In the (St.) Nick of time.

I've worked to deadlines for years. 

My life in the magazine business went like this:

"Susan, we need an enormous papier mache pumpkin for a centerpiece.  The photo shoot is day after tomorrow.  Can you have it in New York by 5:00 tomorrow?"

Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "It will take AT LEAST 24 hours for a giant paper mache pumpkin to dry . . . what are you people smoking?"

But before I can process the assignment and voice my concerns, they've hung up and are busy dreaming up the next impossible task. 

And I've never missed a deadline yet.

But this one came awfully close!
I was actually afraid that Christmas in July was going to spill into August.

However, I'm pleased to announce that my Nativity project is finished (and I managed my usual bad snapshot!  Hooray!)

Christmas in July nightmare (working title), Susan M. Hinckley, 2011

Just in time to be plopped in a box and delivered . . . 
so I can leave on vacation tomorrow! 

After I do a few million other things that have been neglected
because I've been working like a demented elf.

Hope you're all enjoying the last precious threads of July and not giving a thought in the world to Christmas. I've done enough thinking about that for all of us!

Small Works will return August 10, 
relaxed and simply brimming
with post-vacation good cheer . . .

See you then! 


Well, well, well . . . . Wednesday . . . (and still working!)


I received a request from a friend  to help her come up with an artist statement for an upcoming show, and while I gladly agreed (because I think going to lunch was implied) I really want to refer her to my daughters with the art degrees.  I have not mastered art-speak, and if I were to write an honest statement about my own work, it would go something like this:

"I stitch pictures.  By hand, because it's the only way I can make them look any good.  And my naive style is naturally occurring because I am naive.  And I try to keep a lid on my neuroses, but you can see I'm quirky.  And since I sort of forgot to have a real career, I really hope someone will buy my art. Because I'm afraid to write books and submit them to publishers. And writing is the only other thing I'm good at . . . except writing about art, and there I have no clue.  But I guess you could see that."

That's about my speed on an artist statement.  Luckily, my Creative Writing BA has enabled me to dress it up a bit -- at least the BS is usually grammatically correct.  But I'm not fooling anyone with an MFA.

And I'm being honest.  So my advice to my friend is, let's have lunch anyway.  Because you also like to make pictures with millions of tiny stitches, and it's comforting to be with similar fellow-neurotics.

Now here's a Small Works re-run 
that can hopefully help us both,
and provide YOU, Dear Reader, 
with a little mid-week fun as well:

 "An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one."

A man named Charles Horton Cooley said that.

I have no idea what Charles Horton Cooley looked like, 
so New Neighbor No. 8 will have to stand in. I hope Charles won't mind.

My mother once said:

"You're famous to me!"

Although it was a sweet, mother-like thing to say, somehow it didn't necessarily make me feel more successful.

F Minus, Tony Carrillo

Occasionally I'm forced to do something as an artist that makes me really nervous. This week it was submit a sketch with a proposal. Drawing is my artistic Achilles' Heel, and nothing makes me more afraid that someday I'll be kicked out of the club.

Well, drawing AND talking about art. I think because I don't have an art degree, I haven't learned to converse with the proper amount of artsy B.S.

But take heart, would-be and wannabe artists everywhere, because today I have some

Friday (well . . . Wednesday) Fun for Everyone!

It's PIXMAVEN, a little gem that will generate all manner of artistic baloney for you to say when you need to sound educated in the art criticism arena.

All you do is submit a 5 digit number, and the site strings together some phrases from a bunch of numbered nonsense that can be applied in any art situation to virtually guarantee success.

By inserting my childhood zip code, for instance, I was able to come up with this:

"It's difficult to enter into this work because of how the reductive quality of the sexual signifier verges on codifying the remarkable handling of light."

How many times have I wished I'd said that?

And my old Seattle zip code yielded this:

"As an advocate of the Big Mac Aesthetic, I feel that the mechanical mark-making of the biomorphic forms brings within the realm of discourse the eloquence of these pieces."

When's my next gallery opening?
Or is it time for a new artist statement?

Or maybe I should have generated a smart-sounding explanation of my dumb-looking sketch before I sent it in . . .

All I know is,
success may finally be
within my grasp!

Pearls Before Swine, Stephan Pastis

Happy Wednesday!  
(Hope you're further along 
your week's to-do list than I am . . .)


Monday means a civic . . . and generally responsible . . . mindset.


Last week of July already?!  

