills and dales, but there is a sense of a different sort of history behind the countryside in each place.
Some parts of the UK bring to mind the ancient history of animals, people, places, and events so far removed from today’s world. I find tremendous inspiration in the old folk tales from Scotland, England, and Wales. Indeed the Whippety Wood was influenced by a Scottish folk tale.
Here in Wisconsin the countryside is farmland, open, green, and surrounded by woods. The woods here are dense with oak, ash, huckleberry, pines, spruce, and cherry. It is a new world feel with a more recent human history. There is enough material from both continents to supply me with all the creative fodder I need!
I do observe as many animals as I can on our many hikes around the woods and fields we call home. Because we live in a very rural area, I have constant inspiration for new story ideas and illustrations. I find the Whippety Wood a complete joy and comfortable place to create a world that I should want to live in (and really do, for the most part). It contains all the good parts of the world, without any of the bad.
Tell me about why you created the Whippety Wood.
When I created the Whippety Wood, it was intended to help connect both children and adults with the natural world around them.
With a burgeoning world population and ever decreasing wild spaces to explore, it seemed a good idea to introduce the world of nature in a new and entertaining way.
Children in particular, are inundated with images from an electronic screen in one form or another. Many have never seen a fox, badger, bear, or any other animal in their natural habitat. My first ABC book was intended to address that very issue, but in an exciting, entertaining, and visual way.
It was also intended to open a dialog between child and parent or an older sibling. Now I am able to combine my love of dogs, and Scottish Terriers in particular, with my wild creatures in the Whippety Wood. It allows my imagination to run amok among the hundreds and hundreds of animals who might inhabit the Wood.
As you know, I grew up with Scottish Terriers, too. We Scottie lovers are a breed apart. I will go so far as to say THE MOST over-the-top breed enthusiasts in the world! Surprisingly though, I met you through a friend who thought I might like your work because I’m a big fan of tiny worlds, like Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge.
I only found out about our shared love of Scotties after I started following you. In fact, I bought one of your prints, Sinclair meeting Martin Mole, before we ever met. I have it hanging in my office and it always makes me smile.
I like to say that your friendship is a gift my dogs gave me. We really got to know each other when my new Cairn Puppy, Weezy visited the Whippety Wood. I have a whole Weezy-wall art gallery in my house.
When did you fall in love with Scotties? What is it you admire most about Scotties and/or terriers as a breed? Tell us how you started incorporating them into the Whippety Wood.
We have had Scotties for more than 40 years, and cannot envision a life void of Scotties. Not only do they bring us contentment, joy, and fun, but they make our life complete. Rupert is 12 and was born into a litter of 6 puppies.
He was and is a true outdoorsman. As a pup he could barely find the time to bother eating as it interfered with his hunting and chasing. He is obsessed with hunting anything that moves. He has honed his hunting skills to a fine art.
He is patient, listens carefully for movement in the grass, or under the snow, pounces at exactly the right moment, and has dispatched more mice than I care to know! He also sounds like someone is torturing him when he chases rabbits or squirrels. It is a true passion for him! Rupert has an alter-ego in the Wood called Sinclair. Sinclair was the first official Scottie to be featured in the Whippety Wood and has become a permanent fixture there. The boldness, cleverness, intelligence, independence, and sense of humour, have all made terriers the perfect dogs for the Wood.
At this point in my life, I think that all the adventures, stories, and illustrations that I do for the Whippety Wood are the most rewarding. It is an ever-changing and challenging way to live my life. I often find myself saying, “That would never happen in the Wood!” or “I am off to the Wood!”
I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next. I hope my pups will make a return visit to the Wood soon. Thank you so much for sharing your Whippety Wood with us, Pamela. And Happy 13th Birthday to the magnificent Rupert!!! We love you both.
From Good Reads:
Inspired by nature, Pamela Harden has been an illustrator for more than twenty-five years in the United States and United Kingdom. She and her husband are avid hikers and star-gazers who enjoy the magic of nature every day in their own Whippety Wood in rural Wisconsin, where they live with their Scottie, Rupert.
Welcome to the magical world of the Whippety Wood. Located deep in the highlands of Scotland, the wood is home to the Whippety fairies. A host of colourful woodland characters also dwell within the wood.
ABC’s from The Whippety Wood is a silver medalist in the Moonbeam awards and Living Now awards for best Children’s ABC and picture books. This vibrant picture book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the natural world, while it teaches children the fundamentals of language in a way that is engaging, entertaining and enlightening.
Last week I attended junk maven Ki Nissauer’s Spring Junk Bonanza. It’s a twice-yearly pilgrimage for lovers of all things vintage, fans of architectural salvage, artists, designers and those who love the thrill of the find. Thankfully, it was indoors, as it was a rainy day. But I whiled away the hours marveling at three auditoriums full of fantastic displays, created by talented visual artists with a flair for grand statements.
