Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
July 5th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Rain

“I yearn for flowers that bend with the wind and rain.” – Tso Ssu


July 4th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Magic

row boat
“The person that rows a boat is using effort.  But the person that puts up a sail is using magic.  He lets nature do it for him.” – Alan Watts
row boat


July 3rd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Photo Diary: Dreams

This man played music so beautifully it made me cry. Cheers to the people following their dreams, however bleak the road ahead may seem. You do not go unnoticed.
June 30th, 2014 by Monica Murgia


I passed a really beautiful and poignant piece of sidewalk art this morning.  Neatly written in chalk, this message greeted me before entering Central Park:
Hans Honschar write love notes and poetry all around Manhattan.  Keep an eye out.  It’s sure to brighten your day.  I know it brightened mine.


May 23rd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Time & Space

The interval between events is not insignificant.  I’ve come to understand this over the years.  Desire is often not enough to create something beautiful or meaningful.  Looking back, I see how willful I used to be.  I’d toil away at making drawings of people or landscapes.  I’d fill sketchbooks to the brim, trying persistently to create a photographic drawing.  Persistence can be good when it creates discipline.  But too much persistence restrict creativity and freedom.


The illusion of being in complete control of my life and work was, at first, very attractive.  “If I just try harder” was something I repeated to myself incessantly.  This was initially very good, because I lacked discipline.  My life was chaotic.  I did everything haphazardly.  I tried to do so many things at once that I did none of them well.  My workspace was in a disarray and would distract me.  And then I would think of 10,000 expectations and judge my work harshly.  The desire to “try harder and be better” helped me to be disciplined.  Most people don’t like that word.   Yet I’ve come to enjoy it very much.  I’ve designated times for being productive.  Keeping a clean and sparse environment allows me to focus and be creative.  I’ve learned that more can be distracting.  Discipline freed me up from chaos and allowed me to be more present to express myself in whatever media I choose.
But then there came a point during which my desired to try harder and be better consumed me.  I’d try so hard that I lost sight of what I really wanted.  If things didn’t happen within the time frame I’d created, well, it was all over.  I’d push people away.  I’d throw my work out.  I’d burn my writing.  I became so attached to the idea of achieving success – whatever that was – that all the creativity seemed to stop.  I came to resent the interval between events.  Why couldn’t I be creative, successful, in love, or simply “on” all the time?
Slowly, I began to notice that there was some sort of mystical ebb and flow to creativity, and all beautiful experiences.  They cannot be forced.  It’s something that happens on its own.   After realizing this, I just stopped trying.
Now, what is important to note is that I did not give up the discipline that I had developed or the space in which I made to paint.  What I gave up on was the belief of arriving at some mythical point of success that would never appear.  I gave up judgement.  I gave up attachment to a finish product.  To be good or terrible no longer had relevance.  Then, the ideas and experiences seemed to flow through me.  There are durations in which I experience intense creativity.  I will make 5 or 6 paintings all at once, ineffably.  The paintings seem to paint themselves, and my only role is to introduce different colors and textures to each other.
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Other times, I will be in a creative drought.  Either I won’t want to make anything, or it requires such a tremendous amount of effort that it’s joyless to do.  Instead of forcing it to come, I acknowledge the interval of time that passes.
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The space and time in between being creative, being with people I love, and experiencing satisfaction isn’t insignificant.  In letting go, I’ve noticed that experience always returns.


April 22nd, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: The Beauty of Nature

There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time outdoors.  I savor the quiet time, at first getting lost in thought and then letting them all fade away.  Being in nature always makes me calm and serene.   When I come back from long hikes or runs, people often remark that I look happier.  There is something transformative about this time alone in the wild.
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 A Field in Denver, Colorado.  January 2014.
It’s difficult to put into words what I see and how it makes me feel.  For many years, I tried to capture my experience with photography.  Today, however futile my attempt may be, I feel the need to speak about what the experience is like for me.


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 An Alleyway in Pennsylvania.  March 2013.

