creative life

Free Lunch by Susie Lubell

This might seem like a very ordinary picture but it is actually the culmination of years of dreaming and growing and building and working and leaping, eyes open, into the scary unknown. There is nothing staged about this photograph. It is not especially beautiful. This is my desk in the middle of my work day. A dirty palette. A bunch of paint markers in a Paw Patrol cup. A sketch I was working on yesterday. A water bottle. And lunch, made and delivered by my husband in the middle of the day. Why is Mr. Rosen home in the middle of the day, you may ask...?

He's home because he quit his job. He's been a medical device engineer since he graduated from university in 2000. He's an outstanding medical device engineer. Since leaving his company a month ago, several other companies have approached him. But he's not going back to work just yet. He's taking a break. And why is he able to take this break, mid-career, with our mortgage and our three kids and their activities and our travel commitments and bills? Because I now earn enough to support us for a while. 

I earn enough money as an artist to support my family.

Can we just delight in that for a sec?

This did not happen over night. I wasn't discovered. I don't have a huge social media following. No one asked me to write a book. I'm just a regular person who pays attention, makes calculated decisions, and is not afraid. Me supporting the family may not be sustainable for the long term. We will re-evaluate as we go. But for the next six months to a year, I earn enough money for my husband to take a break, follow his own curiousity, spend WAY more time with his kids and explore his uncommon gifts. He gave me this opportunity seven years ago when I left my corporate job to pursue life as a working artist. Now I can return the favor.

These days you can find Mr. Rosen rennovating our attic to be his home office. He has also completed a bee keeping course and will soon bring our hive home. He is playing in a band in Tel Aviv. He is dancing in Jerusalem. He is DANCING people. And he is schlepping our kids around to hockey and piano and scouts and dance and making lunch and dinner and straightening up and sometimes doing the laundry. And he's not doing all the things the way that I do all the things, but he's doing them nonetheless and it's fine. 

And he brings me lunch on most days. And then he spends his afternoons with his kids, doing projects, helping with homework, going on bike rides. BECAUSE HE CAN. He has the time. And I don't have to wrap up my work day at 1 pm, which has, as my business has grown, been the source of much anxiety. I get the whole day to work, something I have craved for a long time. 

The kids still come up to my studio to chat and ask questions. Things that their father could certainly help with. But it's a transition for them too and I try hard not to shoo them away. Nor do I expect my husband to handle everything. We work a lot more together. Life is far less stressful. We support each other and enjoy the support of our friends and family. We also put up with people's comments and confusion and assumptions. Their remarks about starving artists and about Mr. Rosen's early retirement. We don't care anymore. There's simply no time to waste one second of this life feeling stuck or burnt out or fearful.  

I never thought this was possible and neither did he. But here we are, moving forward, enjoying the challenges and the process and the time together as a family. And the lunches. 

Gone 'Til November by Susie Lubell

November.jpg

I finished this painting yesterday. It has been hanging in my stairwell since June. Untouched. I don't get a lot of painting done between June and November. It's the end of school. It's summer. It's Jewish high holidays. It's a lot vacation and a lot of obligation and a lot of time off school for the kids and it's hot as hell. It's like I have Seasonal Affective Disorder except not when it's cold and dark. I have it when it's hot and bright. So this morning I was telling Mr. Rosen how it's almost November! When I come back to life! When I know I have five months of winter to look forward to. When I know I'll soon be wearing my high boots and my sweaters. When I can make a pot of tea and be cozy and close my eyes and smile and paint. Because there are no school holidays for two months! And all I have is time! Then I told him I would just need to find a way to be gone til November every year. Which made me start to sing the song by Wyclef Jean. AND THEN PEOPLE, I swear to you no more than five minutes later, that song came on the radio...

Timing is Everything. Part III. Or How I Battle Imposter Syndrome and Prevail! by Susie Lubell

After I submit my final painting, I leave for the rest of the summer and that is that. I don't talk about the project much. I don't check in to see if the curatorial committee has accepted my final work. I just put it out of my mind. It's like when you don't talk about your pregnancy until 12 weeks. You just tell your mom. That's the model I went with and I think it's because I didn't want to jinx it and I didn't want to get my hopes up too high. So I just lived with my anxiety. 

As the opening gets closer and I receive emails from the organizers asking for photos of my work in process, a short video, to sign up to speak during the opening week, it starts to become real. And I do as I am told. But still, even up to the week before the event, when I see pictures on Facebook of the art being hung and my piece not among them, a part of me worries that the committee has decided not to include it at the last moment. My fears are completely baseless and yet they worm their way into my thoughts like a little biblical plague. It is the same old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly face. By now the website is revamped and all of the works are available to preview. They are all stunning. Mine still is not on the website.

A few days before the opening, my mom flies in. She wasn't planning to come but decided to use up her airline miles at the last minute. She comes to the opening event along with my family, in-laws and closest friends. I show up early and a wave of relief washes over me as I see my girlie donkey hanging between Chukat and Pinchas. Before the actual opening I speak to a group of 20-30 people about my interpretation of Balak. A few minutes into it I finally relax. We go out for dinner nearby and return an hour later for the actual opening. By then the gallery is packed. The Director of the Israel Museum spoke about the project along with the Founder of the Jerusalem Biennale and of course, Shoshana, who started Women of the Book so many years ago. I feel incredibly relieved and proud. I can only imagine how Shoshana is feeling. She is beaming.

In the next few days my mom and I return to the gallery and I give my talk twice more. At one of the talks an older British man comes up to me with a younger woman, his daughter, and asks if my painting is for sale. I explain that only the entire collection, as a whole, is for sale, but not the individual paintings. But that he was welcome to buy a limited edition print. He wants original work and asks if I had other paintings for sale. I give him my card. It seems that they have just bought a house in a beautiful old neighborhood of Jerusalem, just outside of the Old City, and need to decorate the great white bare walls! I tell him I am happy to bring over a selection of paintings for him to choose. A few days later he sends an email with a list of the ones he wants to see and we set a date. 