Artists like Vanessa “Kiki” Johanning brought much-needed color and warmth to the Early Bird line, snaked around the front of Canterbury Park at 7:30 a.m. Kiki’s rowdy entourage, with their laughter and cheers made everyone smile. At MN events the people-watching is paired with a healthy dose of Minnesota nice. Strangers become friends.
I found a few pieces of Hull Magnolia pottery and craft supplies I couldn’t leave without, but mainly I was at the Bonanza for the mood boost, the dopamine rush I get from seeing makers, junkers and artists doing their thing.
By the time I left JB, my anticipation for the beginning of art fair season had reached a fever pitch. Because if it’s a summer weekend in the Twin Cities, there are two things you can be sure of, massive road construction and art fairs.
I like to think of art fairs as the museum’s rebellious kid sister, the wild child with the wandering soul. And in Minnesota, we have almost as many outdoor celebrations of art and artists as we have lakes. Better still, most of these festivals are held right beside some of our most scenic bodies of water.
It only seems right that art should be displayed outdoors in the elements, as so much artwork draws inspiration from, or evokes nature; human, but also earth, the heavens, water, flora and fauna, animal. In fact, many Minnesota animals are huge art fans. Literally.
We show up regardless of the mercurial weather. But a hot, sunny day beside the Mississippi, during the Stone Arch Bridge Festival will take your breath away. A magnificent canopy of trees, grassy knolls and park benches provide cool spots to escape the heat and take it all in: art, people, food, classic cars, architecture and nature.
Meandering the posh boulevard running along Lake Minnetonka’s Wayzata Bay during the Wayzata Art Experience and happening upon a whimsical pair of bronze Humpty Dumpties, toasting with martinis, is the type of whimsical surprise that makes it a can’t miss event.
Located only blocks from three of the city’s most popular and picturesque escapes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, the Uptown Art Fair features over 350 artists from around the world, and has been honored with over 140 Pinnacle Awards by the International Festivals and Events Association.
The Uptown Theater takes its name from the funky urban epicenter of Minneapolis called Uptown, a neighborhood that showcases the diversity of people, food and culture in the Twin Cities.
Food trucks pepper the streets around Hennepin & Lake. The delicious aromas of cheese curds, bbq and paella fill the air. Icy cold beverages abound. Ahhhh, this is the life.
If Coachella had a midwestern art fair cousin, the Uptown Art Fair would be it. Live music, beer gardens and the eclectic Uptown vibe contribute to a party atmosphere. The right brain is fully engaged.
For me, the art fair versus gallery experience is transcendent. Don’t get me wrong, I love museums. But when was the last time you went to a museum and actually got to talk to the artist whose work stands right before you, to ask questions about the why and the how of it? When I see artwork that intrigues me or speaks to me, I usually find that I share some commonality with its artist, whether it’s experience, place or feeling or sense of humor. What a treat to be able to meet all of these colorful, passionate human beings with the courage to pursue their vision and embrace their innate talents.
“Adrift with just a tutu and her everyday tiara”
Kina Crow is one of my favorite art fair discoveries. While Kina will be traveling only as far west from her home in Pennsylvania as the St. Louis Art Fair in 2017, she was an Uptown Art Fair regular for many years. In fact her whimsical clay and paint dioramas were awarded Best in Show, Mixed Media in 2008 and 2009.
The first time I saw Kina Crow’s cheeky little humans made of clay, pondering the great mysteries of life, I laughed out loud. Okay, I probably snorted, unabashedly, as I am known to do when something really tickles me.
Kina’s artwork reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from author Elizabeth Gilbert, “Don’t ever be ashamed of loving all the strange things that make your weird little heart happy.” Kina’s little people with their angsty adorableness (I know it’s not a word, but it should be) ARE the strange little things! She celebrates that lingering bit of awkward adolescent in all of us, who stumble about in this big old world trying to make sense of it all, and she does it with humor, and the aforementioned quirky adorableness. Kina’s new book, I Wonder, is a work of art itself.
So while art fairs may be a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy a gorgeous summer day, surrounded by interesting people, listen to music, taste delicious food and pet all the dogs, what really makes it amazing is finding art and artists you will fall in love with and enjoy for the rest of your life.
**** Main Image and all images of Kina Crow artwork are copyright-protected and used with permission from the artist.****
Step into the backroom of Century Girl Vintage Boutique in the heart New Orleans on any given day, and it’s like stepping through the looking-glass. There’s something about the room you can’t quite place, a peculiar other-worldliness. The ghosts of bold, adventurous women with raucous laughs and enviously endless wardrobes fill the room. At first glance you may think you’ve stepped into an artist’s studio. Then you notice the strange objects of Lilliputian ephemera, Gothic intrigue, replicas of historic mansions. You have a slightly uneasy feeling that perhaps you’ve stumbled upon the scene of a murder. Oh, and paper dolls. There are paper dolls, too.
This is the workplace of Lauren Delaney George.