Walking alone gives me time to observe the external world.  Most of the time, I want to be outdoors to escape the thoughts in my mind.  It’s so easy for me to get swept away by worry and doubt.  Lately, my concerns have been focused on money.  It feels like I’m always scraping to get by.  I scrutinize every dollar I spend.  My social life is far from the glitzy fantasies that a Manhattan address may evoke.
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The Last Leaves.  February 2014.

Like so many other people, I wonder how I’ll every pay off my student loans.  I criticize myself for not having understood what I was doing to my financial future at 22, when graduate school was so appealing and the economy was more stable.   Thankfully, I have a wonderful job and a plan to fix the mistakes that I’ve made.  But staying positive can be challenging.  The smallest event can carry me far, far away on a trail of self-loathing and doubt.

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Evening.  March 2013.
Worrying doesn’t change the situation.  It doesn’t make my payoff date come closer.  Instead, it takes me away from the peace I can experience now.  We’ve all done this.  We’ve somehow told ourselves that happiness, peace, and success are only allowed after completing some far off task.  But experiencing peace is really a daily choice.  It shouldn’t be delayed.
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A Walk in Central Park.  April 2014.
Being outdoors reminds me of what is really important.  It reminds me how precious time is.  I notice how everything changes based on the time of day.  The amount and intensity of light changes through the day.  This makes the environment change colors.  The way I feel in the environment in the morning versus dusk is so different.
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Seeds of Spring.  December 2013.
My walks start out very simply.  I just try to listen to as many noises as possible.  The sound of my feet hitting the ground.  The whisper of my own breath. Birds chirping.  The wind rustling through the trees.  The focus on sound inevitably brings my attention to the beauty of my surroundings.
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Blossoms.  April 2014.
I take the time to look at all the details around me.  The way the light hits a flower.  How an overcast sky turns pastel as I gaze up at a tree in full bloom.  Seeing delicate petals flutter in the cool breeze of a spring day.
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Delicate Petals.  April 2014.
Seeing this way starts to spill over into my ordinary day.  For my 30th birthday, I went to Colorado to visit friends and family.  It was such a wonderful trip.  The weather was perfect.  I was happy to spend time with people who are important to me.  We spent half a day skiing in Vail.  Every view was exhilarating.  But the really special moments had something in common: something very subtle would catch my eye, like:
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Skiing in Vail, Colorado.  January 2014.
a flickering light . . .
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Snowfall in Central Park.  February 2014.
a gust of wind that blew powdery snow on my shoulder . . .
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Snowfall in the Forest.  March 2014.
the warm feel of the sun hitting my cheeks on a winter day.  These small queues snap me out of routine and thought.  I shift my attention.  Then I grab my camera as fast as I can to capture the moment.  How I feel in the moment has no words.  But the picture can capture it more completely.
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The Reservoir in Central Park.  February 2013.
Now that spring has finally warmed up to us, I’m feeling optimistic.  The beauty of nature reminds me that problems are temporary, just like the seasons.  It seems like a great time to stop doubting, to believe in something new.  Forget about time, go outside, and take flight.
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 Flight.  October 2012.
Happy Earth Day!


April 9th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Patience

I’ve been trying to cultivate patience.  It’s not something I was born with.  Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me.  My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties.  I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people.  When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset.  I had no emotional self-control.  Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting.  I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching.  Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
Patience is a discipline that can grow over time.  For me, it was very hard-won.  I still find it difficult to be patient with myself.  But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks.  I think painting has helped me tremendously.  Sometimes it comes out all wrong.  Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort.  Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong.  My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry.  Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or  “I’m terrible.”  But for some reason, I kept showing up.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated.  I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted.  I make plans for the future.  I read books.  I worry about things that are out of my control.  I judge myself harshly.  With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present.  Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway.  I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me.  Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings.  This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself.  My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating.  A new-found patience started to grow within.  I could quiet my mind more.  Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations.  I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient.  My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
Still, waiting always seems to test me.  The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time.  The linseed oil needs time to harden.  At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color.  I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space.  As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different from how it started.
The surface hardens into textures and patterns.  It’s less shiny.
The colors’ vibrancy also change.
New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create.  It makes me realize the importance of being patient.  Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet.  Until then, I wait.  Sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop.  I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.


