Tuesday, February 25, 2020

New Modern Mobile Spinning in Denmark | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Ironwood Road

On self belief
“You don’t *think* you can do it?” asked crow.
“No,” replied fox. “I know I can.”

Thoughts while making
In the early 90s, I was interviewed for a new show on MTV. The role of “blonde-haired, Southern California surfer dude” ultimately went to another guy, and I went on about my life.

The Real World is credited with ushering in the era of reality TV. And while there are redeeming shows in this genre, I’m left wondering how we benefit from watching others fail, connive, get shamed, and endure contrived situations that are anything but “real.”

That said, there are a couple shows I still love, @americanidol and @nbcthevoice. But even here, I’ll usually only watch the early episodes, when the contestants are doing their first auditions.

Why? Because for one fabulous moment we get to see something so powerful: belief. We get to see everyday people just like you and me experiencing all the things – fear, doubt, obstacles – and still going for it because they believe, and they feel compelled to express, to dream, to – literally – sing out loud.

Beautifully, we also get to see others support this expression, this courage—showing their loved ones, “Hey, I’m here for you and I believe in you.”

Yes, it’d be easy to get cynical, to write these shows off as overly produced and scripted. But each and every time, I come away amazed at the human spirit and the power of support.

Growing up on Ironwood Road, I felt the support and belief of my parents. And I still do. They encouraged me, invited me to find my own way. And it’s made all the difference. I’m forever grateful.

Where’s one place you can demonstrably express belief in and support of yourself or another today?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hanging Mobiles, A Cat, and The Art of Getting Out of Your Own Way | Mark Leary Designs

Artwork: The brilliant @woman.in.the.fog with my Black Stack mobile

 On magic
“But why do I have to break it?” asked bird.
“Because,” replied fox, “the cracks let the light in.”


“Did you just head butt me?” No response.


“Did you seriously just do it again?” No response.

It was 2008. The room was dimly lit and smelled of urine. This is not what I expected.

I’d always pictured adopting a dog. But after a trip to the humane society, it was clear I needed a cat.

My research told me a short-haired, tabby, adult female was going to be the way to go.

So here I was in a room surrounded by cats that fit the description and not a single one paying attention to me. All this activity, but no connectivity.

Just as I was thinking “Maybe I was wrong,” it happened.

This little-bitty black furball emerged, walked directly to where I was sitting, and head butted me. Twice.

Then, he just stood there; looking at me with these big, bright eyes. A fluffy tail twice as long as he was. And in the tiniest whisper, he said meep.

Buddy will turn 12 on Saturday. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but what I needed was a companion, someone to choose me, someone to show me what it meant to love without hesitation, without reservation.

I thought I wanted a cat that fit my list, but Buddy - a black, long-haired, male, who was just a baby when we found each other - showed me how important it is to get out of your own way and let life head butt when and where you need it most.

Buddy teaches me new things every day about what it means to be really present and endlessly curious, to ask for what you want, to return again and again. And I love him.

Where in your life could you use a little THUMP to let the magic in?

Matisse and the Modern Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: The Classic (spinning in Hanover, Germany)

On design
“But how do I know if it’s good?” asked fox.
“You’ll just know,” replied crow, “you’ll just know.”

Thoughts while making
His name was Henry. And his story *could* have been quite normal. He went to school to become a lawyer. Ended up an artist. Defined an era. You’re welcome, Modernism.

Henry’s childhood was like many of ours. Loaded with landmines. "Be quick!" "Look out!" "Run along!" "Get cracking!" Seemingly constructive, to the sensitive and hyper-vigilant, these imperatives set a high bar. Henry struggled. Stress. Anxiety.

By 19, Henry was already moving up in his profession. But something wasn’t right. He woke with big questions. Ones about purpose, about meaning, about why, about how. Work made him sick. Really sick. Appendicitis sick.

During his recovery, Henry’s mom brought him some art supplies. And that’s when everything changed: “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands,” he explained, “I knew this was my life.”

