happiness is… research note #17

Studio view

Studio view.

A few fragments at the end of a 5.5-week residency at Montalvo…

My art expresses optimism and positivity. I do, at times. And not, at others. Just like most everybody else.

In the past two weeks, I made five Irrational Exuberance Flags. Each ~4×6′ flag and accompanying sash takes at least two long days to design, pattern, cut, sew, and finish. Working late and waking early, with noisy storms puncturing my sleep, I fell into exhaustion and crankiness. It’s ironic—the project is intended to inspire delight and pleasure.

I do strive to apply positive psychology to my process. Most often, I find flow in production, zoning out with podcasts on—just enough noise to prevent negative rumination. But I’m goal-oriented, and with production deadlines looming, I dug deep. Put my game face on. Chunked it out.

And I’m so glad I did. A few days ago, on a sunny, windy day, I did a test run and hoisted the flags on Montalvo’s 30-foot flagpole. After a year or more of only seeing these flags as sketches and prototypes, my flags were finally flying!

If you have never hoisted a flag, I highly recommend it. It’s joyous.* Hoisting a flag is somewhat like flying a kite—you watch it go up, up up, and it takes on new shapes and an endless variety of motions. Like kites, flags catch the wind as well as the light, with just enough translucency to appear to glow against blue skies.

(*Here’s your chance to hoist a flag: the public will be invited to sign up to select an Irrational Exuberance Flag and raise it on Montalvo’s flagpole as during the course of the Happiness Is… exhibition.)


After looking at the flags on the flagpole, I realized that one flag design was too much of an outlier. I knew it in my heart when I woke up this morning, on my last full day of this stint of the residency. Jumping right back into do-work mode, I made a sixth flag and sash to take its place today.

Most viewers won’t know about this extra step, but I know…. I know that bringing the project that much closer to the best it can be is deeply satisfying. I traded off the positive affect of a more leisurely pace for the chance to reflect on this project and have no doubts or regrets. And I’m glad I did.

Montalvo has been a lovely experience of time, space, focus, and support. Kind people and diverse artists. Lovely redwood creek, brushy orchards, lovingly prepared food. A nicer, larger studio than I’ve ever been able to afford, and will ever for quite some time. The opportunity to realize large projects that have just been sketches carried around in notebook after notebook.

Homesickness, too. Nostalgia for affection. For small, mundane rituals. The holidays in a wood-stove-warmed house, snow outside, laughter of children, awaiting.

Artworks packed up, ready for my return in January to install the exhibition. Studio is clean again. Without  clutter, the endless bits of thread stuck on my clothes and shoes, it all looks newer, and ready for more projects. Ambivalence means being pulling strongly—equally—in two directions. I am ready to go home. But I look forward to coming back.

Happiness Is… opens Friday, January 25th at Montalvo Arts Center’s Project Space Gallery. Opening Friday night, artist’s talk Saturday. Full list of events and gallery hours here.