I first encountered Lauren’s talents in 2013, when the young entrepreneur was paying her way through college by selling dollhouse miniatures on Etsy. She began creating miniatures when her Grandpa made a beautiful log cabin dollhouse for her Grandma, called “Kate’s Cottage.” The first miniatures she ever created were Christmas gifts for her Grandma Kate, including family portraits, quilts and a copy of her Grandma’s wedding dress.
At the time, when I started collecting minis, miniature shops were full of shabby chic dollhouse decor and bakery accoutrements. Lauren’s store was quirky. Things you might find included a package of vintage ladies pantyhose, take-out menus, classified CIA files on the Kennedy assassination, a wall calendar from 1926, a microscopic laboratory slide – all in miniature. Her flair for replicating the minutiae of everyday life in 1:12 scale was uncannily exacting.
Her creativity spurred my own, as I let myself venture outside the confines of creating kitchens and Parisian boudoirs. Lauren gave me permission to create vignettes that I found compelling, that told a story.
When I needed classical sheet music for an October vignette I was creating, I knew Lauren’s shop was the only place I could turn.
“At their essence, miniatures are story-telling tools. As in theater, tiny scenes immerse the viewer in worlds inhabited by ghosts, infused with memory and promising adventure and exploration” Lauren said.
Late last summer, Lauren announced a new adventure she was embarking on, “The Haunted Dollhouse.” I asked her to explain it to us in her own words.
“In New Orleans, truth is stranger than fiction. This is especially true in the case of “The Haunted Dollhouse,” a violent crime involving a 1920s miniature collection. The dollhouse was created by an inmate at New Orleans’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane and is directly linked to a murder which took place in the French Quarter. Appraisers have spent years trying to crack the cryptic messages hidden in its construction. I’ve spent the past year researching it in the New Orleans archives and the inconsistencies of the murder investigation are so bizarre that I felt obligated to make them public. Amateur sleuths, crime connoisseurs, and miniaturists are all invited to take a crack at solving the case and may subscribe to receive the pertinent documents (and bloody artifacts) via www.TheHauntedDollhouse.com.”
Those brave (or foolish) enough to assist me with the investigation will receive a series of five packages over the course of 1-2 months. Each package contains a cache of clues, miniatures, and archival documents. Clues may take the form of an old telegram, a 1920s newspaper clipping, miniature artifacts, and simple DIY projects. Each package is like another “chapter” in the deepening mystery, and as the story progresses, investigators reconstruct a dollhouse which is—EGADS—actually a crime scene.”
I, myself, helped Lauren solve a mystery last fall, and it was a one-of-a-kind experience. I couldn’t wait for each new package to arrive with clues. It was like receiving mail lost for 100 years. A cadre of my closest cohorts were just as eager as I was to unravel the mystery! Here we were in Minnesota in 2017, plumbing the private lives of the upper echelon of New Orleans society in the early 1900s.
As you may have gathered from Part 1 of my interview with Lauren, Lauren is to vintage glamour, what Anna Wintour is to Vogue. So, of course, when Lauren first added her prohibition-era, paper confections, embellished with ribbon and sparkly bits, I was the first in line to snatch them up.
They also caught the eye of Dover publications, who published Lauren’s first book in March of this year. Finally Lauren had the opportunity to marry her talents for costume design with her paper artistry, with her book, All Dolled Up.
“I enjoyed creating paper dresses for my Etsy shop, but I had no intention of creating a book until Dover approached me. I learned so much through the process of creating the dresses and miniature sets, then photographing and laying them out. It was a huge challenge and I’m really proud of the end result.
I have always loved draping as a method of design, and this process of creating paper dresses is similar. In fact, there is a whole section in the book about “paper draping” for (tiny) fashion design. With any creative project, you have to observe the properties of your chosen material and then let it do what it wants to some extent. Probably the single most important step in the design to fabrication process is choosing the proper materials, whether it be a paper dress, fabric dress, or miniature world!”
As if offering to be Chickadee’s first featured artist wasn’t enough, Lauren has also offered to give away a signed copy of her book. In addition to a great story, paper dolls and richly-detailed backdrops, the book also provides step-by-step instructions for creating your own vintage couture designs. All Dolled Up will delight paper crafters and fashion-lovers alike. For your chance to win, simply comment below. The winner will be chosen by random drawing on May 15th.
Since her creativity seems to flow from an endless spring, I asked Lauren what she saw herself doing next.
“Well, I’m in the middle of working on my second book, and I’m also excited to expand the world that I first introduced in The Haunted Dollhouse. There are more mystery adventures in store.
I love the unpredictability of life. Ten years ago, in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have cooked up my current life. Ten years from now, I hope I’m still working at the things I love – designing and creating.”
I’m so excited to introduce a new feature to Chickadee, a featured female artist who inspires me with her talent, kindness and entrepreneurial spirit. The first woman is Lauren Delaney George. She is someone whom I’ve admired since I first discovered her Etsy shop in 2013, where I was surprised and delighted by her amazing shop, full of miniature delights.
