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The Muse's Storage Box

The Muse's Storage Box
Copyright Diane Lou.

Alchemical Dreams and Disparate Realities

Rust and bones, broken toys and old text, game boards, gears and nests. Even as a child such odd, unwanted items evoked a pit-of-the-stomach response that bordered on exhilaration.
While I make no attempt to conjure up specific feelings in the viewer, the ambiguous juxtapositioning of familiar materials creates art that evokes half-forgotten, dream-like visions that beg to be interpreted by the viewer. There is a sense of deja vu (the already seen) tempered by a sense of jamais vu ( the never seen, or the illusion that the familiar does not seem familiar), and this contradiction asks the viewer to dig deeply, to look inside her own repository of wisdom, intuition and experience to find her own meaning in the familiar objects she sees.
The once-private discards of people's material lives that I collect for my art seem to carry universal memories with them, memories that can engage and mystify the viewer. Their beauty lies within the rust, the erosion, the wear, and the mere fact that they were once possessions.
I play with abandon and with no forethought. Each piece of detritus seems to suggest to me a relationship with some other piece, and I begin to put them together and wait for the mental "buzz" that lets me know I am proceeding as I should. Even at this point, I continue to remain in the play state and will not allow myself to direct the outcome of the piece, a process that requires complete trust. The outcome often mystifies me as much as it might any viewer.
Remember when, as a child, whatever was in reach became the instrument of your creative exploration? That is my life. A rusty, flattened piece of metal on the street, a gnawed bone by the roadside, a unique twisted branch from a tree, a fallen nest, a broken egg, a snake's skin, a dead butterfly...all will be added to my collection and eventually have their beauty honored in one of my pieces. The resulting art creates a new story with its own imagined history, one that invites the viewers to lay some claim on it by allowing themselves to be enveloped by the sight, the history, and the ambiguity of the realities before them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A clear view...

A few weeks ago we decided to replace many of the older windows in our house with energy efficient ones. We hired our studio builder and crew to do the work which was estimated at 4-5 days. Like any upgrade or remodel, especially on a 32-year-old house, one thing led to another and now we are having fascia boards replaced, one deck redone and...and...and....

As almost every room in the house will be affected by some part of the upgrade and the accompanying dust and mess, we are looking forward to a deep cleaning of the house afterwards, a repainting of some walls, and so, an opportunity to hang new art and create a whole new fresh look. Last year we completely re-did the two upstairs bedrooms and were delighted with the outcome. Now for the rest of the house...or at least, much of the house.

Shaking things up a bit feels good right now. I have a very low tolerance for boredom or routine, and start to get antsy when life doesn't seem to have enough variety.

We're having gorgeous summery days, and are enjoying lots of opportunities to play golf, be outside, garden and do home projects. I haven't done any studio work, but will soon...I feel that urge coming on again. I've finally learned to just wait for it to come rather than to try to push through it. Ahh, patience....

My show at NW Wine will be down soon (next week), so if you haven't had a chance to view it, please stop by.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New things...

Days have been overcast alternating with sun, in the high 60's or low 70's, perfect really. Not summer as many people think of it, but great for Oregonians. The garden is thriving and, thankfully, my golf game is improving. I started playing (trying to play, I should say) last summer, and it was the most frustrating thing I had ever tried. This year I started with a few lessons with a pro which have made a huge difference and moved me forward enough that I can go play 9 holes with Nils without being nearly in tears. There has been enough improvement that I have gone from just wishing I could be a mediocre player (a big improvement from where I was) to deciding I want to be a good player (that competitive nature in me coming out). I hit 100 balls whenever I can and now that I am seeing the difference it makes (and how much better my body feels), I am even more motivated.

It's been another big life lesson for me too. Learning something new in our later years is something we sometimes resist, but it is such a positive thing. Whether it is something physical, with the added benefit of strengthening our bodies and making us feel younger and healthier, or something mental like learning a new language, or opening up to our creative side, we come out better on the other side. And all become slightly become eager to get stronger, eager to challenge your mind more, or eager to express yourself, or all.

A Portland writer challenged himself to do something new every day for one year. And he did it and documented it in his blog.
He decided his life needed a freshening up, and I think this did it for him. It was a huge commitment, more than most of would want to do or have time to do, but we can all commit to learning one new thing, or doing something we've never thought we could do, and it gives us a bit of a rebirth and a new thrill about life. I have friends who have started piano lessons or painting or studying Mandarin in their 70's. It's never too late!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Transfers and Transparencies

Due to requests from students and prospective students of my Transfers and Transparencies workshops at Art and Soul in Portland in fall of this year, I've started another blog devoted to showing images of the art that I have created using the techniques I will teach in this workshop. Please visit to see my collages at or register for one of the 3 remaining spots at

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Finding a piece of rusted-out metal roofing was the beginning of this piece. Its irregular shape and aged patina called out to me, but, as always, I had no idea what I would do with it or where it would go.

A year or so ago I had acquired some metal boxes which resembled treasure chests that were made of metal and finished to somewhat resemble aged copper. I took the lid off one, put a hanger on the back, set the rusty metal roofing inside and looked at it for a good long while. Because I so like having the viewer have to peer through layers, soon a weathered piece of wooden garden bed edging was placed in front. Next an antique document was glued in the back, and, spaced out from the back, some blue-copper colored printed paper was mounted on mat board and put in. If you look carefully, you can also see a woman's face looking back at you through the the opening in the metal. There is more to see in this, which you cannot see in such a small antique bottle with a woman inside and the word "speak".