April 4th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Ineffable: Knowing When to Stop

“If you don’t know what you are making, how do you know when to stop?” That’s a reasonable question.  Yet it’s difficult to answer.  Maybe I can answer it with a personal story.  I started a new job at the end of August 2013.  It’s in a completely unrelated industry – a real suit and tie type of place.  When I went on my initial interview, we arrived at the question and answer portion.  I brazenly asked if I could remove the existing art work and replace it with my own.  (How’s that for bold?)
I got the job, and it was quite a transition.  I’m the only woman in the office (keep in mind that my previous work environments were the reverse – mostly or entirely female).  I’m also the only aesthete.  Making something for this shared space really preoccupied my thoughts.  It had to be appealing to an audience I knew very little about, and one that would have only one real strong opinion about the work – if they didn’t like it.
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This made me try doing a series of small studies on paper.  I used all kinds things, just doodling all over the page.  I used crayons, and colored pencils and markers, and pens, and ink.  When I started with ink, I used a brush to draw circles all over the paper.  Then I made circles with different colored markers.  Finally, I traced the circles with water and a brush.  The effect?  The colors started to bleed out.  All of the sudden, I saw rain drops hitting a puddle.  That’s when I knew to stop.  When I start to see something – like seaweed or rain drops – the picture is complete.  A feeling of finality washes over me.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post – the first in the series of explaining the unexplainable.)
So I had an idea with I approached this canvas.  This allowed me to complete the painting very quickly.  I applied the blue base coat.  Then, I swirled silver paint onto a brush, and whipped the handle in little circles.  I’d have to dip the brush into the can of paint and pull it out quickly – this lets more paint settle on the brush than taking it out slowly.  I mixed black oil paint to a thin consistency and did the same thing.
I let it dry for a week and half.  It still needed something, so I decided to spatter yellow paint on the surface.  One of the guys commented: “Hey!  It looks great with yellow.”  That was another sign I knew this version was complete – someone so far removed from art could judge it favorably.  A man that I did not know well that had no previous interest in art liked the painting.  I’d say that’s a good point to stop.
It took another few weeks to decide where to hang it, and which type of frame would look best.  Here’s the finished product:


March 29th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

New Series: Ineffable

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’ve been allowing myself to really run away with my thoughts; explore my ideas more fully, read, and experiment with new media.  Somewhere, I came across this idea:
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This was such a perfect word.  To say what can’t be said.  So much of my personal work is an attempt to express what seems impossible to say.  People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting, and I struggle to tell them.  Sometimes it can be in one sitting, other times it can take weeks.
It’s even difficult to say how I start.  Every painting is one big experiment.  Recently, I made one for a friend.  It was my first commission.  He was really interested in hearing around my process.  We even had a lengthy discussion about how to hang it.  It’s very difficult for me to explain my process, mostly because it’s spontaneous.
I generally start with certain colors in mind, and not much else.  My preferred media is oil on board, and I like to use lots and lots of boiled linseed oil mixed with the paint.  (Oil paints are ground mineral pigments mixed with a carrier oil, which is usually linseed oil.  The oil makes the dusty pigments gel up into paint that can later be put into a tube.  Mixing oil with the tubed pigment makes the paint more fluid.  There are different ways to process linseed oil, each rendering a different effect when mixed with the paint.  I’ve discovered that boiled linseed oil creates this interesting, textured surface. See above.)
I’ll apply a base color to the canvas with a thick consistency.  Then I’ll mix other colors and make them more fluid than the base coat.  Sometimes, I use a brush and thrash the paint.  Other times, I pour the mixture directly onto the surface.  (The orange, above, I poured right onto the surface.  The dark green color I applied with a brush.)
Then, I step back and look at it.  I look at how the paint is moving.  I try to see how the colors blend, and how it makes me feel.  I noticed that the dark green paint was bleeding out.  It wasn’t really staying in the area I wanted it to.  Instead, it made these dripping, tentacle-like shapes.
After some time had passed, I decided to edit it.  I thought it could be improved.  I picked it up on one end, and let the paint drip down to the other side.  Then, I repeated on the reverse end.  The effect much better; the colors blended so fluidly, it reminded me of seaweed.
But I don’t work on it from strictly one direction.  I attack it from all sides.  Then, I let it dry.  As the oil dries, the values of the colors change.  The surface hardens and becomes more textured.  It takes shape.
I wasn’t sure which side was up.  It’s difficult for me to visualize working that way.  Shouldn’t the entire process be more important than the initial concept?  I think it’s ok for the composition to change based on the process, as long as the product makes you happy.
It made me so happy to see it framed and hanging, too.  I have several paintings that I’ve made in the past 5 months that I’d like to attempt to express in words.  It takes a lot of effort to do this, because it’s trying to explain the ineffable,“ the thing that can’t be said.  And yet, I’d like to try.  That’s what I’d like this new series to be about -  explaining how to see beauty in that which you don’t fully understand.
January 26th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.


Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.


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Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles.  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

December 17th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Find of the Week: Toile de Jouy by Wesley Simpson

Wesley Simpson scarves are one of my favorite things to collect.  Simpson (1903-1975) was an American textile manufacturer who was responsible for bringing many artist-designed textiles to the market after World War II.  World War II had an enormous impact on both the fashion industry and art market in America.  First, it liberated American designers from simply making copies of Parisian couture.  But it also allowed a new genre of artist to emerge, most of whom were in New York.  Abstract expressionism was very popular right after the war.  People had a renewed interest in the arts and the economic means to purchase.  Artists hoped to capitalize on this, and teamed with textile producers to make fabrics and accessories.  The marketing strategy was to bring art to everyday life.
Wesley Simpson
You can only imagine my delight at finding this 1948 scarf by Simpson called Toile de Jouy,in my favorite color!  The scarf tells the history of toile, an 18th century French scenic pattern usually printed on cotton, linen, or silk in one color on a light ground.  It reads:
In 1784, Mr. Jean-Baptiste Huet, an artist employed by the Oberkampf works located near Jouy, France etched this design.  This type of copperplate print, known as Toile de Jouy illustrates the various processes used in printing textiles. 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similar scarf in their collection.  And the Vintage Traveler has the original ad from 1948.  The ad reads:
Wesley Simpson presents a group of new scarfs from his collection of designs by famous artists. Included are scarfs by Marcel Vertes and Salvador Dali.
This is a great example of how various artists, with completely different styles, made an attempt to be more commercial after the war.  (New to my site?  You should take a look at my other posts on Wesley Simpson.)  It seems especially fitting that the subject matter of this scarf is textile printing.  Each vignette depicts a different stage of creating the toile print on fabric.
Wesley Simpson detail


December 4th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Existence is Musical

Existence is musical.  I heard this expression a few weeks ago, and it left a big impression on me.  The idea that life doesn’t have a destination, a goal, is really liberating.  For a long time, I felt trapped in an endless corridor of goals.  I became enmeshed in the idea that success is a far off destination, achieved only after years of school, tedious jobs, and walking over hot coals.  The dream is to one day arrive – whenever that is – save up a bit, retire and then enjoy the fruits of your labor.




Image courtesy of Work of Heart Studios. (And available for purchase!)

Interestingly enough, I “arrived” a bit early and realized that it was all a hoax.  At 25, I had finished a graduate degree, was teaching college, and had all the outer trappings of success.  But inside, I didn’t feel one bit different at all.  I had arrived at the finish line, only to realize that life isn’t a race.  Life isn’t a journey with a serious destination.  To think this is to cheat yourself out of happiness in the present moment.   You delay happiness and tolerate situations to hopefully, one day get there at the end.


Image courtesy of Akademi Fantasia


In music, the end of the song isn’t the point of the composition.  We don’t dance to arrive at a specific spot in the room.  The point of music and dancing is to enjoy the experience.  And so is life.  Life is a musical thing, and the point is to dance or sing along the way.




Image courtesy of Deviant Art.