Lauren attended NYU, where she spent 2 years in the school’s prestigious MFA program, and started her career working for E. Jean Carroll of Elle magazine fame, helping with a kooky side project social media game site that she had created, “Catch27.”
Since that time, I’ve discovered that she is a costume and set designer with feature films to her credit. She has worked with the likes of Colleen Atwood, 14-time Oscar nominee, on the film Public Enemies. Lauren’s clients include FAO Schwarz, Monique Lhullier, Erin Featherstone and the Cancer Research Institute. Her original artwork, The Exile of Prospero, debuted at the National Building Museum. She is a style icon with her amazing throwback vintage glamour. And most recently she published her first book, All Dolled Up to critical acclaim, with a second already underway.
Blog Summary: Lauren Delaney George is EVERYTHING. #allthegoals #ladyboss #shero #girlcrush
Whew. I had to get my fan girl enthusiasm out-of-the-way in order to write any further. Now that you know the gist of my feelings about Lauren, we can get to the heart of the matter…why she should be YOUR creative inspiration, too.
To me, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing a fabulous creative woman living her dreams, except for kindness, graciousness and willingness to encourage other artists in pursuing their dreams.
I asked Lauren if she would agree to an interview with me, with her knowing nothing about me and she eagerly accepted. So without further ado, I give you the much coveted interview.
Melanie: First of all thank you for agreeing to this interview:
Lauren: I was so honored by your email! And holy moly is your blog b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. I’d love to help in any way that I can with a feature.
Melanie: Thank you. I’m so flattered. Well, I asked a million questions, so let’s jump right in. Are there other artists in your family?
Lauren: My dad is a doctor and though my mom received her MBA, she devoted her life to raising three crazy children. Both my parents are very creative. My mom is a jack-of-all-trades crafter; she knits, quilts, cross stitches, etc. My dad is really into history and has dabbled in state politics. He occasionally publishes articles and has created a couple of historical documentaries. Though I am the only “professional” artist in my family, traveling to Honduras on a medical relief trip with my dad this year gave me an entirely new appreciation of the artistry involved in cutting up and healing a body. And my mom has really devoted her life to creating beautiful things for her family and loved ones to enjoy.
Melanie: You’ve traveled all over the world. Did that have an impact on your creativity?
Lauren: I spent my junior year of college abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. I knew that I would never improve my French unless I was submersed in the actual culture. Several years out of practice, I’m pretty rusty at the skills I picked up there, although I can still mostly understand when it is spoken to me. When I was in 8th grade, my dad taught anesthesia for one month at a hospital university in Moshi, Tanzania. My entire family accompanied him and I attended an international school with my siblings (International School of Moshi). My ISM classmates were from all over the world.
Melanie: So you grew up surrounded by culture, art and history?
Lauren: We grew up really spoiled in the sense that art and creativity were always encouraged in our house. In fact, our house has always been a bit of a circus, bustling with whatever people’s current projects are! My brother would often film movies with his friends there, and once even built a “submarine” film set in the garage. My parents tend to adopt our friends, so there are always people coming and going when we are home.
My parents are outgoing, creative people, unafraid to try new things. They don’t operate under the idea that you must have a degree in whatever you decide to pursue. Their fearlessness has been a major shaping influence in my life.
Melanie: Have you always known that you wanted to be a designer/artist/author?
I definitely didn’t grow up knowing this was what I wanted to do. I’ve always enjoyed arts and crafts, but it didn’t even occur to me until I was graduating from college that I could make a career out of a creative field. My interests and projects continue to evolve and I am curious to see what is in store!
Melanie: Who or what inspires you?
I’m really inspired by creative people and New Orleans happens to be filled with them! The history of New Orleans also inspires me, because it feels like traveling back through time with all the history and interesting characters who populate the city today. I also love just discovering other artists through the rabbit holes of Instagram and Pinterest.
Melanie: The best part of social media to me! I read that you met Costume Designer Colleen Atwood on the set of Public Enemies and she influenced your decision to go to NYU.
Lauren: My encounter with her was hugely significant, because it got me thinking about that possibility. Meeting her was just such an awesomely weird and surreal experience. It got my brain working on how costume design was this beautiful tangle of all the subjects I loved: history, fashion, and psychology.
Melanie: Your artistic resume is so long and varied. You seem to have an ever-flowing river of ideas. Do you ever get stuck? Have you ever felt afraid to try something new?
Lauren: Yes, I definitely get stuck and I think that every human does at some point, regardless of their career choice. For me, the hardest part is sitting down to begin a project.
Before I dive into something really consuming (like All Dolled Up or The Haunted Dollhouse), my soul gets a little weary thinking about how HUGE it seems. It always helps to break these monsters down into more manageable daily tasks. You need to be disciplined without being too hard on yourself. Just set yourself up to be moving the project forward every day with small steps.