I spend the whole morning at their house moving paintings around, drinking coffee, chatting about this and that. They are so lovely. The daughter, who is about my age, is enamored by one of my goats. And her parents purchase two other original paintings. And they want to see more when they return from London in December. 

I literally haven't stopped painting since that day. I feel inspired and supported. Validated enough to feel confident but still vulnerable enough to create work that is accessible and authentic. My older styles, which I'd all but abandoned, have found their way into my new pieces, like old friends. Reminders that nothing is wasted. No experience nor experiment. No phase nor fear. It's all coming out in the work as a true reflection of who I am today. 

For you art collectors: limited edition prints of Balak are available now on my ETSY site. I'm offering them at about 30% less than what the Jerusalem Publishing Atelier is charging. That's because I love you. 

Timing is Everything. Part II. Or How I Came to Paint a Donkey in a Pink Housecoat. by Susie Lubell

Once the initial excitement of being selected to participate in the Women of the Book project wears off, the panic sets in. What in the hell was I going to paint? How would I interpret this wacko chapter with a talking donkey. I had managed to wiggle my way into the project without fully realizing that these women were all highly accomplished, highly trained, widely exhibited contemporary artists. I had told the curatorial committee to trust my process. Like I have any kind of process at all! I finger paint! And the kicker is I have three weeks to get it done including a round of critique by the curatorial committee. I was leaving for August so it had to be done before then. Did I mention I had just broken my toe?

So I start to do research. I read whatever sources I could find on Balak. My mother in law brings over books and sends articles. I spend that whole first weekend reading Torah. And interpretation after interpretation. All the while I just keep having visions in my head of Bilam standing together with his donkey like in that American Gothic portrait by Grant Wood (see above). Except the woman is a donkey. I start doing some sketches. And there's one with Bilam riding the donkey and one with the donkey riding Bilam and one with Bilam and Donkey sitting at a dinner table together. 

Then finally I meet Shoshana, the founder of the project, to get my piece of parchment. She drops off the tube with the parchment inside and gives me a bunch of scraps too for experimenting. She is lovely and encouraging. The parchment feels weird. Like a lamp shade. How am I going to paint on this stuff? I take it home and immediately start painting in acrylic on the scraps. I experiment with gesso, without gesso, I spray water on it. I glue some paper to it. It seems pretty sturdy. I can totally do this. No problem.  It dries all curled up. Damnation. I lay books on it overnight and it flattens out. Salvation. 

Without knowing exactly what I'm doing and without a full understanding of the material I'm working with (both the story and the parchment), I decide to start painting. I just need to put paint down because I'm running out of time and the blank parchment is giving me anxiety which is making my toe hurt. I spend an hour making marks and strokes, mainly finger painting. Every few minutes I read the text again. I start to pray. I'm not kidding. I tell God that I need a little vision on this thing. I ask God how it all ties together. The paranoid king, the blind prophet, the talking she-ass, the blessings, the curses, the rage, the beat-down, the orgies with Midionite women, the plague, that horrid impaling scene at the end. What. On earth. Does. It. Mean. God? 

When God doesn't answer I call Sharone. She was a religious studies major and even considered the rabbinate at one point and we chat for a long time about what it all means. I tell her about my American Gothic vision and she can see it too. We talk about the master and servant relationship, about the powerful ruler archetype. We talk about disobedience and how it plays out over and over in the parasha. We talk about how Bilam disappoints Balak and the donkey disappoints Bilam and the Israelites disappoint God. Again. We talk about the context of this chapter. The Israelites have been traveling for nearly all of their forty years in the desert and God is still trying to get them to behave so they can enter the promised land. And they are still totally blowing it, And we talk about the divine feminine - that feral, creative, subversive spirit and makes our donkey heroine open her mouth and tell her master what's what. 

And with all that in my head I go to work. And as I paint and pray and meditate, the parts of the story unfold onto the parchment. You can read about my interpretation here. I send Shoshana a preview and after presenting it to the committee she comes back with some critique. I make some changes, hand off the final piece and hope for the best. 

Timing is Everything. Part I by Susie Lubell

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

Three and a half years ago my father-in-law calls to tell me about an article he has read in the Jerusalem Report about an American woman in Israel who has initiated a community art project called Women of the Book. She has gathered dozens of Jewish women artists from around the world to each create a visual interpretation of the 54 weekly chapters of the Torah. There's an urgency in his voice which is rare. He thinks the project might interest me and he's right. I do some research on the woman and it turns out that she is about my age and we have some friends in common. And she lives about 20 minutes from me. It also turns out that according to the project website, they are still accepting new artists. So I send her an email. 

She replies. Turns out the selection committee is meeting in a few days and she invites me to submit an application. So I spend some time looking at the available chapters and am not inspired. It is a lot of tedious laws and not the good kind, like don't kill anyone. They are regarding genital discharge and marrying your brother's wife if he dies in battle. In short, the nasty laws and laws about doing the nasty. I know. I'm very mature. The only thing half way interesting to me is the bit about stoning of the wayward son but that hits a little too close to home. I tell her I'll take a pass.

A week later, after further research, I settle on parashat Terumah. It talks about instructions on how to build the alter for God while traveling in the desert and I feel like there might be some good imagery there to work with. Also my mom is coming for her first visit since we have made Aliya so I'm in the process of setting up the spare room for her to feel comfortable and I'm seeing some parallels there. It's kind of a stretch. I write a short essay about my ideas and send in a sketch and images of my latest paintings. 

