Monday, February 1, 2021

Normalcy, Bob Ross, and Color Unblindness | The Classic Modern Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: The Classic in Palm Desert  

On normal
“But I don’t fit in,” cried green sparrow.
“Why would you want to?” asked red fox.

Thoughts while making
His words like ancient spells, against his easel a brush slapping drums; from imagination to color, color to canvas, worlds born before our eyes.

“Alizarin Crimson and Indian Yellow,” he’d chant.

“Phthalo Green and Prussian Blue,” he’d whisper.

“Titanium White and Midnight Black,” he’d roll upon his palette knife.

“Dark Sienna and Van Dyke Brown,” he’d secret under his breath, a script liner in hand drawing forth happy little trees from primordial seas of Cadmium Yellow and Sap Green, Phthalo Blues and Bright Reds.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you are color blind when “you are unable to see colors in a *normal* way.”

The American Optometric Association calls it “color deficiency.”

Is one deficient when they see things differently?

The client who commissioned this mobile is “color blind,” yet helped me to see color in an entirely new way.

On my own, I would’ve never chosen Molotow Belton paints in Linda’s Sunset, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Lagoon Blue, Cadmium Yellow, Fuchsia Pink, Shock Blue, and Shock Blue Light for this mobile.

Clearly, my so-called normal way of seeing colors was blind to possibility.

How often do we read difference as division and division as deficient? When does normal become better and better become blindness?

As Bob Ross said, “Each one of us will see nature through different eyes, and that’s the way you should paint; just the way you see it.”

What’s your favorite color?


A New Year, Wooden Spoons, and Dreaming of What Might Be | Red Rover Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Red Rover in Tappan

On a new year
“But does anything other than the number change?” asked mouse.
That, my dear,” replied fox, “is entirely up to you.”

Thoughts while making
8:51 p.m.
Does this sound familiar: You’re a kid. It’s New Year’s Eve. Pots and pans have been laid out on the kitchen table. Big wooden spoons, too.

8:56 pm.
One by one, you and your siblings step up and arm yourself: one pot or one pan, one spoon. There were five of us.

8:58 p.m.
Nervous giggles. Pajamas rustling.

8:59 p.m.
You all file quietly out the door, five pairs of little feet noiseless along the walkway. Turning the corner, down the driveway, right to the edge of the sidewalk.

9 p.m.
The sign is given, and all at once, the banging begins. Hooting and hollering. Metal and wood.

Primal screams of children lifting like wild things calling into winter’s starlit night.

A year’s hurts and pains, bads and awfuls given notice that their time is done and sent on their way.

9:01 p.m.
10 little feet quickly scrambling from whence they came. Neighborhood dogs barking.

9:05 p.m.
Martinelli’s apple cider to toast the new year in New York from Scripps Ranch in San Diego.

By 9:30 p.m.
Fast asleep to forget what was and dream of what might be.

Wishing you a year touched by love and light, where the hurts-and-pains, bads-and-awfuls are shooed away into the cold night of yesterday, making space for dreams made real, fireflies and campfire sparks.

Listening, Chili, and Everyday Sounds | Blue Moon Rising Modern Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs


Mobile: All-black Blue Moon Rising XL

On listening
“But what can silence teach me?” asked mouse.
Owl sat quietly, saying nothing in response.

Thoughts while making
Everyday sounds are amazing, aren’t they? The creaking of a cold floor interrupted underfoot. The unsure slurp of that first sip of hot coffee. The metallic uneven twang a toaster makes when you press down the lever.

We accept these sounds so fully, they often go unnoticed, don’t they? The refrigerator cycling on. The click of the heater before it engages. The hum of a zipper being pulled.

As background, they add context, paint depth and feeling. They’re evocative, even when they’re barely noticed, asking very little of us.

And then there are those sounds we notice fully; the ones that cause us to act almost without thought. The microwave with its three beeps. The phone with its chime. The Amy’s chili can being opened.