For example, if you wake up and say, “I’m going to create a book about paper dolls today,” it’s never going to happen. Instead say, “Today I am going to rough draft a table of contents. Tomorrow I will outline the introduction. The day after tomorrow, I will create a rough storyboard for the pages.” The key is that none of these things has to be perfect. Just get your idea on paper and then keep refining it as you bring in new elements.
I am afraid on a daily basis. Fear is a completely normal reaction when you are confronting the unknown. For a creative, this means not being able to envision the end product at the beginning, but trusting the process will bring you through to the end.
Melanie: How do you approach a new project? Is your approach methodical, researched, experimental? Is there a Lauren Delaney process?
Lauren: When starting a new project, I spend a lot of time exploring images and reading. I am gauging my own reaction to things like tone, color, and setting. I make a lot of notes, collecting quotes from other writers, as I begin placing the images next to each other. Finding the thread through this collection I’ve assembled is how I discover my own opinion about the world that I am creating.
Melanie: Oh my! I still haven’t even tackled all my questions about your many projects that I REALLY want to talk about. Your miniatures, The Haunted Dollhouse and your new book, All Dolled Up. I think this is going to have to be a two-part interview.
This is Zelda, one of the guests at Lauren’s book launch party at Century Girl.
Lauren: Thank you so much again for caring about my work and sharing it with the world.
Lauren has very graciously offered to host a random drawing for a signed copy of her book, All Dolled Up. No purchase is necessary to enter. Simply follow my blog (not mandatory, but I hope you’ll come back for Part 2 of Lauren’s interview) and leave your email in the comments section, so I can notify you if you win. I will not use your email for marketing purposes or solicitation. The drawing will be held on May 15th.
Finally, I want to end with what I think is one of the coolest things about Lauren. In 2013, during the height of Gatsby mania, when the remake of the classic movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan was coming out, Lauren won first place in the costume contest at The Gatsby Garden Party in Oheka Castle New York.
Twenty botanical gardens from around the U.S. were nominated by a panel of experts and the Arboretum was voted number one.
I have to admit, I did more than my fair share of lobbying for votes. I’m lucky enough to live about 20 minutes from the Arboretum in Chanhassen, MN, a southwest suburb of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s located just down the road from Minnesota icon Prince Rogers Nelson’s Paisley Park studio.
In fact, Prince enjoyed spending time there.
I have an annual membership, so I can enjoy the arboretum year-round, in my state that celebrates four resplendent seasons, each uniquely gorgeous in its own right. While there’s a three-mile trail that winds its way through the various gardens, an avid gardener or photographer can find small wonders to entertain herself in just one small area on multiple visits.
So even though most spring bulbs and flowering trees are still weeks away from blooming, I visited the garden this morning to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air that April ushered in. Maple syrup was flowing into buckets hung on the trunks of the giant maples and the smokestacks were billowing out long gray plumes at the Maple Sugar House.
Waves of daffodil and tulip leaves stood at attention on every hill, garden and wooded area. In just a few weeks the entire arboretum will be awash in a sea of color and fragrance.
I had planned to join the mothers pushing strollers, retirees and tourists who enjoy daily walks on the 3-mile trail through the garden today.
Instead I got side-lined in the very first garden I came across. I hadn’t been expecting much color, but as it’s my first season as a member, I thought I’d familiarize myself with the various areas, and the plants they contained. It’s always fun to try to identify the early foliage of the perennials as they first poke through the soil. But I was pleasantly surprised to find many pops of color sprinkled throughout the first garden.
I planted my first Iris garden last September, with bulbs from the National Iris Society’s sale at the Arboretum in August. So I was delighted to find these little beauties nestled into the rocks.
Snowdrops are the earliest blooming bulbs to appear on the scene, just as the last snow is melting in March, with the little cups of crocuses following hot on their heels.
Besides hunting for blooms and identifying bird calls, spring is an excellent time to stop and learn something new, that I might normally just breeze by, thinking “oh that’s pretty.” The skeletons of espaliered apple trees stopped me dead in my tracks. The outdoor living garden has a small square paneled on three sides with these ghostly beauties.
Espaliered Haralson Apple Tree – Introduced in 1922 by the U of M
Then there are the gorgeous structural shrubs that flourish year-round and never fail to wow, such as this beautifully sculpted Korean Boxwood. Love the vibrant foliage. I have two miniature boxwood in my fairy garden at home, so they’re a favorite of mine.
Finally when you’re not in a big rush, during the lull before the full spring bloom and its resultant crowds, solitary time in the gardens allows for time to stop and appreciate the beautiful sculpture, art installations, benches and other hardscape features that memorialize loved ones inspired by nature. I thought this was especially poignant.
In addition to the beautiful grounds, the Arboretum features events and workshops year-round. I’m looking forward to Yoga in the Garden, using the On-Leash Trail with 3 energetic terriers, plant sales, and the 20th Annual Bud Break and Daffodil Dash 5K coming up on May 7th.
There is a quote attributed to Theo Van Gogh, taken from a letter written to his brother the painter, Vincent. I read the original, and it doesn’t sound much like the quote as we know it today, but I love the quote anyway. It says, “To know God is to love many things.”