She sends an email that she has just had a baby and so the process has been put on hold in the interim. That is fine with me. I am in no rush. I never hear from her again. I never followed up either. Something isn't right and I know it. I forget about the project.

Fast forward three years and I get an email from the same woman. She's cleaning out her inbox and is very sorry for never having responded after my submission. She wants to know if I am still interested in the project. There are still chapters available and they are listed on the website. I can't decide if I am disgusted or delighted that she would get in touch after all this time. I decide to go with delight and reply to her that the website is not up to date and I can't figure out which chapters are still available. Weeks pass and she doesn't reply. I am not surprised. This was March 2015.

In June 2015 I get a call from her. She's seen my latest work and thinks I am a good fit for the project. Where have you been cha cha?  She goes on to explain that while my previous work, the watercolor landscapes, are lovely, the medium doesn't work with the project. The paintings are meant to be done on parchment, like a real Torah scroll, and eventually stitched together for display. She tells me that the project is going to be featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale at the gallery at the the old train station in Jerusalem. It's all finally coming together but she's still missing a few chapters. I tell her that frankly I am not interested in any of the available chapters and she mentions that a new one has just become available since another artist decided to leave the project. She thinks it's perfect for me. The chapter is Balak. 

Now I am not a Torah scholar. I can count on one hand the chapters that I know by name. But I know Balak because it's the one with the talking donkey. THE TALKING FEMALE DONKEY. It's the one where Bilam the prophet goes to curse the Israelites at the request of the Moab ruler Balak and instead God fills his mouth with words of praise: How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel. I have won the Torah lottery. 

So I submit another application with some ideas and a collection of my recent works. I come to understand from the updated website that it's a longshot since the artists involved in the project are leading contemporary Jewish artists who have exhibited in all the big museums around the world. To make a baseball reference, this is the Show. I set my expectations low. And anyway chances are good that I'll never hear from her again. A week later I get an email that the curatorial committee has met and they want to invite me to participate in the project and when can she drop off the parchment...That was a Thursday. The next evening is Shabbat and the portion of the week is Balak. Timing is everything. 

On Saying Yes by Susie Lubell

A week ago I was on a camping trip with a few families and I got a phone call from the director of my choir. I sing in a choir. I like to sing. I've always liked to sing. In college I sang in an a capella group which might have been the best thing about college. We rehearsed twice a week and performed around campus. It was good fun. But once I graduated, I stopped singing. Anyway, this year the director of the music school in our town (the guy who built it from nothing) announced that he was starting a new adult choir and even though I preferred to sing Annie Lennox and Led Zeppelin rather than Mendelsohn and Psalms, I decided to try it. Turns out it doesn't much matter what I'm singing. I like it all the same.

But back to the phone call. He called to ask if I wanted to sing a song in Yiddish at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in our community. I let out an incredulous chuckle. Are you kidding me?You want me to sing in public? In Yiddish? Next week?  He said No, not kidding. Yes, Yiddish song. In front of people. Next week. Isn't there anyone else you can ask? I mean I barely speak Hebrew and you want me to sing in Yiddish? Gevalt! He said, I want you to do it. It's a beautiful song. It fits your voice. I told him I'd think about it. He said he'd send me the music and a recording of him singing the song. He sent both immediately after we hung up. He was serious. 

We returned from camping and I ran into him at the supermarket. Ugh. Are we doing the song? he asked. I still hadn't said yes. Sensing I was on the verge of saying no, he said, "listen, let's practice it a few times and then you decide." I didn't want to disappoint him but I also really didn't want to learn a new song in another language and sing it at a public ceremony four days from now.

You see I get nervous doing anything live in front of other people. Even just talking. This is why I like blogging. Because I can edit. If something doesn't come out right, I can go back. I can even unpublish. I can SHUT. IT. DOWN. Performing is not like that. Once you hit the wrong note or screw up the words, you're done. I mean, your life is not over, but it's still a bummer. An irreversible bummer. And I tend to hold onto bummers for a long time. I wasn't always like this though. I used to perform all the time in a children's theater company. I used to play piano in recitals and in front of judges. Even in college, performing with my group was a rush. I loved it. I sang solos in front of hundreds of people. I regularly made a total ass of myself on stage. It was awesome. But in the twenty years since the last time I was on a stage, a kind of performance anxiety had taken hold. We can even call it fear because that's what it really is. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of getting in over my head. And it's kind of pervasive. I felt it in graduate school. I felt in my various positions in my various careers. This fear that I'm just not qualified. 

Plus there's this thing about knowing when to say no. People are always talking about being skilled at saying no. Knowing when to forego opportunities because they are not worthy of your time or energy. Understanding your priorities. Not getting roped into someone else's circus. I'm all for that. And in my quest to slow down and stay focused on my family and my work and my own happiness, I've gotten pretty good at saying no. Maybe too good. Some days it's more or less the only thing I say all day. Just ask my kids.

But then I recalled what he said on the phone. I want you to sing it, he said. That's when I had my Moses on the Mountain moment. If the director of the music school asks you to sing a song, no matter what language or key or day of the year, you sing it. You go learn the music and sing the song. Because he knows you can and your job is to trust him. If you get the call (and in this case it literally was a call) you answer it. Had he asked my son or daughter to play piano at the ceremony, I would have encouraged them to do it because the only reason not to is the fear and that's not a good enough reason. And all this without mentioning what an honor it would be to sing this particular song in rememberance of those who had perished in the camps and fighting in the resistance. And those who lived to share their horrors.

So I said YES. And I practiced and we worked on it together and I practiced more. I practiced a lot. I even recorded myself singing and we all know how painful it is to listen to a recording of yourself. But I said YES. I let go of my fear. I got up on stage in front of 500 people and I sang my heart out. I said YES.

