All posts by Barbara Hranilovich

Lifelong artist, teacher, learner. Free-lance illustration, graphic design, fine art.

Chasing the Etherial

In a short story about a watchmaker who strove to make a mechanical butterfly, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes…

Alas that the artist, whether in poetry, or whatever other material, may not content himself with the inward enjoyment of the beautiful, but must chase the flitting mystery beyond the verge of his ethereal domain, and crush its frail being in seizing it with a material grasp.

By attempting to express in words, paint, dance, or music, that which makes our hearts sing, we will always fall short. Much like the impossibility of explaining a dream, we will never capture the magic in our souls…a multi-dimensional, fluid, vital, fleeting compilation…glimpses of emotion, perception, and experience.

LaoTsu says it this way…The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

There lies the inherent struggle of the artist. Every piece we create will and must fall short and disappoint. We can only hope to hint at the whole. Some aspect may shine through. Scale, color, or form may delight and even awe, but will always only be a fragment.

But, we keep on trying, banging our brains and bodies against the impossible and by so doing learning, sharing the trial, creating something that, because the magic is the source, may still touch a chord for someone else as well.

We can only ever know a thin slice of anyone, even those we love. We can only share slivers of ourselves. It’s all that unknown that keeps things interesting.

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Finding the Story

I’ve always felt that the strongest artwork tells a story, no matter what the medium.

I’ve been reading works of writers who tell of the process of writing. One of the best is Frank McCort in his “Teacher Man“.  He makes the path to finding the story as clear as I’ve encountered.

Dance is just fancy steps without a story, music just a string of notes. Story is easier to identify in literature. I love hearing people interpret what I may have meant in a piece of art—that it stirs conversation at all. That’s a connection from my head to the others. It might help someone, might open a door or help someome see things from different angles.

I just took a creativity “personality test” by Adobe. It’s worth it to see the fun animations. Apparently I’m a dreamer. In taking the test I was stuck between my super-ego and my ego. These two have been battling inside of me all my life. Rules and shoulds vs my own (free, at least in my mind, creative, introverted, but in some ways fearless) being. I respond to the needs of others. I do what I’m told and try to do the “right” thing. I have a hard time feeling worthy. I have almost paralyzing performance anxiety. It is VERY hard for me to cut loose, to take big weightless (not effortless!) leaps. I hate to use too much material. I can’t work terribly large in my studio space. I think I know what I’m capable of, but have rarely, if ever, touched the ceiling. I also know my limits. I’m a bit lazy. I like learning, engineering, exploration, and process…don’t care all that much for any final product. Or is that just an excuse? Much of what I make feels like a steam valve, releasing pressure, but not really satisfying, stretching, making me dig or connect with anything. Little pretties that will sell. That in contrast to this…perfection and story in dance.

But, I have faith in my hands, in their knowledge from experience. I have felt the flow when hand and head take off and leave me behind…bliss! Does there have to be any more to it all than that alone?

I have often felt like a racehorse at the gate…ready to run without constraint, strong, able, eager. If I let me out, would I just run away and not want to come back? How to I open that gate and still live in the context of others?

Maybe that’s my story.




Play Time

My to do list for 2019
Not seek approval
Be 4 (as in how I felt at 4 years of age at my teeny table of art supplies)

I’ve reached that delicious point in my life that I don’t have to worry so much about making a living. While I still want to work, the focus will be more on creating good work than “sellable” work. These two are not mutually exclusive, but the attitude in creation is certainly different.

I want to listen to the medium, trusting instinct, expressing ideas, making something that moves me in some way.

The other day I suddenly found myself painting. I had not painted for many months, so it was a refreshing change. I found photos of some paintings I had done decades ago and remembered how much I have always loved drawing the figure. I like simple figures in space, not a lot of detail in the background. Body language, color, marks. I had a blast. Maybe this was the first step on the new path.

This piece is called Upstream. It is about the never-ending effort of many women to get the same respect/pay/opportunity as men. It’s about having our voices lost in translation—when men discount what we may say, or the experience we’re trying to express. It’s most certainly influenced by recent and it’s-about-@##%ing-time focus on sexual abuse.



Bittersweet End of an Era

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Grove Gallery and Studios will be closing at the end of February after a run of 10 years. Bittersweet, indeed.