Adulting is hard. The older I get, the more I cherish and need my creative escapes. I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to have an escape valve to help them release the pressure of everyday life, technology and news of the world.
Growing up an only child, I cultivated the ability to entertain myself, as well as a life-long love of creating tiny worlds filled with family, friends and lots of animals to keep me company. My love of all things tiny started with Fisher Price Little People. I remember vividly being very sick once, maybe 4 years old, and the only thing that made me feel better was my Grandma pulling out a Little People A-Frame Cottage that she was saving to give me at Christmas. I was immersed in another world and things didn’t feel quite so bad.
Then in junior high, I read Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and fell in love with Laura Wingfield’s fragile world of crystal animals. In this small refuge, anything was possible. Everything was manageable.
So you can imagine my unbridled joy when I got my first true writing job creating catalog and box copy at Department 56, the company renowned for their amazing Christmas Villages and Snowbabies. Bringing to life the miniature people who populated the fictional city of Merryville remains one of the highlights of my career to this day.
Then some pretty major and traumatic life events occurred in my thirties and suddenly I felt the weight of the adult world on my shoulders. If I’d been able to have kids, maybe the wonder of experiencing the world through their eyes would have sustained me. But I lost my sense of fun. Of play. I lost my joy. I was at a new job, that wasn’t fun, which unfortunately compounded my lack of “joie de vivre.” And that’s when one day I came across a shop on Etsy called Monsters Etc. and met my friend Ruti Dan, a kindred spirit. Here was another adult, with a “real world” day job, who spent her free time making art dolls. NOT for kids.
After Morty arrived, everything changed. I started finding all kinds of crazy ways to photograph him, singing karaoke, playing with the copier at work, investigating mossy woods. The next thing I knew I had started creating small vignettes of my own. I incorporated felted creatures I purchased from Kit Lane on Etsy, and then started making my own felty guys. I propped them with funny trinkets you might find in a gumball machine. Then I found them a red model convertible and a little guitar. Or I propped them in front of the alligators when I visited Avery Island in Louisiana. Before I knew it, I was buying a gigantic dollhouse. My PayPal account was more than happy to accommodate my desire for all things teensy-tiny, and my collection of itsy bitsy shabby chic decor and miniature cakes grew exponentially. As I tell my husband, it’s cheaper than redecorating the house. I can design the room of my dreams in miniature.
And eventually I graduated to this…
One of the HUGE positives of social media is the way a person can find a group of devoted, like-minded people who share a passion for just about everything and anything. I discovered that there were other mini-devotees, who were just as excited and fascinated with all things mini as I was.
I traveled alone to Chicago to attend my first International Miniatures Show, where I rode in an elevator with a REAL prince (not Harry, unfortunately). He had traveled from the Arab peninsula to Chicago to pursue his passion for miniatures. I met some of my favorite artists in person and others from Spain, Italy, France, Ireland and so many more countries. I took classes from a master woodworker from Ireland, learning to hand-finish miniature cabinetry. And I saw the most magnificent dollhouses and tiny pieces that cost thousands of dollars. One day soon I hope to return and visit the world-renowned Thorne Miniature Rooms at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Following that simple whim, one day 8 years ago, when I was well, well, well beyond a reasonable age to be playing with dolls, I threw caution to the wind and allowed myself to do something silly. I bought an art doll named Morty from half-way around the world, and he reintroduced me to what I’d been missing so desperately – joy.
Through letting my imagination run wild, and indulging my childhood passions, I was able to gradually let go of some of my sadness, put the world on pause and just play. I think that’s really what we need now more than ever, grown-ups and kids alike. So the next time you see that metaphorical merry-go-round with it’s magical horses, merry music, and flashing lights, go ahead and jump on. Buy yourself that giant stuffed cheeseburger pillow. Or the light saber you’ve had your eye on for months now. It could change your life.
For some reason the WordPress gremlins ate the text of this post. Phooey. Although, I can’t say for sure it wasn’t operator error. In any event, I’ll quickly share some of the highlights, despite the fact that it is now well into March.
It was a snowless Minnesota in February this year. So I posted a few of my favorite things to do when winter weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans to get outdoors and have some fun in the snow.
Dig in the Dirt. It’s the perfect time to repot your plants! Maybe you’re like me, and on occasion the poor plants are just stuck in their original container and set inside a pot. No shaming here. But your plant’s roots will be so much happier and healthier when they can stretch out their legs in some fresh, fluffy dirt. It’s a great time to feed your plants, too. With seed starting still a month away for us in the north, here’s a chance to exercise that green thumb.
Visit a local arboretum or nursery. Even though my hair hates it, I have to admit I adore the thick sultry humidity that envelops me when I walk through the doors of the Fern Room at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. We also are blessed with the wonderful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of the best in the country, right here in our own back yard. There are classes and special events running yearround.