Hooked by Susie Lubell

On Sunday I took my daughter and sister-in-law, for their birthdays, to a crochet workshop in Jerusalem! Just the three of us and our fantastic teacher Shira who is a textile artist and has a studio space in the charming Designers in the City compound in the back of Nocturno Cafe at Bezalel 7 in Jerusalem (for you locals).

I had been trying to work out what to do for her on her actual birthday and since it's been rainy, anything outdoors was out. I thought about a movie or ice-skating but neither of those were realistic. So I did a search for mother daughter activity in Jerusalem (sometimes you just have to ask google directly) and that lead me to the Fun in Jerusalem website where I saw a listing for acrochet workshop! For ages 8 and older!  A two hour workshop to learn how to finger crochet a rug or basket using recycled tricot (tshirt) materials. I had been wanting to learn to crochet for ages. In fact we come from a long line of crochet goddesses, namely my Grammy, who at 91 years old crocheted the kippot for my wedding. 

So I contacted Shira who was very responsive and we set a time for late Sunday afternoon. It turned out that my sister-in-law was also free and since she and my daughter share a birthday week and they have a very close relationship, I thought it would be really special to include her. And it was awesome! Shira was amazing and worked beautifully with my daughter. The time flew and we actually learned how to crochet! And Aviv picked it up really quickly which made her feel like a million bucks, especially since by the time she'd basically made herself a hat, what I was doing looked like cat's cradle.  

And now we are hooked! Pun intended. Yesterday I went back to Jerusalem and bought four skeins of cotton yarn and we're setting out to make Aviv a circular rug for her room. Turns out you need to use a needle for this kind of skinny material, but crocheting with a needle is even easier than using your finger! 

Anyway, Shira was fantastic and is available to host birthday parties at her studio or at our home. And she's an incredible textile artist. Check out her ETSY shop and Facebook page

Allowing for Failure in the Creative Process by Susie Lubell

Imagine how different our professional lives would be if we allowed more time for ourselves to play. Tinker. Mess around. Daydream. And not just "creative" professions. Isn't it Google that allows their employees to spend 20% of their time developing pet projects. They've done pretty well for themselves, I'd say. I think probably the best ideas come out that way. They certainly don't come out from telling ourselves to come up with them.

A few days ago I got to hear an incredible speaker in our tiny community library. World renowned collage artist and illustrator Hanoch Piven came to speak on the topic of communication, creativity and play.  Maybe you don't know his name but you've seen his collages on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire and Time Magazine. He's kind of a big deal. And yet his genius sort of evolved from a place of failure. A little background:

Hanoch Piven always liked to draw as a kid. He loved cartoons and caricatures but instead of pursuing this passion he found himself studying software design and math after his army service.  Safer choices. But dissatisfied with this path he applied to Israel's premiere art school, Bezalel, and was not accepted. So he applied to other schools and ended up studying illustration at the New York School of Visual Arts. At some point he began to feel that his drawing skills just were not at the same level as his classmates and he hit a wall. He tells the story of how he came across an old poster advertisement for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and the image was simply the contour of the face, a black block for a mustache and a wisp of black bang on top. But it was so obvious that not only was it Hitler, it was Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. He was astounded by how such little visual information could convey so much. Soon after he was trying to draw a caricature of Saddam Hussein (this was around the time of the Gulf War) and nothing was working. He saw a box of matches near his drawing table (his girlfriend at the time was a smoker) and by simply placing the matches as Hussein's exaggerated mustache, not much else was needed to convey the persona. 

And so began a 25 year career of creating collages, mainly celebrity portraits, out of everyday items, food and garbage. Every portrait he showed was immediately obvious. He also talked about how the process of creation for him is more about playing than anything else. His studio has boxes and boxes of items and he simply plays with pieces again and again, switching and reconfiguring, until something works. And up until it finally works, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. He says, "there is a lot of inspiration in the process itself. To start the process with failure. To allow yourself to fail. But once you are there, the failures lead to success". 

I love the idea that he creates by playing. He accesses that curiosity that we all have as children but often lose as adults. It reminded me of that quote by Picasso "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." He even showed a picture of Picasso, one of my favorites, one that I have hanging in my own studio, sitting at a table with rolls at the edge where his fingers would be. Silly Picasso. 

This is exactly where I'm at. I'm letting myself play. I'm painting layer over layer until I like what I see. When something isn't working, I let it dry and let it go. I glue some paper on top, make some new marks and move forward. I look at the those marks and see what emerges. A woman, a monkey, a giraffe. Whatever it is, I let it in. Hearing Hanoch speak about his own similar process was like getting a little nod and pat on the back. You got this girl. Keep at it.

And I should also mention that for someone so accomplished, he comes across as a lovely man. A mensch really. He holds creativity workshops all over the world for children and adults and lectures on the topics of creativity, communication, innovation and education. Here are a few snippets to enjoy. The Ted Talk especially contains much of the material he shared with us in the library.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys by Susie Lubell

My painting process is evolving. For this piece I started out by making a big background mess full of color and marks. And then to quiet it down I added some paper layers, the bits I found at the Jaffa flea market last week. And then I looked at the painting upside down and I saw a mouth. I saw a wide opened mouth with teeth which became the face of the little dancing guy. And those two circles under him became balls or color wheels or I don't know what. And then I saw the eyes of the woman next to him so I fleshed her out. I drew his body and at first she was holding him in her right hand but that was weird so I just left him jumping in mid-air. And then I saw the monkey. It was just his nose and eyes at first and then I sketched all of him. And the clown and the monkey were kind of on the same plane so I put them on a high wire. And then I understood what was going on.