For over 50 years, Henri Matisse created artwork that would redefine design with the likes of fellow modernists Kandinsky, Duchamp, Miro, Mondrian, and his lifelong friend, Picasso.

When a client recently sent me a photo of “The Classic” mobile hanging in her beautiful MCM space, Matisse’s words immediately came to mind: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity … a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair.”

Yes, a good armchair! And, yes, the invocation + invitation to take pause, to dream, and to consider if you’ve found your own box of colors, and if not, what it will take.

Matisse once said, “I threw myself into [art] like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.” Where’s one place in your life you are (or would like to) do the same?

Modern Hanging Art Mobile Electrifies Eichler Home | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: The Wham (spinning in an Eichler home in Palo Alto)

On home
“But how can it be a home if it has no walls?” asked bird.
“The real question,” replied fox, “is how could it be if it does?”

Thoughts while making
I fear it is still alive. Somewhere. Plotting. Scheming. Waiting for the right time to return. And, yes, we should all be afraid. Very, very afraid.

To call it “shag carpet” would be grossly misleading. Because, in reality, it was much more. A mix of fiery reds and oranges, it was born in 1969 and I would not be surprised if siblings and pets and memories are still lost deep within its twisted strands.

My childhood home in San Diego epitomized the era: a red brick fireplace. Gold doorknobs. Popcorn ceilings for days. Faux brick linoleum tile. Formica countertops. Harvest gold appliances. And that carpet.

Yet it was home and I felt lucky for it, especially now as I reflect on the many places where people experiencing homelessness is sadly so commonplace.

Years later, I would come to learn there were other types of homes being built at this very same time. Inspired by folks like Aalto, Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Wright, Midcentury Modern architects such as Keck, Mies van der Rohe, and Portland’s own Rummer, were reimagining the suburban landscape. Atop that list of visionaries was, of course, Joseph Eichler.

My dad, an architect himself well known for his innovative large-scale work in the healthcare and retail sectors, would later redesign our home—vaulting ceilings, creating walls of windows, soaring skylights … and replacing that shag with beautiful hardwoods.

Gone but not forgotten, that shag lives on in countless photos; memories of holidays and celebrations and everydays that remind me of what really makes a house a home.

What’s one item, element, or aspect from your childhood home you’ll never forget?

Redblack Vanilla | A New Ice Cream Flavor or Modern Art Mobile? Mark Leary Designs

 Mobile: Redblack Vanilla

On choices
“Even if I decide to do nothing,” she asked, “I’m still making a choice?”
And that’s when fox knew rabbit finally understood her own power.

Thoughts while making
I was hiking in Snake Canyon when the trail branched in two directions. To the right, it turned sharply upward toward a bright light. To the left, it descended into darkness. I was faced with a choice. Little did I know, my decision would determine the fate of the world.

Do you remember the Choose Your Own Adventure book series? I was obsessed with them as a kid. You, as the reader, were the story’s protagonist, “choosing” the way the story unfolded: “If you want to go right, turn to page 20. If you want to go left, turn to page 75.”

In a single book, your choices could put you on the back of a galloping horse in the Wild West, hurl you through space in a runaway rocket, and find you saving the world from evil villains, recovering lost treasures, or running for your life from dinosaurs.

As a kid, the idea of being in charge was awesome. Sure, my choices often led to an untimely demise or put me on a fast-track to disaster, but that feeling of being in control was liberating.

It was also challenging. I remember getting stuck on pages, struggling with the question of “what the heck should I do?”

But, here’s the thing: I always chose something. I never just decided to the end the story because I couldn’t make a choice between this or that. So the adventure always continued.

And yet as an adult, how many times have I walked away from adventure because I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) choose between this or that; my ultimate choice being dictated by a fear of consequences, worried about outcomes, second guessing possibilities?