Chili? Yep. Buddy (my cat friend) comes running any time I open a can. For the first few months of his life, I fed him wet food. But for most of the nearly 13 years since, he’s only eaten dry.

I’m constantly amazed at how deep that sound memory lives within him; a response triggered by a tin-and-steel moment that lasts not more than a fraction of a second.

His reaction is entirely predictable: he’ll come running from wherever he is, meowing almost inconsolably, a nervous and excited dance around the kitchen.

When I lower the can down, so he can smell it – to let him know “no, my friend, this is not what you think it is” – I can almost see his confusion, his disappointment; trying to sync expectation with reality.

And, despite can after can not being what he expects, the next time I open one, he will – without question – come running.

How often in life do we do the same? Come running based on the experience of past “sounds” in our life; a fill-in-the-blank emotion already queued up: excited, guarded, welcoming, fearful, resistant, hopeful, or…

I invite you to listen more closely today to the everyday sounds around you. What do you hear? Where does the past live in these sounds? How do they make you feel? Is your response rooted in the present?

Blowing Up Modern Art Mobiles on Pennyworth | Mark Leary Mobiles

Stabile: The Stand

 On expectation
“But what if it’s different than I’d hoped for,” asked mouse.
“That’s your opportunity,” said owl, “to find gratitude in what it is.”

Thoughts while making
Eight years ago, the FX Channel bought one of my mobiles for a show called “Lights Out.” I was so excited, I counted down the days until the series aired.

My expectations were high, but if the mobile was even on set, it didn’t make the final cut.

Others followed, most recently Netflix’s Grand Army. Another no show. With each, I had similar expectation and let down.

Like many of you over the course of this past year, I’ve recognized once again how expectations can be fraught. And I’ve realized that the best I can hope for – like literally the *best* – is doing my work with good heart, good intention. It’s the one thing we *do* have control over in life. The rest will be whatever it will be.

This year, I made upward of 500 mobiles, connecting with hundreds of people around the world; celebrating birth and love, childhood memories brought forward, the passing of time and the desire for beauty.

And this – THIS – is what brings me joy in every mobile I get to make. The stories. The relationships. The connection. And it’s why I’m filled with such gratitude for having the chance to create and share art, without expectation, whether it’s spinning peacefully in a Brooklyn loft or getting blown up in the smashing Pennyworth series on Epix.

Blown up? Yep, Blue Moon Rising and the stabiles in this post were spinning barely noticeable in the background of an awesome action-packed-bullets-flying-everywhere-around-them scene today with the incredible actors, Jesse Romero and Paloma Faith. It made me smile for what it was, and even more grateful for each and every one of you.

As we wrap up this Year of All Years, where’s one place in your life where you can transform expectation into gratitude?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Traditions, Family, and For Goodness Sakes Salad | Phoenix Post-Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Phoenix (Winter 2019)

On traditions
“But it’s just a candle,” said rabbit.
“Is it?” replied crow, “Is it really *just* a candle?”

Thoughts while making
Years ago, I paid my sister 5 bucks to eat it. She only took one bite. I think she gagged. But she took the money anyway. It was Christmas Eve.

The following Christmas, I offered her $10. She refused. And she hasn’t eaten it since.

My dad, on the other hand, loves it. He could eat an entire vat of it. Probably has. And will again. But he likes slimy things—like flan and persimmons, but not runny eggs.

I ate it. But, since I don’t do dairy or animals, it’s a memory now. One I cherish.

Start with one small box of lemon Jello and one lime. Use 1 cup of water in each instead of 2.

My grandma Camas, my dad’s mom, Lillian Pedrazzi, was born in 1913, and married a fourth generation Californian. They lived in a grand house in St. Francis Wood in San Francisco. She was the first to make it for my dad, and his 4 siblings. Her tailless Siamese cat, Saymiew, watching on skeptically.

1 cup cottage cheese

I broke my arm in that house. I was 3. My Uncle Bruce, a long-haired studio musician for folks like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, was chasing me. I tried to climb a garden hose up a fence to get away. I almost made it.