Last year at this time, I was in a bit of a panic getting ready to load up the truck for the trek to San Francisco for the ACC Show.  Unfortunately, this year I will not be able to freeze in August in that beautiful city (nor eat world-class Chinese food) . . .  instead, I will sweat while mired in Christmas right here at home (eating Special K -- bleh.)

I just wish the ACC would quit sending me emails every day to remind me that I am not there . . . a fact of which I am already painfully aware.  But we can't have everything we want, and sometimes other considerations plant themselves firmly in the way (read: family reunions).

All of which doesn't mean I'm not in a panic and getting ready to load up the truck! We are going on a vacation next week (hence the Special K)  and I HAVE procrastinated successfully enough and for a long enough period of time that I will be working on my nativity piece right up until the moment that I zip my suitcase!

It's nice to have things you can count on.

These days it seems one of those things is an ever-present political brouhaha in this great country. A mighty clamor about something or other --

Michele and Sarah vie for the media spotlight 

with both sides claiming to be ordained (in a spirit of cooperation!) to seize the baton-of-best-interests of "the American people" in one hand, and a giant flag in the other, for a sprint to the promised land our forefathers really imagined, bathed in the glory of Democracy and divine power afforded them by whatever mandate they imagine put them in office . . .

Sometimes I wonder who these "American people" are that they keep referring to, as if we are a tidy bunch snug in the back pocket of only some of our elected officials.  Because when I look around I see a whole lot of diversity.  And I voted, but I did not vote to be kept in the pockets of the people who seem to think they have me there.

Although Small Works  is a largely politics-free zone . . . in order to divert our attention from the potential smacking of our collective heads on the debt ceiling, I thought we could have some feel good patriotic moments on this Monday!

Leave it to Stephan Pastis to kick things off right:

I thought that cartoon was really funny . . . 
until I remembered this book I purchased a few years ago:

As I flipped through the pages, I couldn't really believe the flag-waving (propagandizing) that was being done under the guise of a reading primer . . .

But since listening to a few more news reports, I have decided perhaps it is just about time to return to some simple ideas.

I particularly liked number 5.  Minnesota could have avoided the longest government shutdown in history if Miss Hill (is her first name Capitol, btw?)  had given that lesson more recently than 1940.

We've gotten so smart and correct and modern and uppity these days, 
we can't seem to get ANYTHING done.

I'm considering packaging up the whole book and sending it to my elected officials.  Maybe Al Franken could get some mileage out of it in the House . . . 

And while Al's working on that, 
I guess I should take my own advice and review rule number 7.

Which means get off the computer and get back to work.
Or should I say, "begin work." 

Okay, okay . . . 
class dismissed.



Dear John . . . (and Ben, Adam, Hoss, and yes, Little Joe)

I couldn't have been more surprised  the day I made Lindsay macaroni and cheese and she refused to eat it.  She'd wanted nothing else for the first several years of her childhood.  Actually, she alternated between mac-n-cheese and graham crackers.  Then one day she turned her nose up at both with absolutely no warning.  I kept buying them for awhile thinking surely it was just a contrary mood and would pass, but now that she's 28 I'm beginning to think it's a life choice.  These things happen, I guess.

I shouldn't be surprised, since everything in my own life seems to go in jags as well.  If I'm eating Mike & Ikes, then I am eating them by the case.  But don't expect to find Mike or Ike in my house after the switch gets flipped and I start on something else.  It's frustrating for my family, because just about the time they get really attached to something in the pantry, it usually disappears.

That's why Hannah may be disappointed  to learn that I'm experiencing a bit of Bonanza ennui.  I just think it's possible I may have seen every Bonanza episode one time too many.  And I suspect Hannah's crush on Little Joe was just starting to heat up . . .

The Cartwright Clan, my long-time studio companions

I cut myself back to one episode per day some time ago, but I've noticed in the past few weeks, I haven't been able to make it through the one episode.

Hoss and Joe are blindsided by the news of Susan's betrayal

I know . . . we're all a little bewildered by it.

For the record (and so they don't take it personally) I've also stopped being a news junkie.  The constant yammering of talking heads was starting to make me tired.  So I've turned it off for a while.

The debt ceiling may or may not get raised, but in either case I will not have listened to every single word said about the issue.

Instead, I've been listening to a little music while I work.

Not only that, but a little new music! By which I do not only mean it was recorded after 1980 . . .
And what a welcome break from daytime diabetes-testing and life insurance advertisements!