Enjoy an outdoor summer event, indoors. Indoor farmer’s markets, like Bachman’s Winter Market, shown above, are gaining popularity everywhere. The Landscape Arboretum and local nurseries are also hosting them this winter. What a wonderful opportunity to support local growers, farmers, artisan bakers and brewers. An extra bonus is that everyone is so happy to be at a market in midwinter, your mood is sure to get a boost from all the smiles. *The next Winter Market at Bachman’s will be held March 25th, at their Lyndale store.
Puzzles are having a moment! I’ve read three separate celebrity interviews in the last couple months referencing the puzzle craze. More socializing and gossip is shared over puzzles at my house than just about anywhere else. If I want to have a good conversation with my husband, I need to do a puzzle with him. Puzzles are so relaxing! And so blessedly technology free. If you’re ever in the mood to really splurge, check out Liberty Puzzles. According to their website, “Liberty Puzzles are a throwback to the golden age of jigsaw puzzles. Each one contains dozens of hand-drawn “whimsy” pieces intricately cut into the shapes of characters, animals, and geometric designs. They are works of art within art. The puzzles are made with 1/4” plywood and use advance print technology for eye-popping color.” These puzzles are absolutely amazing. But pricey. Maybe I’ll ask Santa for a Liberty Puzzle next year.
Take the 2017 Good Reads Challenge. Do you have a Good Reads account? It really is a must for book lovers. Good Reads creates a virtual book shelf for you, let’s you keep track of the books you want to read, read reviews of books you’re on the fence about and get recommendations from your friends based on their bookshelves. Every year you can challenge yourself and your friends to read more, because reading is simultaneously stimulating and soothing for the mind, body and soul. Over one million Good Readers have pledged to read 73,833,021 books in 2017 to date. I’m already halfway to my goal of 25, so time to adjust that goal.
Well, there you have it – the somewhat amended, “missing” February post. I’ve left off the Valentines, but I can’t resist sharing this photo of Valentine’s for your furry loves, post-Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can start shopping for next year? Here’s one of my favorite photos from the vanished blog post…online shopping for my very spoiled dogs. Enjoy.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. A bird sings because it has a song.
– Joan Walsh Anglund
There is only one thing in life that motivates me to wash a window, and that’s to better appreciate the fine details of the birds gathered at my feeder.
Just outside my window there is a whole bustling world of little creatures performing a show just for me.
Nature is one of my greatest inspirations, and the most effective anti-depressant available without a prescription. Birds make me unspeakably happy, just by being. All I have to do is provide them a little enticement, some food, a garden, some water and they are my faithful friends year round.
Stepping outside on a cold winter morning, to take out the trash, I hear cheerful songs surrounding me in all directions, from birds on high, unseen in the tall trees dotting the suburban landscape. A tell-tale monkey call lets me know a pileated woodpecker is nearby, and if I’m lucky he will come swooping by with his pterodactyl–like head and giant wing-span, with all his red-mohawked glory.
I read somewhere that birdwatching is nature’s yoga. It helps us all slow down and breathe.
There is no instant gratification in bird-watching. If you want a photo of a bird, you will never capture it by making a mad dash for your iPhone. You will have to sit quietly. As you patiently wait, you’ll gradually become more aware of sound, of birdsong, wind, the leaves rustling. You’ll begin to watch for movement and color, staring fixedly between branches and leaves. During this quiet observation, you begin to take note of your own breathing, your heart rate slowing. It’s like meditation.
Bird-watching is also good for mental alertness and acuity. When you go to a museum, you study paintings, brushstrokes, a painter’s use of light and shadow. When you go to a city, you may study the architecture, a certain style, arches, columns, or building materials. When you see a fashion show, you study the sophistication or elements of the design, the intricate details of beading or lace, the quality of the fabrics.
With birding, the objects of your study are typically hopping, flitting, flying or seeking cover. Do you know how many types of finches, sparrows and warblers there are? Do you know how difficult it is to discern one hawk from another? A zillion and yes. I know.
Even with guidebooks at the ready, I have trouble distinguishing between finches and warblers, so similar are the color and marking of their feathers. There are so many different variables in look and behaviors, type of beak, wing-patterns, the shape of a tail. tail, the notes of a birdsong. If you’re very lucky, you will see operatic displays of romance or jealousy in territorial birds or mating pairs. I once saw a breeding pair of pileateds flying back and forth from my suet log to the tree and regurgitating food in the mouth of a baby woodpecker. I never regurgitation could be so adorable.
Bird-watching can also lead to human romance. Who needs eHarmony when you’re part of a passionate community of birders? My friends Mark and Michelle met through a birding group on Facebook. They go bird-banding together, at night, with coal miner lights strapped to their heads. They rescue raptors. They travel to exciting birding destinations, like South America. They built a huge backyard waterfall and pond to attract more birds to their yard. Did I mention that among the most distinguished guests at their wedding, were several raptors from the rehabilitation center where Michelle volunteers?