1 cup crushed pineapple

For my entire life, every fall, every winter, this one dish makes us laugh. Each new generation of Learys baptized by it, watching it jiggle and glow.

1 cup mayonnaise

A few years ago, I made it for a holiday party. One of my neighbors was there. A former marine, proud, yet quiet. When he saw it on the counter, he started to cry.

1 cup evaporated milk

His mom, it turns out, made the same recipe every Christmas. Like ours, it was a family joke and treasure. She had passed the week before.

2 T horseradish

His mom called it “Green Fog.” My grandma called it “For Goodness Sakes.” There are many variations of the recipe. And a quick web search turns up many references to “one of the oddest dishes my grandmother made.”

Traditions are wick and flame, past made present, and whatever you want them to be. What’s one family tradition that comes out each holiday?

Magic, Trainsets, and Kentucky Fried Chicken | Red Rover Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Red Rover, custom colors

On beginning
“But where am I supposed to start?” asked line.
“Your where,” replied circle, “is less important than your when.”

Thoughts while making
I fell asleep last night listening to the sound of trains along I84. Remembering the many places I’ve fallen asleep to the same; from Virginia to Arizona, Encinitas to Oakland. And that’s when I thought about “them.”

For most of the year, they lived alone in our attic. Itchy from insulation. Hot from the summer’s sun. We never heard them, and often even forgot they were there. But they were. Quiet and in the dark, they waited.

Around the holidays, we’d pull down those creaky attic stairs, hinges squealing loudly. Would they hear our little feet coming? Could they hear our excitement?

Moving one box. Then another. And another. Revealing a thousand miles spread out before us, nailed to a sheet of plywood. Hills becoming mountains, animals running wild, barns and houses and gas stations. And even a Kentucky Fried Chicken with its red and white striped roof.

Our family trainset was something to behold. HO (1/87 scale). A powerful black locomotive. Sleek and heavy. Coaches and caboose. Freight cars and tankers.

There were plastic trees and truss bridges and intersecting metal tracks. Street lights and wooden fences and tiny figures.

It was these – the tiny little people – that I wondered most about. That is, when I wasn’t trying to ram the engine through wooden block barricades set up by the enemy.

What were they thinking as the trains rolled on by, round and round in an endless oval? Were they happy? How did they spend their time when I wasn’t watching?

These thoughts made me smile this morning, with many of the colors in this mobile sparked by those childhood memories.

What’s one treasured item that came (or still comes) out to make magic in your holidays?

Ripples, Bluegill, and Hendrick's Pond | Modern Hanging Art Mobiles by Mark Leary

On action

“How many ripples will I make?” asked pebble.
“The only way to find out,” said water, “is to dive in.”

Thoughts while making
What comes to mind when you hear the word “ripple”?

For me, it’s a 7-year-old boy with straw hair, bare feet, dirty hands. It’s Hendrick’s Pond in the Scripps Ranch of my childhood. Eucalyptus with slender leaves and branches that creaked as the sun traveled a day.

What comes to mind is a makeshift fishing pole, tiny bread balls formed between small fingers, carefully smushed around a barbed hook. It’s the sound of green black ducks deep in the cattails; the feel of clay and rock and algae between my crooked toes. And that [[[plunk]]] when the line hit the water.

When I hear the word “ripple,” I see a thousand concentric (((circles ))) radiating out from where that hook splashed down; in all directions, one after the other and another; from water to shore, shore to land, land to sky, and back to me.

What comes to mind is the feeling I felt when I saw that flash of a bluegill’s scales, a million cosmic mirrors, an impossible rainbow; the surface of a murky, backwater pond pierced for just a moment by a flash of diamonds, before she returned to the depth: unfooled by my bread balls and hope.

These days, when I hear the word “ripple,” I think of metal. Did you know metal moves when you cut it? You can feel it shrink and swell with the shearers; energy, atoms, a silent vibration between your fingers.

These days when I hear that word, I think of connection, those 1000s of concentric circles, one by one, connecting my hands, my thoughts, to this, to that, and to you, and you to yours, and theirs to theirs, and on and on, and once again back to me.