Have you heard this Polish expression? Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Which is to say that not all of the crap and drama that's swirling around me is actually mine. Some of the crazy belongs to me, but not all of it.

This is true even about my own kids. I mean, I do feel the need to be aware of what's happening in their respective circuses but in some cases I actively step away and remember that it is not happening to me. For instance and totally hypothetically, it is not my place to tell another mom in my son's class that her kid sucks because he excludes my son, as much as it would give me great satisfaction to do this. It's not my circus. Sure, my son is kind of like my monkey, but he is not an extension of me. He is his own person. And my job is to equip him with what he needs to ringlead his own circus.

This is also true of our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. It's important to listen and support and care and be available but it's also important to have boundaries. It's not my job to fix everything or everyone. In fact, when I do that it might suggest I don't have a lot of confidence in the other person's ability to manage their monkeys. And that is not a message I want to relay at all, especially to my kids. I want to empower, not undermine or underestimate. But supporting without interfering is a tightrope act all by itself.

Especially Outstanding by Susie Lubell

Three years ago, when we moved to Israel, I met with a counselor from the Ministry of Absorption (Immigration) and she "registered" me as a new immigrant artist and told me that I could present my work in front a committee and potentially be selected as an "outstanding" artist and receive some money from the state to help establish my studio in Israel. This sounded somewhat terrifying but I figured what the hell. She said I would get a letter in the mail the next time one of these committees was meeting.

Many months passed and I never got a letter, so I called. And called. Like twenty times. And finally someone knew something about what I was talking about and said, oh yes, the committee is meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem and you should bring your portfolio.

Wednesday was tomorrow.

I mean, what if I hadn't called so many times? What if still no one knew what I was talking about? Did everyone else get the formal invitation? WHY DOES NOTHING IN THIS COUNTRY EVER WORK BESIDES IRON DOME? So after I finish ranting to Mr. Rosen about how completely idiotic is the Ministry of Absorption I pull together whatever original work I can find, a few new canvases I have just completed and my laptop and hope this will sufficiently impress the committee.

The next morning I park downtown in Jerusalem and schlep all of my stuff to a nondescript building and notice about 50 other people sitting around waiting to present in front of the panel. So I sign in and wait. And wait. I wait for three hours. When it is finally my turn I set up my laptop and show the four people my website and then in Hebrew I explain to them about what I do and my business and what I've been working on lately. And then one woman says, thank you, that is all. I had been in there five minutes. I was second to last and it was past lunchtime.

I leave feeling furious. Why does the government of Israel even have these programs to help professionals when really they should put the money toward some management consulting or something because for starters they could have assigned us individual times so that we didn't have to hang around forever and even my seven year old could have come up with that one! Crimey!

I get in the car and drive home, still fuming and I think of all the things I could have articulated better. And I think about how much I hate my website. The next day I just can't take it anymore and I call up the Ministry and find my way to the coordinator for the artist panel and give her a piece of my mind. I tell her that we waited for hours and that we should have had time slots and then when I was finally seen at the end it was only for five minutes and the committee wasn't friendly at all and it was a total waste of my time. And she says, what, was your name again?

Susan. Susan Lubell Rosen.

There is a pause.

Were you the one with the watercolors and Judaica and the website? You were one of the last ones?

Yes, I say, bracing for a total shredding of my work.

You were selected as Especially Outstanding. You were the only one. Out of everybody. It's interesting that you left feeling totally discouraged because we thought your work was wonderful and that you have a big future ahead of you. 

Huh?

In a million years I couldn't have guessed that one. Note to self: see yourself how others see you and tell your self doubt to take a hike (I might use a different phrase if it was just me and self-doubt having a chat. Something that rhymes with pluck cough). So I take back some of the mean things I said and the coordinator says that next year they'll use time slots. She tells me to wait for the official letter and then submit a proposal for how to spend the stipend and then wait for approval and then buy the stuff and then wait to be reimbursed. All in good time.

And that is also how I came to be on an official list from the Ministry of Absorption as an Especially Outstanding new immigrant artist and how I came to find out about a gallery in Jaffa that was receiving submissions from new immigrant artists for an exhibition and how I came to participate in my first group exhibit in a gallery in Israel.

Now that's what I call Especially Outstanding.

Big Dreams by Susie Lubell

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

I've been lying to myself and most everyone else. Or rather, I haven't been totally truthful about my professional aspirations. I have minimized them because of this fear of owning my dreams. That if I told anyone that what I really want is to have my work hanging in galleries and museums, to have exhibitions all over world, to teach workshops in self expression through painting, well then they would know. And maybe they would laugh at me. Or say, oh yes, wonderful, but then secretly snicker and think, who does she thing she is? She's not an artist. She can't even draw a cat! She doesn't make art. She makes decorations. She can't teach people to paint because she never learned how to paint! And anyway, once anyone knows that I have these aspirations, then I would be held accountable for making good on my declarations. Like taking out a mortgage.

A few years ago, when I was taking steps to design a career as a creative professional, I took an eight week coaching class based on the book Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd. This paragraph from the book sums up everything for me:

"Some fear is healthy. It keeps us from jumping off buildings and saying smug things to violent drunks. But fear also works against us. Fear colludes with our most conservative self and allows us to stop before we try, dismiss before we think, mock before we imagine. We've all seen it in others; it is so easy to perceive when ou watch a friend refuse to take advantage of some remarkable opportunity, simply out of fear. But tey don't often say, "I'm too afraid." They say, I don't know if I'm ready," or "I'm just too busy right now." At the heart of their fear is the message, "If I try to get something really wonderful, I'll have to screw up everything that is already just okay."

