Category Archives: Personal Stories

Living With An Artist at Crunch Time


by Mick Stevens in The New Yorker

Hi everybody.  Its me, Greg, your guest blogger here again.  The 2017 Codex book fair is just around the corner and Ginger’s work is coming together nicely but she’s swamped right now.  Which is why you get me.  I shall continue my previous theme and discuss Codex prep from my perspective.  Specifically, I see Ginger is super busy and stressed so what can I do to help alleviate that (without making more work for her)?  We’ve been through this a number of times preparing for various art shows and here’s a few things I’ve learned that will help.

  • Volunteer to be a studio assistant.   Your first reaction may be, “I’m not an artist, how can I possibly help in the studio?”  True, I don’t know much about art but I do know how to measure paper and use a bone folder.  I can even work a Kutrimmer.  In fact, I quite enjoy putting on the headphones and cranking through a stack of paper or davey board.   I don’t know anything about book bindings but I can run to the store for more art supplies.  I often tell Ginger, “Pretend I’m a small child (not a stretch) and give me specific and clear instructions, I won’t be offended.”  Even taking on small menial tasks can be a help to her.
  • Encourage your artist to take breaks.  There are natural stopping points in Ginger’s work such as waiting for paint or glue to dry.  Or when transitioning from one book to the next.  That’s a good time to suggest a break.  Sometimes we go for ice cream and other times we just lie in bed and pet the cats.  A walk is always a good option.  Sometimes Ginger wants to talk about her work and other times she doesn’t even want to think about it.  We might take a dinner break and watch half hour of mindless TV.  Laughing together is always a good stress reliever.
  • Don’t take it personally if your artist is always busy or distracted.  This is not the time to stamp my foot and say “but what about me?!  Pay attention to me!”  During crunch time the artist is always thinking about his or her art.  We might be doing something completely non-art (including sleeping) but part of her brain is still working on art problems.  So I don’t take it personally if I’m talking to Ginger and she gets that faraway look in her eyes before jumping up and rushing off to the studio.
  • Make sure your artist doesn’t neglect his or her health.  One of the best ways to do this is to encourage your artist to get more sleep.  It sounds contradictory but more sleep can actually be more productive.  I’ve seen Ginger get into the bad pattern of working eighteen hours one day but then dragging for the next two days before giving in to a long sleep to catch up.  The net result is less productivity.  And more stress because then she feels like, “Oh no, I’ve been dragging and sleeping too much, I need to work even harder!”  I realize that Ginger will laugh at this because normally I’m one of those “Five hours is enough for anybody!” kind of guys but I realize that everybody is different and during crunch time you have to do what works best for you.
  • Be ready to give tough feedback.  This is a difficult one because I see Ginger working so hard and I see she’s stressed and fragile and my instinct is to tell her that everything she does is great.  After all, I want to be encouraging and I want to help her soldier on.  But I would be doing her a disservice.  We both agree that just because there’s a deadline looming it’s no reason to lower standards.   There are plenty of times in life where I’ll say, “It’s good enough, just get it done” but not when it comes to Ginger’s art.   So continue to give the tough feedback but be prepared to deliver it with an extra dose of kindness.  See my previous post on “The Art of Art Feedback”.
  • Don’t add extra pressure to your artist.   Yeah, this isn’t the time to remind her about her looming deadline.  It’s also not a good time to say, “Wow, you must be so stressed!”   Believe me, she’s acutely aware of it.  It’s also not the time to burden her with issues that aren’t urgent.  Do we really need to plan our 2018 vacation right now or can it wait a few weeks?  I find it’s helpful to jointly map out our week in advance so that Ginger knows which tasks or events I have covered and doesn’t have to worry about how non-art tasks are going to get done.
  • Remove distractions from your artist’s daily life.  This goes hand-in-hand with the above point.  Make or bring dinner.  Do extra household chores.  Offer to take the pet to the vet.  Attend the family function by yourself so she can keep working.  In fact, guess what?  You yourself might be a distraction.  The question to ask myself is, “Does Ginger really need to be interrupted or is this just a needy attempt to get attention?”
  • Give meaningful and specific encouragement.   Right now Ginger is very focused on a huge to-do list and what’s not going well.  Those unsolved problems are weighing heavily on her mind.  This is when she needs encouragement but not that general encouragement which, while true (“hey, at least you get to make art, isn’t that great?”), isn’t very helpful.  One of the best ways to encourage is to point out what I like about each new work.  What really pops out and how does it make me feel.  Sometimes Ginger gets to a point where she only sees what’s wrong with a piece.  It helps to have a fresh pair of eyes tell her what’s right and how well the piece works.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  They’ve definitely worked for me.  If you’re an artist then show this list to the people living with you.  And identify those people whom you can really depend on and allow yourself to lean on them a little.