Here are a few of my favorite new friends:

I hope the boys at the Ponderosa will understand. 
I just think we need a little time apart.  It's not them, it's me.  Mike and Ike could have told them I have a fickle heart.

They're just as full of goofy western goodness as they always were, but we were bound to part ways eventually.  People change.  Well, the Cartwrights don't seem to, but the rest of the world does.

And that's good to know.  After my break, I'll be able to saddle up and ride out to the ol' homestead and I know they'll be waiting for me.

They'll sing me their familiar theme song.  Hoss will have really bad hair.  Joe will need to button up his shirt a notch.  Adam will act a little superior due to his education back east.  And Ben will be presiding, making sure that everything turns out exactly the way it was meant to be.


So let's not say good-bye, 
let's just say
see you next time. 

And until then . . . . 
Happy Trails!





Game on . . .

I have been black and blue in some spot, 
somewhere, almost all my life 
from too intimate contacts 
with my own furniture.

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

I came across this quote recently and have absolutely no idea about the context of it, although I know a fair amount about Frank Lloyd Wright.  I know there were substantial control-freak issues, for instance.  So we understand each other in some fundamental ways.

But no matter what the circumstance that inspired his words, 
I am glad to have found this idea on its own.  

It immediately brought to mind the image of an artist banging his head against his own work.  Or his hands.  Or his heart.  Because I know too well that sometimes creating feels a little like mortal combat.

Which can result in bruises.

There can be pain in the most physical sense, of course -- some of my fingertips were like hamburger throughout my quilting years, for instance -- but there's also the psychic pain of trying so hard to say a thing and yet not quite being able to master the art of your communication.

The maddening stutter and stammer 
of trying to get it out.

I can't imagine how many times an artist has read a review of their work and thought, "They didn't understand what I was trying to say at all.  They missed the entire point."

Like when people glance at my work and say, "Cute.  But I don't have kids." 

That's when I know we have a failure to communicate.  So I try again.

The difference between the right word 
and the almost right word 
is the difference between lightning 
and a lightning bug.

-- Mark Twain

Twain chose just the right word so often, it's difficult to believe there were many he missed.

In fact, looking at a complete (and extensive) body of work such as Wright's or Twain's, it's a little hard to imagine that they didn't always get it right without too much struggle.

Because such work seems to have always been -- hanging like part of an ongoing conversation, ready for the world to hear and understand it immediately and completely.

Waiting for us all to just nod our heads and think, "Exactly."

I'm going to take Frank Lloyd Wright's quote as something of a confession, and find some comfort in the idea that there was a bit of a battle sometimes before he got it exactly the way he wanted it to be.

And then of course 
try to go the distance
in my own fight.   



"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither . . .

. . . but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate."   

Thornton Wilder

If you're a person who likes to get sympathy from others, 
Minnesota is a great place to live.  There's always plenty to complain about, and usually you can back it up with some sensational hard facts. Just last night on the national news, I watched a reporter complain loudly about the weather while standing in our own Lake Harriet -- great press about our plight!

Aunt Lillie would have had a heyday with it.  She always had a malady or conspiracy to worry/complain about, but most of her evidence came from places like the National Enquirer, so it was hard to take her concerns seriously. (I blame her for the genes that contributed to this aspect of my personality.)

Today, however, every meteorologist in the world would likely agree that Minnesota may be THE place on earth where hell actually does freeze over.  That's hard to imagine, of course, because today we are stewing in our own juicy hell.  But we know that this hell will eventually freeze over again, and HARD.

This kind of heat just makes you grateful for the little things, like air-conditioning and ice cubes. 

Having spent plenty of years without them, I appreciate their worth.

Today I'm lucky to find myself in a refrigerated studio with 32 ounces of icy heaven at my fingertips, and yet as I sip my diet Coke I can't help but reminisce . . .

I grew up in a house with a commercial ice cube maker.  Not exactly like you find in a hotel, but it was a stainless steel door in the butler's pantry (I grew up in a house with a butler's pantry -- sadly, no butler) that you opened and behind it was a deep vault of PERFECT ice cubes.  By perfect, I mean the ideal ratio of frozen-ness to melty-ness.  In an ideal size. Exactly right for chewing, should you be so inclined, and not so frozen that when you poured a drink over them you had to wait for a lot of foam to subside. It was one of the highlights of my childhood.