So I've been keeping my dreams small because I fear the kind of criticism and rejection that comes with sharing and achieving big dreams. But there's another side to that fear (psst. I'm like the three billionth person to share this quote. It's still worth sharing):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson

I just can't do it anymore. I can't be small. Being small serves no one. I'm big. Like a whale. And my aspirations are whale-sized too. Unfortunately my whale-sized aspirations have to live in harmony with the everyday demands of my regular life including the whale-sized pile of laundry to be folded on my bed.

But it doesn't matter does it. The thing that matters is the truth. And the truth is that I dream big. Because anything else only serves to deny the world my gifts. We all have gifts don't we? And gifts are meant to be shared.

Rain by Susie Lubell

I've been watching the weather forecast on my phone for the last week waiting patiently, or with very little patience actually, for the week of rain scheduled to start Thursday night. Which it did! We've had a few intermittent showers over the last month but nothing that resembles the true end of summer. But I think it's over. In Israel we have basically two seasons. Hot and Cold. The spring and fall are very short. It mainly means you can wear jeans with your sandals. The fall may as well not exist altogether since the trees don't change color. Spring, on the other hand, is spectacular with unimaginably beautiful wildflowers at every turn, but the fall is kind of meh. Needless to say I'm pretty delirious about the weather changing, with the exception of its affect on my allergies. Rain cleans everything up. It settles the dust from the summer. It brightens up the place. It forces me to take inventory, switch stuff around. I find myself in the attic searching for rain boots and umbrellas and down comforters, all packed away last April. The whole thing makes me giddy.

A few weeks ago I went through the same process with my website. I wanted a fresh start for a new season and I was desperate to brighten up the place. But more than just a visual makeover, I needed to really examine my value proposition and take proper inventory of what I do. For other artist/bloggers out there, maybe you've struggled like I have to extract something cohesive from all that you do. Something that is uniquely you, something compelling in this world where everything under the sun already exists. For many years, before I started making art again, I was writing about motherhood and family life. About balancing work and life with kids. I had a lot to write because everything was new. The lack of sleep, the worry, the potty training, the exhaustion, the everyday toils of a new mom. And then I started my business which had little to do with what I was writing in my blog. Occasionally I'd try to make a connection but it felt forced which is how it continued for years while the pace of my posts decelerated to a near standstill.

So when my kids finally went back to school in September I looked at everything. I went into my proverbial attic and sorted through the clothes and boots and gear until I got a clear picture of what I had to offer, my BRAND. And that's when I could finally make sense of the many hats I wear and pull together a unified online presence to showcase it. Moving here three years ago opened up a source of constant inspiration for me. Sometimes to the point where I'm completely over stimulated and can't get anything out. But when I slow down and spend some part of every day creating then the work flows. What I witness here on the day to day is what feeds my art and my writing. There is no distinction. And taken together, it's my vision and voice, which is the one thing I can offer to the world that doesn't already exist. Because nobody else, thank god, is me.

So here's to rain and settled dust and clean slates. It's a work in progress. More later on how I built the site in one week of late nights using WIX.

Shabbat shalom.

Cat and Canary by Susie Lubell

Her cage was purely decorative.

Her cage was purely decorative.

I have to be honest. I don't exactly know where these paintings are coming from. This one started out very dark. Like a lot muddy paint. Like what my three year old comes up with if I don't get the brushes out of his hands in time. And from the mud emerged an anemic spooky girl and a weird black shape hovering over her. And then the girl got covered over and the black shape was a bird. And then the black bird was sitting on top of a big cage. But then the bird had to go and the cage got a table. And there was a giant magnolia looking tree which I covered up and the pot for the tree turned into a cat in a dress. And a different bird appeared on top of the cat. And then I broke out my new neon vermillion cheapy paint from the craft store and held my breath and slathered it on. And suddenly it all came together for me. This painting was me dealing with fear.

People, I can't paint a cat. I mean not really.  Cats are hard to paint. Truthfully most everything is hard for me to paint. I have a terrible fear of making mistakes and wrecking everything and having to start over and it's fairly pervasive. I feel it when I'm dealing with money, parenting, writing, cooking and especially when I'm painting. Which is why for many years I've stuck with the kind of stuff I can do well - little buildings, trees, fields, birdies. Also because i have so little time to create, I don't want to waste any of it on stuff I have to redo. Or can't sell. It can be kind of debilitating.

But all of that amounts to fear.  Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of sharks in the deep end (that's a literal fear of mine, but may have some figurative aspects). Here I am trying to raise empowered, self-assured, courageous kids while letting my own fears limit my potential. So I'm cracking that shit wide open. I'm painting cats because I can. And they can be in a dress. I'm allowing myself the space and freedom to make mistakes and start over how ever many times I need. I'm reserving judgement. I'm telling the critic in my head to pipe down. I'm leaving the cage to sit bravely with the one thing that, left unchecked, has the power to eat me up.

The Flood by Susie Lubell

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

There is a lot going on in this painting. I know. And as my friend said when I showed it to her, wait, let me call Marc Chagall and tell him his flying alpaca is loose. What can I say? I'm almost giddy to be back making art in the studio. Well let's go back even further. I HAVE a studio. I have a gorgeous space on the third floor/roof of our house with a giganto balcony that overlooks all of the southern Judean hills. Mr. Rosen installed wood floors and built me a huge, wall to wall desk for better flow and production. And I have a space to paint on an old architects desk that we fixed up and on the walls of the stairwell for when I need everything upright to spray water and fling paint around. Plus there's a little table and chairs for small people to come and paint or draw or glue felt to toilet paper rolls for, let's say, an upcoming holiday, which there are thankfully none. But now that the kids are all back in school, the place is mine again.