Creating Intentions For Art


Today I received an email from my dear cousin Cindi. She is a therapist and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Just being with her makes me feel more calm and gentle and centered.

What struck me about her email was the idea that we should pause and reflect on all of the experiences of the last year, both good and bad, happy or sad, exciting or depressing and that “most likely your 2016 was quite a mixture of many rich moments that make up daily living.” Isn’t that true? In our every day lives as humans and in our practices as artists. We have successes and failures, ups and downs, moments of creative genius and moments of frustrating blockage. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives. On what we didn’t do, or on what we did wrong. More productive, I think, to look at every aspect and go from there.

She went on to encourage the idea of intentions, rather than resolutions for the New Year. Here is Cindi’s description of the difference: ” Intentions come from the heart and are gentler ways of getting yourself to live the life that matters to you. Setting intentions is more about connecting with your values rather than some wished for outcome. Intentions help you to align your daily living practices with what’s most important, and they don’t set you up for failure the way resolutions do… How many years have you made the same resolutions, only to fall off the path before February? …When you set an intention, you are creating a scaffolding that always helps you to go in the right direction.”

So, I’d like to propose that you take some time to set intentions for your practice as an artist. Again, following Cindi’s lead, here are some questions that you might ask yourself in setting your intentions for 2017.

  • Why do I make art?
  • Who do I make art for?
  • What is it about making art that I value?
  • What do I wish for in my art making?
  • How can I support myself in being an artist?
  • What do I need to change in my life to make more time for art?

Answering these questions will help guide you towards intentions.

Here are some sample intentions that I created based on my answers to the above questions. Yours may be similar, or very different.

  • May I use my day to create art and help others make art.
  • May I remember that making art is more important than making art perfectly.
  • May I be aware when I am using other activities as an excuse to avoid a difficult part of making art.
  • May I be kind to myself when I make mistakes.
  • May I remember that it is okay to say “no” to others to make time for my art.

In my case, I’ve printed these out and I’m putting them on the back of my studio door. The idea being that I’ll see them each morning as I enter the studio and close the door. They are meant as a reminder to help me refocus and set the tone for my studio time.

I’d love to hear about your intentions for 2017. Please feel free to post them in the comments.






Free Cut and Fold Book – My Wish For You 2016


As part of my 1,517 Acts of Kindness Project, I’m making more free cut and fold books. This will be the last for 2016. Please feel free to make as many copies as you’d like for your personal or educational use.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is choosing and decorating a Christmas tree. I have many beloved ornaments and this book has photos I took of some of them. The snoopy was from my husband Greg. The nativity lovingly hand-sewn by my mother-in-law, Rebecca, last year. The ball is one of many that we’ve collected over the years. The Grinch an ornament I gave Greg one year to highlight his big heart despite any reputation he may have as a Grinch. The squirrel is a running joke between Greg and I. The kitty angel is my very favorite that my mom, Honey, gave me. The elf is my oldest ornament, given to my when I was a child by my Grandpa Morey, and the Tigger is one of many that I have since he is my favorite Disney character.

The sentiment is one that I was brought up with and believe in wholeheartedly. We are better, stronger, more blessed when we celebrate everyone.