Having spent a little time in the world, I now realize that ice was probably overly important to us. But all I knew then was that I felt great pity for every person on the planet who didn't have perfect ice all the time.

Which left me plenty of room to feel sorry for myself once I moved out, and through a series of bad apartments that were distinctly lacking in cool of all kinds.
Yes, ice was one of the true growth markers 
along my transition to adulthood.

It was a tough day when I realized I was going to have to step up and be responsible for making my own.  And I can state right here that living up to the ice cubes of my youth has been a mostly vain pursuit. There's a pretty gaping hole in the butler's pantry of my life where the ice maker should be.

Since the sale of my parents home in 1987, 
I don't think I've ever experienced another perfect ice cube. 

Some things are ethereal, 
and are never meant to last . . .

On a day like today, all you need to do is step outside and have your glasses fog up immediately to think, "I know why Susan wrote a whole blog post about something dumb like ice." 

Unfortunately, in a few months you will also be able to step outside and have your glasses freeze to your face immediately and think, "Oh no -- Susan is going to write a whole blog post about ice."  

You've been warned.

(Happy Stay-Cool-Monday!)



Friday, Friday . . . yours and my day . . .

What is it about waking up 
and knowing it is Friday that is 
so gosh darn smile-inducing?

Probably has something to do with the fact that it often signals a break in the work cycle.  Today I can breathe a sigh of relief because the REALLY scary part is over:

Baby Jesus was well-behaved,
but his mother has been 
quite another story.  

But since it's Friday, 
we won't dwell on difficulties.


Instead, we'll talk about Friday fun!

And the best kind of Friday fun I know is actually Friday YUM.  I often find myself in the kitchen on Friday -- it has become designated treat day, and since baking relaxes me it is usually just the thing to decompress from a week of sitting at my desk forgetting to breathe.

On this particularly thundery Friday, I decided to try an idea I've been toying with ever since I laid eyes on this swell invention earlier in the summer:

marshmallow producers of the world??!!

I bought the bag last month but they've been sitting in the cupboard waiting for just the right moment to make their debut, and today we both sensed it was time . . .

So I whipped up a batch of my favorite fudge frosting, and made a 15 minute treat that looks like Friday-on-a-plate to me:

Susan's Cheater S'mores 
(no bonfire required!)

Fudge Frosting:

Melt 2 squares unsweetened chocolate.  Add 2 tbsp. butter, and stir well until butter has melted.  Add 2 cups (I usually add a bit more) powdered sugar, 3 Tbsp. milk and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  If frosting is too thick, thin with warm water, a few drops at a time.

Now work fast, because this frosting sets quickly!  Break the graham crackers into fourths, spread each cracker with frosting and sandwich with a marshmallow slab. 

Of course, you could dress them up with a melted chocolate drizzle, but since Hannah and I are going to be eating them all, I don't think I'll bother.  (I cut the frosting recipe in half and ended up with 16 cookies.  Yes, that means EIGHT APIECE! Here I feel I must clarify that Russ is out of town, and I was missing him quite a bit right up until I did that math . . .)

If you are less piggish than we are here at Small Works, store them in an airtight container.

Now . . . while you're eating, 
you'll want something to entertain yourself.  
So I'm going to share with you my 
favorite movie I've seen in FOREVER . . . .

Tamara Drewe

Redbox it, Netflix it, get it wherever you can, but you owe it to yourself to see it!

It's a delightful British comedy, sort of about a group of writers at a retreat, but really about so much more.  It's based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, which is on my gift wish list, if anyone is listening (hint hint).

Okay . . . I've given you plenty of fun to hold you until Saturday. So go have some!  I hope the sun is shining on you all weekend (and if it is, could you send a little north please?) 





Wednesday brings a few welcome words . . .

I opened my email this morning 
and found a lovely surprise -- 
a note from a new friend! 

She explained that she had seen my work at Show of Hands in Denver. And I was amazed that she took the time to let me know that she had subscribed to my blog, visited my website and ordered from my Etsy shop.

She also said she wanted me to know that my efforts to get myself out there were working.

And while the Etsy order was great, her email was better still.  Her kind feedback made it a lot easier to settle down to my desk and the daunting task of the day: stitching Mary's mouth.

(so far I've done pretty well
not complaining to you about 
my Nativity piece in progress, 

But . . . grrrrrr!)

Anyway, the kindness of one fellow art lover reminded me of a piece I wrote for the TAFA blog awhile back, so I thought I'd share it with you here.