On Sunday I got down to business. Staring at a blank canvas after many months of non-creativity is a little daunting. So I finger painted to make the white go away. Then I added some pretty papers that I'd collected. And some old maps. And a stamp. And I tore a page out of an old Hebrew English dictionary I have whose words often dictate the direction of the piece and guess who showed up on that page. Noah! I swear. If you look closely you will see Noah is one of the entries. As is the word for distilling. Also drunkenness. Anyway, it happens to be that the Torah portion for this week is Noah and the flood! I mean, come on people! You can't make this stuff up.

So I take that to be a sign from the almighty and I smudge some more paint here and there and soon a pink sparkly ark and a chicken appear and a stormy ocean and dry land in the distance creating the perfect background for a flying alpaca in a housecoat holding an olive branch in his mouth. Just like that. And all I could do was get out of my own way and welcome the flood.

The magic had been inside her all along by Susie Lubell

The story goes like this: There was once a little girl who spent most of her time playing outside, climbing trees, inventing games, exploring her world and delighting in the endless reaches of her imagination. She knew she was magical.

And then the girl got a little older and started to compare herself to everyone else and the more she did that, the less she could access her own unique spark, until she all but forgot she was magical in the first place. And it took many years for her to realize that the magic had been inside her all along. That she had unique gifts to share with the world and stories to tell that were completely her own. She was only required to be her most authentic self and the magic would once again reveal itself in mysterious and wonderful ways.

This illustration which I created for my seven-year-old daughter had been in my mind for quite a while before I was able to finally get her down on paper. But the minute I did, another kind of magic unfolded. Suddenly women near and far, friends I had known as a child and not spoken with in twenty years, people I didn't even know, reached out to tell me how they'd been touched by this little girl in a tree. How the words spoke to them. How they had once felt like the girl and hoped to feel that way again. How the message was one they wanted to impart on their own daughters.

At first I was surprised but then it all made perfect sense. I had put aside my drawing insecurities (I have those) and without fear or hesitation, I shared my gift and the magic swirled. Here's to encouraging the little girls in our lives to be true and brave and embrace their magnificent gifts!

Of course, I couldn't create a piece for my daughter and not make something for the boys. I thought about all of the images out there directed at boys with a focus on power and bravery and physical strength. But boys are so much more than the Spiderman costumes they wear every day to preschool for a year. They are bounding energy and big plans. They are soulful, kinetic creatures with wild imaginations. And with that in mind I created Super Boy who is inventive, curious, enterprising and thoughtful and still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Magic Girl andSuper Boy are available in print and poster sizes in my ETSY shop. Or buy both and receive a special "sibling" discount. Plus, through March 14th, you can use the code SUPERMAGIC at checkout to get an additional 25% off your entire purchase on ETSY

P.S. And did you know that repeat customers get 20% off every future purchase? The discount code can be found on the the thank you card packaged with your prints. If you have lost the card or never noticed the discount, please email me or message me on  Facebook and I will send you a reminder.

Only in Israel by Susie Lubell

Interpretive dance on top of biblical well.

A lot of things happen here in Israel that are so ridiculous that I just have to roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut. Otherwise I start to sound very holier than thou and we already have more than enough of that sentiment around here. The other day I went to pick up my kids from their playdate at a girl's house whose mom is incidentally the woman who runs their aftercare program. She's a lovely woman and the kids enjoy the two hours they spend with her after school every day. And they happen to be good friends with her daughter. So I came over at around 6:30 pm with the baby in tow. Two minutes after I arrive, this woman gives my one year old a krembo. Now for those of you who do not know what a krembo is, I bet you can guess from the name that it's not health food. In fact it's a sticky puff of synthetic cream wrapped in a thin layer of chocolate flavored wax sitting on a cookie base, the size of my fist. It need not be refrigerated. In fact I guess they started making these many years ago in the ice-cream factories since no one wanted ice-cream in the winter. So November 1st is National Krembo Day. Well, not officially. But that's when they return to stores. It's like when the Cadbury eggs finally come out in time for Easter. Kids go crazy. My deprived baby shoved that thing in his mouth and all over his face faster than I could politely decline on his behalf. Only in Israel.

But I'll tell you the same week this happened we headed down south to see the amazing red wild anemones in bloom. Carpets of red flowers in the desert! The southern regional arts council made it into a big event over four weekends and had stations set up for enthusiastic flower seekers like us. Music, performances, arts and crafts, food tastings, storytelling. After picnicking with friends behind one of these stations we walked over to find two young women with elaborate flowery head dresses, Chiquita Banana style, doing an interpretive dance above a biblical well in the middle of nowhere. They had rigged haunting music to play from seemingly inside the well and a crowd of thirty or forty people stood around in awe. It was magnificent.

Only in Israel.

 Well dancer Well dancers

Clearing space for tiny sparks by Susie Lubell

SparkDante_final

I am starting some new habits. Small daily practices, if you will. Until last week the only consistent actions I did each day without fail were brushing my teeth and drinking my coffee after I drop off the kids. Everything else either happened or it didn't. There was no schedule. There were just wide open days that were either productive or they weren't. It felt like bumbling. Made me long for the days when I worked in an office and someone managed me. 

WHAT? Yes, I just wrote that. Because working from home as an artist can feel very sloppy. I am constantly distracted by the laundry, the unmade beds, the thought of dinner and the empty refrigerator, the lives of the three children I manage, the lives of my friends near and far, the news, the gremlins in my own mind that are often mean and outspoken.  And this feeling like it all has to be perfect and lead to a final piece or product so there's no room to play. I know that sounds counter-intuitive - needing structure so I can relax and play. But imagine a room with hundreds of toys on the floor. My kids might jump in but then quickly feel overwhelmed and step to the side. Or more than likely they would look at the mess and whine that there's nothing to do. I need a system to manage the internal and external chaos. I need a schedule. I need deadlines. I need an order of operations. I need daily motivation and daily inspiration. I need all these things to help me quiet the distractions and allow my imagination to breathe.  It turns out the sloppy bumbling nature of my day is making me unproductive and actually stressing me out. So last week I started a daily practice to add more structure and rhythm to my life, the idea being that a daily practice, not related to my creative work, creates a space for ideas to spark. And I tell you, it is working already.