My Wish For You 2016

This will be my last art blog post for 2016. I wish you a wonderful holiday, whatever your holiday may be. I look forward to sharing creativity and joy with you in 2017.

Looking for more Christmas freebies?

Pop-Up Trees Tutorial

Do You Hear What I Hear Cut and Fold Book

Christmas Giggles Cut and Fold Book

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to fold and cut the book.




Free Cut and Fold Book – Do You Hear What I Hear?


As part of my 1,517 Acts of Kindness Project, I’m making more free cut and fold books.

One of my favorite memories of Christmas is singing carols with my mother. She has an amazing singing voice and me, not so much. But somehow singing carols with my mother always elevated my voice and made us feel even closer. This cut and fold book is a version for you to color and make into a book. It is made with coloring images from the internet combined with the words of the carol. You should only use this for personal or educational use. No selling it.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to fold and cut the book.

Looking for more? Christmas Giggles Cut and Fold Book

Later in the week I’ll post two more blog posts, one with a free pop-up tutorial and another with more artists you might want to support this holiday season.







Making Art On Days Like Today

Well, I’m a bit late on my blog post this week, but quite honestly I’m glad to be sitting upright and with a dry face. Before the election, and still, I’m dealing with a very sick kitty. Ellis has an upper respiratory infection and I have been steaming him in the shower, giving him water with an eye-dropper, and feeding him baby food off of my finger quite often each day. Every hour or so I stick my ear next to his nose to check his breathing. He is slowly getting better, but I am completely exhausted. It is so sad to see my normally bouncy, get into everything, insist on attention no-matter-what-you-are-doing kitty laying lethargic in his bed.

Then there is the election. Since you follow my blog you know that I am a rape survivor. I’ve made art about it and I’ll continue to do so. We need to stop sweeping the prevalence of sexual assault under the rug. Since the now infamous tape was released I have been in various states of trauma. The election results have only intensified that. So, yesterday I pretty much did nothing except read the news, commiserate with my friends, cry and take care of the cat.

Today I am going back to the studio. But first I started a new blog with the plan I had to make to be able to get up every day and move forward. 1,517 Acts of Kindness. I posted the first act today.

Next week I’ll try to have more arty things to talk about. In the meantime, here is a terrific prompt sent to me by my friend Audra. I’ve printed it and I’m going to put it in the studio.




Cat-A-Log: A Joint Project With Karen Koshgarian

Since Sunday was National Day of the Cat it seems appropriate that we bookend the day with two cat related blog posts. Last week, Meet the Cats, this week Cat-A-Log.

Several years ago I began a project titled Picturing Dialogue which was a weekly call and response exchange between me and several other photographers, one-on-one. During that project one of the participants, Karen Koshgarian, and I discovered that we enjoyed our weekly email chats and one another’s perspective on the world and we’ve continued with annual weekly photo exchange projects ever since.

This year we’re doing two projects, “Signs of the Times” and “Watch Your Step.” Having a weekly exchange and an art partner is a great way to keep art-making constant and fresh. If you haven’t tried this kind of art exchange, I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for ideas, you might check out The Photographer’s Playbook: 307 Assignments and Ideas. Although we don’t get our ideas from that book, I do have it in my studio and think it’s a great resource to get you started!

In 2015 one of our projects was titled “Cat-A-Log.” We took turns sending photos of our cats back and forth. Karen’s cat Little Rickey is black with white markings, our kitty, Ellis is white with black markings. It was a fun way to share our love of cats and a much needed break from the more serious political work that I usually do. This is one of the artists books I’m working on in the studio. It will, of course, have one white and one black cover.

Here is a sneak peek of the beginning of the exchange. All photos are copyrighted by the photographers and may not be copied or reproduced without explicit written permission.


Cat-A-Log Week 1 by Ginger Burrell


Cat-A-Log Week 2 by Karen Koshgarian


Cat-A-Log Week 3 by Ginger Burrell


Cat-A-Log Week 4 by Karen Koshgarian


Cat-A-Log Week 5 by Ginger Burrell


Cat-A-Log Week 6 by Karen Koshgarian


Cat-A-Log Week 7 by Ginger Burrell

Have you done a project about your animals? Have you done a project with another artist? Feel free to link to your project in the comments section.