I’m sad, naturally. It’s been great to have a space where I can bring in pretty much anything I create, which has allowed me to experiment—a LOT—but still sell the work without having to commit to an entire exhibit. I’ll surely miss the excuses to see Deb Cholewicki, who was the reason I joined in the first place and whose friendship I cherish. We’ll find other things to do together…we just signed on to do another joint exhibit in 2020. I’ll miss seeing the people I’ve gotten to know or know better as a result of crossing paths at the gallery. It’s a great bunch of art enthusiasts and creative souls with good hearts.

I’m glad. For the last number of years I’ve been the gallery treasurer and marketer. Accounting is not my strong suit, but I’ve done the best I can. We’re legal, current, and on the up-and- up. This responsibility has used up a lot of my brain, and the wrong side of my brain at that. At times I’ve pulled my hair out with frustration and fear of letting the gallery down. I will not miss it one bit and will never ever ever sign up to handle bookkeeping again!

I’ve learned a lot about the coop format, both what does and does not work. I’m glad for that experience and the lessons learned.

I am truly proud of what we have built. We sold a lot of art for a lot of artists and provided something unique for East Lansing. The gallery is lovely and the workshops have been wonderful. We’ve grown and evolved and gotten ever better.

There’s no single reason for the closing. The lease ends in March. When we evaluated all the factors we deal with and anticipate in the future the scale tipped solidly toward closure. It’s simply time to say farewell and move on to new adventures. I look forward to having more time to be in the studio.

Thank you, my friends, and all those who have supported the gallery. It has meant a great deal to me to see you at events an workshops, to see your names on receipts, and to hear that you felt we brought something valuable to the area. I have total faith that some other creative folks will fill the void we leave.

So, I’m marking lots of things down for clearance and realizing just how much work I have at the gallery. I really don’t want to bring it back home. I hope you can come for the sale, starting at the party on Friday, Feb 1 from 5:30-8pm. Many artists will have at least some work discounted. Even fixtures will be up for sale between Feb 1 and 15 for pickup between Feb. 16 and 22. As things clear out it’s going to feel really weird…that will be on the sad side of the equation. That’s life, eh? Moving on.

Looking Back

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A couple of weeks ago someone brought me a bag of art supplies from the 1960’s hoping I could find a home for them. The first item he took out almost made me cry. It was an almost-pristine box of VanGogh semi-soft pastels. These were my favorite pastels…they were why I started doing pastels…I loved working with them…till the company stopped making them. I felt like there was some magic in their coming to me, of all people.

They’ve been calling to me and reminding me of a time when I simply loved drawing with them…the line quality, the tactile smudging, the layering, the absolutely glorious rich color.

I thought I’d warm up with an image much like I used to do in pastels…redhead, sensual, semi-graphic. My two most beloved pets decided to join the party. I was in heaven—lost track of time, just savoring the mark-making. These pastels can simply do things others can’t…at least in my own mind and experience.

They are meant to be used, but I will use them with care, doing little images, so I can get the most from this oh-so-precious box.

Echo…Lansing Art Gallery Exhibit

2018-01-05-17-51-27.jpgAfter 18 months of thought and work, Deb Cholewicki and I have ourselves an exhibit!

Lansing art Gallery is a medium-sized exhibit space. The worry is always having enough work. The BIG worry is always having work of which I can be proud.

Echo is about the conversation between us through our work. I peppered my studio with images of Deb’s materials. We showed each other our work along the way. We both worked on one piece, which was great fun. The fun was seeing my work together with Deb’s—to see how the pieces play off one another and enhance each other. Deb’s work has so much energy and texture. Mine is a bit more sedate, but our colors and marks parallel throughout.

The last piece in an exhibit it the exhibit itself. For us, at least, it works.

The overall theme was the healing power of nature.

Threads of concept:

Diversity…the importance and joy of variety
Paths…we choose our path with every action and non-action.
Nature…get out in it, it’s healing, we need to protect and advocate
Marks…the simple joy of making and seeing marks, the myriad tiny elements of a larger image

I’m glad that this broad arc of thought can come to an end, so my brain can start to think of other things.



The Chaos Phase

in search of the golden mean

I know the exhibit is not till January, but fall is a very busy time, so I was hoping to have work finished by the end of this month…didn’t happen. I’m not worried, but the buffer I always allow myself will be used.

This is the stage in preparing for a show when everything is chaos and confidence is low. I’m in the edge of the hurricane and just functioning…can’t quite get the clarity to see the whole. There’s a lot of work, but does it work together? Is it good enough? Can I finish the last pieces in time?