I decided I would wake up at 6 am every morning and do 20 minutes of yoga. A few months ago I signed up for this service called YogaGlo and it is fantastic, when I actually use it. You pay a monthly fee which is less than the cost of a one hour class in some cities and then you can filter the zillions of classes they have by duration, type, level, teacher, area of concentration etc.  Of course, as Murphy would have it, the minute I started waking up before the kids, they started waking up earlier too. So a few times this week I enjoyed doing shivasena with a giggling toddler sitting on my heart chakra. Nonetheless I managed to do yoga five out of five days and I actually looked forward to waking up at that ungodly hour. I'm trying to add other daily habits too. Sketching. Hand-lettering. Learning new tools, new media. Taking field trips. Writing. Sharing it all in a  way that doesn't feel socially spastic. I am finding it very challenging. But little by little I'm hoping the structure will lead to more sparks and the sparks will lead to a big ass inferno.

Coming up roses by Susie Lubell

I made this little piece while thinking about weddings. In the last month I've been asking my ketubah clients to send me photos of their ketubahs at their weddings to use in my ETSY listings and I just LOVE wedding pictures. Mine. Yours. Whoevers. I don't care. Love them all. Plus I just saw this stunning video and had a good sob. Feeling the love, I guess. Hope you are too.

The passage in this piece is from a famous love poem by Moshe Dor called Erev Shel Shoshanim* and my friend Jill sang it at our wedding as I walked down the aisle many moons ago.  

* Evening of roses
Let us go out to the garden
Myrrh, Spices, and Frankincense
Are as a carpet under your feet

Night falls slowly
And a wind of roses blows
Let me whisper a song for you slowly
A tune of love

Dawn and the dove coos
Your hair is full of dewdrops
Your lips are as roses unto the morning
I will pick them for myself


Arrivals by Susie Lubell

Artwork by Lori Portka
I love airports. Some more than others. I especially love when I'm going somewhere, although after traveling half way around the world and back again this summer with my three kids (and without Mr. Rosen), I was perfectly happy just to be picking up on my trip to the Tel Aviv airport last Thursday. Especially because Grandma is here! For three whole weeks! So we'll be doing a lot of exploring and coffee drinking and shopping while the kiddos are in school.

But back to those airports. I was standing just outside of customs in the arrivals terminal waiting for her to pass through and watching while people from all over the world arrived, greeted by loved ones and friends. It was pretty moving, I must say. I saw a man about forty-five or fifty greeted by his eighty year old father and oh how they kissed and hugged on each other. I imagined that he's been living in the United States for the last thirty years and how life just happens that way but it's a little bit heartbreaking when it does. Because now his father is older and the travel is harder. And the kids are in college. And money's tight...

I saw three kids run to greet their dad, the oldest son jumping into his arms with such affection that his kippah flew off. It was like watching a dog, no longer a puppy, jump into his person's lap and bowling him straight out of his chair. I imagined that this aba had been in Rome or Moscow on business for the last two weeks. He was obviously missed.

I saw tourists arrive. Bleary eyed from the long flight but excited to see a place they had until now only read about. Maybe dreamed about. Israel is that kind of place. Many of them are shocked by how modern it all looks. They were expecting white robes and camels maybe.

And then I saw Grandma. With that look like, I am too old for this, but actually appearing her stylish and put together self, twenty hours of travel and all things considered.

So much joy and love and anticipation at the airport. I was reminded of this incredible painting I was gifted earlier this year from an artist friend who inspires me so. Maybe you know her. Almost two years ago Lori Portka embarked on A Hundred Thank Yous project and created a hundred paintings for a hundred people in her life for whom she is grateful. And by some miracle I am one of them. This is my painting. She painted it before we left for Israel, wishing me ease, sweetness, beauty, joy, love and abundance on our journey. I couldn't have conjured a better or more appropriate blessing for this wandering Jew. Now it hangs happily in my studio across the world.

You need something of Lori's to brighten your house too. Visit her shop where she has a new 2013 calendar that is HUGE and gorgeous and features more than a dozen of her wonderfully uplifting works of art. She also has an amazing Month of Thank Yous Gratitude Pack which includes 30 frame-able postcards and stamps she designed to send them off to the people you love (who can then frame them).  She also has prayer flags and posters and prints and cards and it's all just so overwhelmingly beautiful.

Just like at arrivals.


Life goes on by Susie Lubell

In process
Code Red has moved on too.

Life does go on as made sparkling clear by my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Between the posts about missiles falling and where, Israeli Air Force strikes, meetings with UN officials and heads of state, and images of children running to bomb shelters, houses turned to rubble, blown-up buses and Hamas thugs dragging suspected collaborators naked through the street from the back of a motorcycle, I discovered that the Twinkie factory closed down and lots of people were freaked out. And I guess General Petreus had an affair. Shocker. And a lot of people are  feeling the Thanksgiving spirit, grateful for health, family, friends. The Very Brady Christmas special aired on Wednesday. Traffic in LA is still awful. Shocker. A few friends got haircuts. Pretty good ones too. A few went to Disneyland. Some of you read some good books or made a new apron or baked cookies (in your new apron). One of you chipped a tooth. Ouch! A few of you had dim sum (and my heart ached for California). And Fiona Apple cancelled her tour to be at home with her dying pit bull.

The rest of this post is at The Times of Israel.

Happy Thanksgiving America.