Meet The Cats


In pretty much every blog post I’ll mention three things. My art, my husband, Greg, and my cats. They’re a huge part of my everyday life. And often they’re my best, and worst, distractions.

Artists and our pets. It’s kind of a thing isn’t it? I’ll bet you’ve got one or more furry or feathered friends who keep you company while you work. In my case, its cats. Three of them.


In the last blog post Greg mentioned a bump on the head. That was compliments of Theo who is currently sitting on my computer desk trying to catch the pages of the artists book that I’m printing as they come out of the printer. Theo is still young and gets into everything. His curiosity is endless and he really can’t help himself. He can’t hold still. He can’t resist a noise. He can’t resist his own tail if it moves.


Two weeks ago Theo couldn’t resist a stack of paper, that shouldn’t have been where it was, and knocked it off in a sliding avalanche onto the floor of the office. (He is now standing on the file cabinet trying to reach an imaginary bug on the wall, nope, cleaning his foot, now chewing on the tape bit sticking out of the labeling machine and now on my desk in front of the screen so I’m having to look around him to type this.)


There. Now Theo is in the garage with his buddies. The garage is their big adventure. We have too many predators where we live to send them outdoors, but the garage is an ever changing cat jungle gym. It’s where they go when I need to concentrate.

Back to the pile of papers that swooshed down onto the floor. As I muttered Theo’s name under my breath I proceeded to hit my forehead with impressive force on a very sharp desk corner. It turns out you really can see tweety birds and stars…

I downplayed it for a day or two and after four days straight of headaches and the inability to be in bright light I had to admit I’d concussed myself. Of course the cats were thrilled I’d hit my head because then I was right where I “should” be, in bed, ready to pet them.

As you can guess, Theo is too young to go to the studio yet. He’d have a great time, but I’d have to throttle him. On a tangent, Theo is named after an artist. Well, an artist’s brother. He came with the name Chauncey which didn’t fit. We wanted to name him after an artist and his side markings look like a Van Gogh painting, but we didn’t like Vince or Vincent for him either. So we went with the brother, Theo.

Then there is Ellis. Ellis, who is also young, but at 4 years old, twice Theo’s age, is just old enough to come to the studio. As I’m getting ready for Codex my hours in the studio are getting longer and longer. Ellis is so desperate he’s been sleeping in his “going to the studio” carrier so he won’t miss me as I go by. We’ve been working up to spending the day with me. Yesterday he successfully did an hour in the studio without any damage to my artwork or the cat!

He really wants to be on my work table so I’m working on training him to go only in his box on the table. The floor is a free go zone. The table, not so much.

Chinle, who is 17, has my favorite provenance story. When Greg and I were first dating we took a driving trip to the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, etc. In Chinle Arizona we were at an overlook at the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon du Shay) and up walks this beautiful, starving kitty. I picked her up and she wrapped around my neck. Greg asked me what I was doing and I told him she was starving and was going to die. He told me that cats die sometimes. I told him, “Not this one and if you want to break up when we get home I understand.” We went to the local Safeway, fed and watered the cat, and snuck her into the hotel for the next two nights while we drove home to California.

Well, clearly we didn’t break up and, ironically, Chinle is Greg’s cat. She loves him more than anything (And he loves her more, too. He greets the cat and then me. Yes, I know.) Theo loves Chinle, too.

Chinle is a bit too nervous for the studio. She doesn’t mind the occasional visit while tucked safely in Greg’s arms, but she’d much rather be in her heated bed than the house.

So there you have them. “The cats.” In our house that’s often said with affection, exasperation, and hysterics. Usually within the same few minutes.

Which reminds me of a project I did with my dear friend, Karen called “Cat-A-Log.” Next week I’ll tell you about it.

Do you have a studio pet? I’d love to hear about them and see photos. Feel free to post in the comments!