Mark who works at All Seasons Wild Bird Store in Minnetonka, says”Winter birds, with their spring songs and colorful attire, remind a person that life should be happy, not sad.”
If you’d like to become a backyard birder and enjoy all the mental and physical benefits, here is a variety of seed to help you get started. My $15 membership at my local Wild Bird Store, saves me 10% off all my purchases.
Sunflower chips attract all the little songbirds. Especially my darling chickadees and nuthatches. Nuthatches are the only birds that run head first down a tree trunk. The Berry Nutty blend is a higher calorie blend, great for winter feeding because of its critical nutrients and antioxidants. I like to put out a bowl of peanuts especially for the blue jays, and watch them come and go like planes at the airport. They cache their nuts and can remember hiding spots months later. Golden Safflower is another songbird favorite, but people like it, because the squirrels don’t. A squirrel has gotta eat, too, though! And nyger thistle is a favorite of finches, chickadees and ground-feeding juncos in winter.
Finally, the best birding gift I ever received was a woodpecker log, over a decade ago now. It’s a birch log feeder with holes drilled to fit these year-round, no mess suet plugs. I can sit at my window and watch seven different varieties of woodpeckers come to feed. I’ve seen cardinals and flickers eat from it as well.
I’d like to share a small portion from a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is entitled Snow Geese, from her collection of poems, “Why I Wake Early.”
I have never
seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
As through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”
If feeding the birds in your own yard isn’t an option for you, I encourage you to check out one of my favorite pages on Facebook, Ricky Montgomery’s Wildlife. His feeder cameras are amazing.
Committing something to paper is much like a deep breath. It’s meditation. When I write something down, I’m uncluttering and making room in my brain for other ideas to grow. Some may, and have, called me a Luddite, because I don’t do all of this online, but I need to put pen to paper every day or I am completely and utterly lost. Every day I am documenting just about everything, via a wall calendar, goal planner, day planner, or good old-fashioned diary.
Right now I am smack dab in the middle of a job hunt. So I have ample time to commit to all this daily upkeep. Plus it’s a necessity to keep me on track. Naturally this is a time when I want to make sure I’m using my time wisely and being productive. Any time you make a change of this magnitude (changing careers) you start to question things you thought you’d figured out long ago.
I’m a natural-born “resolutions girl”, but this year I felt like I needed to do something more all-encompassing, more soul-searching and that was when I happened to see Lara Casey’s “Make It Happen” Intentional Goal Planner in an Instagram post. My Pay Pal trigger finger was way ahead of me. And boom, this darling planner, filled with arty postcards, stickers and fantastic worksheets was all mine.
This is not a traditional daily agenda for managing time. It’s a planner to help you make progress on the goals you set throughout the year. There are actually 30 pages (including guidance from the author and artwork) of worksheets for you to complete, each building on the last, and leading you to the goals you really want to “cultivate.” Because like a garden, a goal is not something that just happens. It needs tending; good soil, sunshine, water and weeding in order to grow.
For instance, after first flipping through the pages, I saw that I needed to find a word of the year. Oh nooooo. How am I, an English major, and total vocabulary nerd, going to come up with one all-encompassing word that’s supposed to sum up everything I want to achieve this year?
But that’s not how this works. This book leads you through the worksheets to your Word of the Year. Suddenly you just find it. As you write out all of your challenges, fears, what’s working in your life, what’s not working, your priorities and all the other good stuff included in the worksheets – the word or goals develop themselves.
I came to my word of the year, after seeing patterns in all of my work sheets. Phrases kept popping up like: people-pleaser, exhausted by trying to be everything to everyone, feel like an introvert trapped in an extrovert’s body, pretending so I can fit in, afraid of what people will think if I…Yes, my word for 2017 needed to be Authenticity.
I would show you more worksheets, because there are so many good ones, but they’re kind of personal and you never know when a potential employer might see this. But here’s one example of a more harmless page. Excuse my messy hand-writing, but Lara says it’s okay
If all of these worksheets seem like too much work to you, trust me they’re not. They’re surprisingly easy and fun, and if you’re like me, you have to be given permission, which Lara frequently does, to just spill it out there on the page. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Whatever you write won’t be graded, or judged. So don’t get angsty about it. Just write.
Finally, I want to share with you another of my current obsessions: Planner Stickers!
As someone who grew up with scratch & sniff stickers plastered all over my Trapper Keeper, I was all in the moment I heard stickers. You’ll find that I’m constantly scouring Instagram, Etsy, and Pinterest for things I can’t possibly live without, and so it was when I discovered these adorable stickers. If you’re going to organize your life in a bullet journal or planner and stay on top of it, you need the tools to make it fun.
From fun to functional, planner stickers are available in custom sizes to fit specific planners, like Filo Fax, Plum Planners or Erin Condren’s . Many stickers are created by young people, and include popular characters like Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls or Unicorns. But there’s something for everyone; hipster to homemaker, and every to-do; special events, work tasks, exercise reminders and household chores.