Sometimes as an artist 
it is hard to know
whether you are really 
reaching your audience.

Long days spent isolated in the studio can translate into all kinds of self-doubt:

Will anyone understand what I'm trying to say?

Is what I'm doing worthwhile?

Would anyone ever want to buy this?


That's why I try to leave feedback for people when I come in contact with their work. I know that when I do shows, the people who take the time to sign my book or leave a comment value what I do, even if they can't afford to take it home or have no space in their lives (or on their walls) for a long-term relationship.

Which I understand because I'm also poor and my walls are full.

But art nourishes my soul
so I am careful to take 
the time to say "thank you."

It's so easy!  Just point it out when you see something you like, or something that you feel the artist should continue to explore.

One of the most helpful comments I ever received was from a woman who told me a particular piece "had legs." From those simple words I knew I had an idea that meant something, so I worked on pushing that idea as far as it could go. (And the woman has become a very supportive friend and collector.)

It only takes a second to mark a "favorite" on an Etsy shop, or say "well done, and I especially liked that --" on a blog post.

It's the least we can do for our like-minded art loving friends who spend so much time and energy putting beauty into the world.

Just leave a little trail of appreciation crumbs as you make your way through the show or around the web -- it's sure to lead someone back to your own world and work, and you may find a kindred spirit.

At the very least, you'll be giving 
an artist the encouragement 
they need to keep creating . . .


. . . something from which we all benefit.

Don't ever underestimate 
the worth of a well-placed word.  
Some days, that may be 
the most valuable pay there is.

Happy Wednesday, one and all!

(and a special thanks to YOU, writer of kind email -- you know who you are!)



"We can't plan life. All we can do is be available for it" . . . . Lauryn Hill

There are some things going on in my life  right now that were definitely not part of the plan.  In fact, a lot of days I wake up and think, "Now wait a minute -- I didn't think it would be like THIS."  But as I've chewed on it, I've realized that most of us are probably in the same boat.

I'll bet if I walked up to 10 people on the street and asked them, "Did you ever think _______?" (filled in with a detail from their own lives, of course) 9 would say, "No way." And the other one just wouldn't have lived long enough yet.

Heck, just getting close enough to age 50 to stare it in the face once seemed impossible (unless I was looking at my parents)!

And intellectually I know that if you want to give the Universe a really good belly laugh, the best way to do it is to make a lot of detailed plans.

You can plan events, 
but if they go according to your plan 
they are not events.

-- John Berger

The fortune cookie gods must have understood my current mind-set when they planted this at my most recent Chinese food encounter:

Now come on, guys . . . even I know it's not THAT dire.

Russ and I were talking about all of this the other day, and the conversation drifted toward choosing a time we would go back to -- like if we could rewind to the place where we REALLY felt like we had control, maybe we could keep a tighter rein on things going forward and stay a bit truer to our course.

Problem was, we couldn't choose that time.  Finally we looked at each other and laughed, "This may be the best time!"

Unfortunately, that reminded me of THIS fortune that came out of a cookie from the same plate as the one I shared above:

This on a day when, unfortunately, my face was having a flashback to 7th grade.  Gee whiz.

Anyway, it was a great Hinckleyville weekend! 

Because it was a time to feel like I grabbed a little piece of something
I could understand and hang on to -- a shard of the original plan, so to speak.

As a dyed-in-the-chlorine swim parent, I spent YEARS in the bleachers watching all three of my girls practice and compete (you can't imagine how many vials of beads I've spilled and needles I've lost poolside -- sorry!)  The one who showed the most promise had her career cut short by health problems that seemed patently unfair and really threw a wrench into things for all of us.

And when the girls were grown and swimming ended, a big part of the family culture we had built suddenly got out of the pool and walked away with them.

So when that daughter whose health so unfairly sidelined her to the couch (for a long time!) was able to compete in her first triathlon this weekend . . . AND we were all there to watch in amazement as she accomplished tasks we thought had become forever impossible . . . AND I could hear the familiar shouts of her sisters and her dad cheering her on . . .

well, it was just a great moment.

It reminded me that yes, this is still my life, I'm still here -- and some great people are with me on this journey, no matter how strange or twisty the path may become. Which makes it okay.

 The Team Hinckley cheerleaders' reunion (with their reborn athlete)

It reminded me that life is good, 
even when it's hard.
Thanks, Universe . . . I needed that.

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