When I hear the word “ripple,” I think about this field of which we are. And whether water or metal, breath or word, how instant the impact of our actions, our intent, are as they ripple outwardly, inwardly. And this thought fills me with such care, such love, such compassion.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “ripple”?

Laughter, Magic, and Goldgreen Missings | Pinwheel Midcentury Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Pinwheel (83.8cm x 53cm, spining in London)

On missing
“How can I miss something,” asked crow, “that I’ve only seen in my dreams?”
“The better question,” replied fox, “is how couldn’t you?”

Thoughts while making
I heard her laughter first. Softened as it echoed through fall leaves. Piles of decaying reds and orangebrowns, yellows and goldgreens sweetening the air.

I heard his laughter next. From deep in his chest, I could feel the light spark in his eyes, even though I couldn’t see him. His the sound of one experiencing joy for the first time, again and again.

Hers was last. Sweet and careful, comprehensive in how it filled the empty street. Her laughter a warm coat wrapping the treasured moment she tucked away in that tender, safe place mothers do.

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Laughter.

The plastic yellow bat was oversized, almost comical; the little girl’s hands barely able to wrap around. The pure white ball, arcing slowly, from dad to daughter, dropping to the ground, scooped up by mom and back to dad again. Repeat.

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Laughter.

He’d hold the big ball at her eye level, making sure she could see it before ever-so-gently pitching it the three to four feet between them. With curly blond hair in her eyes, the bat danced in the air – a wild swing – and a miss. And laughter.

I didn’t hear a single “ah, you almost got it.” I didn’t hear any hint of disappointment as she swung and missed. Nor did I hear any “you’ll get it next time.” Each seemed wholly present to - and satisfied with - what was.

And so I heard laughter. I saw smiles. I saw a small human and two adults creating magic together amongst piles of fall leaves on a Portland afternoon. And it was beautiful.

What magic will you (choose to) see today?

Self-Belief, Butterflies, and Lemon Pancakes? A New Modern Wood Art Mobiles by Mark Leary

Mobiles: Wisteria y Glicina, 44” wide x 21” tall each

On self-belief
“Are you blind?” asked caterpillar. “I clearly don’t have any wings!”
“Are you sure?” replied beetle. “Sometimes you must believe before you can see.”

Thoughts while making
Her name was Butterfly. She had blue eyes like cornflower and rolled her Rs and could do handstands. She smiled at birds and said hello to trees. Even the small ones.

Her name was Love. She liked pancakes with lemon and sugar and preferred writing in cursive on lined paper and would skip wherever she went. Even when people were watching.

Her name was Truth. She had small hands that moved quietly when she talked. She once said she could feel smells and taste sounds, laughing at the thought of it. And she believed her cat was the wisest person she knew. Even when he growled at her.

Her name was Hope. She knotted hair between fingers when nervous and spoke with a lisp and took exactly two and a half deep breaths before saying something important. And I often heard her clap when the sun rose and thank it when it set. Even on rainy days.

Her name was Beauty. She rarely wore clothes and never kept secrets and called the wind “her friend.” When they once told her her heart was too big, she thanked them for the compliment, feeling it expand in her little chest. Even as she feared they may be right.

Her/His/Their name was You. And your love like truth can spark hope in its beauty. Like a butterfly, let your imagination flit and fly, tell your stories, dancing like magic on currents of water and air.

What quality would you like to manifest and embrace this week? Love, truth, hope, beauty, or ______?

These two matching mobiles are heading to a grand hacienda in Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico, where they’ll spin above a 17-foot-long wooden dining room table that looks out to a courtyard guarded by an ageless fountain, bubbling. I can only imagine the tales that will be told under them as they catch the desert breeze.


Pema, Kamala, Bathtubs, and the Full Moon | A Modern Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Moon’s Moon (45” x 30”)

On hope
“She told me I am the sky,” said fox. “And that everything else is just weather. Is she right?”
Crow smiled, thinking for a moment, “You are this, my dear, and much more, much more.”