I do have the faith from experience that in the end some thread of style will hold things together. I’ve seen Deb’s work (Deb Cholewicki and I are exhibiting together) and am excited to see how our works play off each other. From what I’ve seen, yes! It’s so nice to share this experience with her.

So, fingers crossed, I’ll just keep keeping at it, one piece at a time, frame ’em up, and hope…the usual drill.


Focus, Grasshopper!

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. That means there’s been a lot going on. Spring was nuts with setting up a new on-line course at MSU, doing my first Potters’ Guild Sale, teaching at Interlochen, learning and working at the Potters’ Guild as a VP (apprentice), and creating work for the January exhibit at Lansing Art Gallery. Too many hats to focus well on any one item.

Last week I realized that the Potters’ Guild work and the exhibit work were becoming a muddle in my head. I was trying to create work that would work for both the LAG exhibit and the VP exhibit, both of which take place in January. A little AHA moment helped separate the two…focus on one area at a time…I don’t have to do everything with every piece I make.

So…for the Guild work I want to focus on form…getting basic shapes and skills down. Lids that fit, handles that stick, shapes that are elegant, glazes that enhance those shapes. Seems simple, but it’s still an almost overwhelming puzzle for me. So many options. So little understanding of what happens when I use which glazes together and in which order and on which clay. Such a crap shoot till some systems get down, but I do love the mystery and the exploration.

The LAG show is starting to fall into place.

Deb Cholewicki and I are doing this exhibit together and we have been comparing notes. It’s exciting to see the cool things she is doing and have those trigger thoughts of what I might do next in response. This is why the exhibit is called “Echo”.

I love that in nature there are nooks and crannies everywhere and that things find their way into them…stones, bugs, nests, pine needles. These are intimate little places that take slow and close observation to appreciate. Below is a little ceramic piece of such a space. There will be more.


This summer will be the big push for the LAG exhibit. I can’t wait to get down to it and stay in that zone for awhile…be able to look at the big arc as well as the individual elements.

Pivoting at the New Year


Last year was quite nuts…the usual story of too many hats (but they were all such fun to wear).

• Exhibit of Porkies artwork at Grove Gallery

• 4 10-week ceramics classes at the Potter’s Guild of Greater Lansing, working toward applying to be a Visiting Potter, so that I can learn much much more

• First chance to include bowls in Empty Bowls, something I’ve always wanted to do

• Several pieces in “On the Edge”, a members exhibit at Grove Gallery

• Teaching at Interlochen in summer and fall

• Entry in Art Prize (interesting to do, but would not do again)

• Marketing and finances for Grove Gallery

• Creation of countless items for various galleries and holiday shows

• Illustration assignments

• Teaching and creating a new course in the College of Communication Arts at MSU

As I write this incomplete list I no longer wonder why I was whipped and stressed a lot, (though excited and content).


What I learned last year was that I can keep up with that schedule, so I don’t have to worry about whether it’s possible. Next year will be equally busy, but I’m working to streamline things…make the hats at least go together.  I hope to remember to just stay calm, so as not to pull energy from the tasks at hand.

There are three main priorities:

• Teach my MSU class, honing it to make it better and creating an on-line version for summer terms (I think I’ll relax a LOT once that has been developed…it’s the unknowns there that make me nervous)

• Continue at the Potter’s Guild with as much participation as I am allowed

• Continue work on pieces for a January of 2018 Lansing Art Gallery exhibit with Deb Cholewicki

The rest will fall into place around these.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have too much on my plate. I’d rather be busy than bored. Still, I want this whole year to be working toward what matters most and brings the most satisfaction…for me and in light of doing some sort of good. It’s a perpetual balancing act and learning curve.

All I know is that I’m really looking forward to this year and all the creative opportunities it promises.




I Am You Are We

The piece below was done ages ago. It’s titled “I Am You Are We” and addresses how we are all more alike than different.

It’s time to revisit that, so I’m starting to work on a series with that title. The first new piece will be exhibited at Grove Gallery in East Lansing in the September member show (if it survives…so far so good).

In light of many shootings in recent months—some targeting individuals, some singling out types of individuals, I am dumbfounded, for lack of a better word. We all want such simple things: safety, opportunity, love. It feels sometimes like that’s too much to ask. Can we not have empathy for one another instead of focusing on the peripheral and fundamentally inconsequential differences? In the biggest sense we are all one.

I am you are we…together. I hope I’ll be able to honor that with some work.

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