The ball on top was a plastic toy ball which I covered with printed tissue paper and mounted using part of a lamp. The distressed copper-colored metal strips (across the wood and at the bottom) I "appropriated" from some old things my husband had. Great color and lots of wonderful aging, rust, scratches...all make it interesting.

This is one of my husband's favorites and once my show comes down at the end of June, it will go back up in the entryway of our home.

(Speak, copyright 2009 by Diane Lou. 20"x11". Photo by Nils Lou)

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Studio

The studio resides at the end of the footpath pictured in the previous post. On our land, this is really the only semi-level, un-tree-covered space...and it is relatively close to the house, just down the hill. It was as if it had been sitting there all these years just waiting. The clear area you see to the right of the building is where our garden now sits...again on the relatively level, fully-sun-exposed site...a site just sitting there all these years waiting.

The building is sheathed in green metal siding, siding that led to a serendipitous creative discovery. After the building was built (with much of the building going on through a very, very wet winter), we found muddy handprints all over the exterior. Since the builders were deep in mud much of the time they were building, it was not surprising. What was surprising was that the mud would not wash off! I used the power washer with detergent...then used a long-handled scrub brush prior to power washing again...then did it all again...and still a residue of the mud remained on the impervious metal siding.

We decided we had some very special clay here, and first fired a brick of it in the anagama kiln. It stood up to the 2400 degree temps without melting into a puddle, and came out with a metallic black finish. Then Nils decided to use the clay in some painting/drawings he was doing. He'd make various dilutions of the clay (slip), pour it across the canvas, then pour water or more diluted slip across that. When it was all dry, he would start drawing onto the surface with charcoal and conte crayon, and wait to see what would evolve. It has proved to be an amazingly evocative medium, with some wonderful clay paintings as the end result.

We now also use this mud/clay/slip as a decoration on pots. Depending on the density of the slip, the color that results can be anywhere from almost orange-ish stain to a deep, metallic black. The effect is wonderful and all the more special because it came right from our own backyard, and was discovered only because we were curious enough to experiment with it to find its potential use. Life's full of lovely little surprises if we remember to watch for them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The path to the studio

When Nils and I met in January 2007, the only studio on the property was a very large damp and dark one which didn't inspire creativity except on the best of summer days when the doors could be open and the sunlight would filter in through the skylights. By mid-summer we had decided we needed a warm, light studio for both of us...and that we wanted to get married.

We staked out the size of the building (a little over 1000 sq ft), called an excavator and had the ground leveled three days before the wedding (September 2007). It made a perfect parking lot just down the hill from the house. A few guests commented, "My, you went to a lot of trouble and expense to create a parking lot!"...but of course, 3 days later the foundation crew had arrived and work began in earnest. By early Feb 2008, the studio was finished and we had moved in.

It's been a heavenly space for us to share. An area for the potter's wheel, Nils's painting and drawing area, my mixed media area, a tool area, a sink, and a space for the kiln just outside the door...and now a garden just outside the other door. The interior is all white with high walls perfect for hanging up lots of finished art. It is all heated with radiant-floor heating which makes it cozy any time of year.

We had young potter friends Jim and Matt put in steps down the hill through the woods so we could easily walk to the studio. Creative spirits that they both are, they took it a step further and crafted a small footbridge over a depression in the walkway, and created a dry streambed under it. A small shrine made from an old rotten log and a stacked rock sculpture, both of which make the path even more special, were additional gifts from Jim. A couple of Nils's sculptures also enhance the walkway.

Their creativity inspired us to rummage through our stash of driftwood, select 8 or 10 pieces, and, armed with an electric drill and some very long screws, create the railing you see pictured.

The path is the perfect transition zone from the "real" world to the zone of creativity in the studio, and every time I walk down or up, I think of Jim and Matt and how creative people can always take a rather ho-hum project to a level of inspiration and beauty.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gardening continued...then back to art

Following a couple inquiries from viewers of this blog, I thought I should clarify that my method of gardening is called French intensive gardening. It allows a huge amount of food to be grown in a relatively small space. It is most often done in raised beds with excellent soil....loose, rich and well-drained soil. Often the rows are only 4-6 inches apart, but by planting early season crops like spinach, radishes and lettuce next to later maturing crops, it works. When high summer hits, the early season crops will be going to seed or far past their prime and can be pulled out, making additional room for the mid- to late season crops to mature. Then in late July, when it is time to plant the vegies for late fall harvest, other things will have finished their cycle, freeing up room again.

In fall, when frosty nights occasionally happen,I'll put hoops covered with plastic over the beds, creating mini-greenhouses which will be used again in early spring to get a jump on the gardening season.

With slightly cooler weather in the forecast, perhaps I won't be spending my days watering, and will have time to get back into the studio. I'm looking forward to the 13th and going to community garage sales in Wilsonville with my sister. New goodies for art, I hope!

Monday, June 1, 2009


Our new garden. I'm so glad we put down 2 layers of weed-barrier cloth under those bark weeding. It's a great joy having a vegie garden after all these years of having no space for one (and living on the coast where it is too cool for many things to grow well).