Thoughts while making
It was a smallish window. Roughly rectangular. Maybe a foot wide by 3 feet tall.

Awkwardly placed, it sat above the old iron clawfoot bathtub in my Oakland apartment.

From where I lay in that tub, I could barely see a slice of sky, framed out by stained red brick and edged by the rusted steps of a fire escape wedged between the narrow walls of my building + the next.

I love taking baths, but this is the only tub I’ve hung out in fully clothed and without water.

On cold fall nights such as these, I’d bring a blanket in there, bundle up, lights off, candles casting shadows, to listen, to watch, to learn.

To this day, I’m convinced that that window, an odd-shaped, ill-placed window that never fully closed, sash and casing misaligned over the years, was magic.

Dirty and broken, it invited the world to work its way through the cracks, as wind, as laughter, as the smell of dinners being cooked, as the soft call of birds, as passersby on the street below, as dreams drifted, as friend, as comfort, and as hopes found.

I would lay there for hours and – when I timed it just right – I could see the moon, sometimes even a star or two. It would always make me smile, the room aglow in creams and soft whites.

As Pema Chödrön says, “You are the sky. Everything else, it’s just the weather.” And she is right.

We’ve weathered much over these past years. And yet, your magic still lives, under the moon, between the buildings, through the cracks. It is there within you. My friends, you are the sky, and I am glad you’re here to light the way.

What is one hope you have as we walk into the light of a new day?

Hope, Bird Chatter, and Standing on the Edge | The Classic Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Classic in Linda’s Sunset, Vermilion, and Pigeon Blue

On hope
“No,” explained bear, “hope isn’t just a dream. It’s how you make your dreams come true.”

Thoughts while making
today, I will,
with heart and determination,
with soul and passion,
I will.

today, I will,
to the best of my ability,
no matter what comes,
I will.

today, I will,
because I can,
I’m fortunate to,
and that’s why I will.

The sound of rain on magnolia leaves, ash trees turning yellow, Buddy curled up into a tighter curl than his summer sprawl. Fall is definitely here.

I can hear the birds chirping from one tree to the next about it.

“Headed south?”

“Got enough makings for your nest?”

“Anything I can do to help?”

They know it’s a time to reflect, regroup, and plan.

A time to hope, to work, and to imagine.

Okay, maybe they don’t know all that stuff, but I’d like to think they do.

And, as we stand on the edge, hopes tied to blue, a changing of the seasons, it’s time for the real work to begin.

Take heart, breathe deeply, then roll up your sleeves. Because we’ve got a job to do before spring is sprung and hope sprouts again as truth.

What’s one daily comfort you take or ritual you make as we move deeper into fall? For me, it’s afternoon tea and incense on gray mornings.

Signs, Billboards, and Bold Moves | Pride Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Pride, headed to Minneapolis

On signs
“I keep asking for a sign,” said fox, “but the universe remains quiet.”
“When you’re ready,” replied crow, “when you’re ready.”

Thoughts while making
Funny thing about signs: Even when they seem ridiculously clear – telling you EXACTLY what you must do – they can still be downright confusing, can’t they?

Place and time, willingness and ability.

These things matter.

In fact, they appear to make all the difference - determining how we see and interpret pretty much everything.

A little over 5 years ago, I saw a billboard as such a sign. It was inspiration *and* confirmation. It was up on Sandy Boulevard near NE 55th.

At the time, I was visiting from Bend and my world felt upside down. My head and heart confused. Wrestling with whether I should stay or move. And there it was.


(And, yes, it *was* in all caps).

Talk about thumping me over the head. It was an ad for a local community college with some cheesy hipster getting his pose on.

Yet for me, it was an invitation.


Because life had brought me to a place where I was ready to see it.

To hear it.

And to act upon it.

As a result, my world transformed.

What signs are showing up in your world of late? Are you ready to look for and act upon those that conspire in your favor, inspire you to more, and require you to embrace the invitation?