As I was packing up this mobile, I was thinking about these books (the colors reminded me of the cover of The Cave of Time) and how relatively easy it was to fluidly move from choice to choice, not worrying too much about the outcome, realizing that I could always flip to another page, go back to where I was, or even start a new adventure if I wanted. It’s a good reminder.

What’s a choice you can make today to make your world a little brighter?

Monday, February 10, 2020

Ovalteenie Kinetic Sculpture | Modern Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Ovalteenie

 On fear
“But how do I know it’s safe?” asked bear.
“How do you know it’s not?” replied fox.

Thoughts while making
All I was doing was ordering a pizza, but if you took a blood pressure reading at that exact moment, it would’ve been off the charts.

Do you know that feeling when your heart is racing so fast from fear that you can hear it pounding in your ears, that dizzying warmth in your forehead, rapid breathing, the world simultaneously slowing down *and* speeding up, sweat like ink, nauseating?

Ever since I can remember, the telephone scared me. It didn’t matter who it was - grandparents, soccer coaches, den mothers, or even ordering takeout – just thinking about dialing it raised panic.

I was well into adulthood before I felt even remotely comfortable on the phone. And to this day, I still often feel that twinge of fear any time I have to use it.

The funny thing is, once I’m on it, I’m fine. It literally is the moment before I dial it. That’s when fear and anxiousness rear.

Today, I had a meeting with a prospective client. Before the call, those old feelings began to surface. As I reflected on them, what occurred to me was that the pit-in-the-stomach nervousness had very little to do with the phone, it had to do with Before New.

I realized the feeling was the same I experience before a new class, before meeting new people, before that new volunteer gig, and, yes, before talking to a potential new client.

Interesting thing about adrenaline and cortisol which are released during times of fear, they’re also released during times of excitement. So what we feel is part chemical chain reaction, part conditioning. Somewhere along the line, I apparently got the call that new was scary.

The next time I feel that all-too-familiar sensation before doing something new, I’m inviting myself to try on whether it’s fear or consider it may really be excitement. And if it’s the latter, I’m going to warm up the moment with nice words to re-condition a lifetime of Before New patterning.

The shapes of this mobile I painted today remind me my first flip phone, so it felt like the perfect pairing for the topic.

What one of your biggest fears?

Level Change Modern Hanging Art Mobile | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Level Change

On time
“I can’t stop it?” asked bird.
“No,” explained fox, “but you can stop wasting it.”

Thoughts while making
“That’s a car?” she asked. And her question said it all. Almost.

I was a junior in high school, and I was taking an art class. For our final project, we had to paint a mural.

I can’t remember why I decided on a Lamborghini, but there it was. It was supposed to look like it was blasting out of the wall, bricks flying everywhere. But the proportions were all wrong. And the colors. And the perspective. Um and all the details. It *was* red, so I guess it had that going for it.

The mural lived in this dark, unused hallway (which was probably a blessing) near the campus wood shop. Every day, third period, I’d head out there to paint. And nearly every day, I’d keep painting well into my lunch hour.

Objectively, that mural sucked. And I knew it in real time. But from the second I put on that painter’s smock until the moment I took it off, time sort of happily melted away; proving, I guess, that flow state really is about process and not product.

When I’m making mobiles, I have this same experience. Time changes. It softens. It sweetens. It swirls around me like my fuzzy blanket. Would-be problems turn into challenges, transforming into opportunities for discovery. I feel at once clearer *and* dreamier, at home in my body and in my thoughts.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently, about how I’m prioritizing it, about how quickly it seems to pass. I’ve been asking myself: Am I “making the most” of my time? How can I be more intentional with it, present to it, aware of it? My self-talk is not always nice on this front. I’m learning.

As I was taking these photos of Level Change, it struck me how much it looked like a clock. But instead of marking hours and minutes, I imagined the multiple hands charting overlapping moments and memories, experiences and events, the substance of our everyday; a life clock with lines connecting past, present, and future, you and me, from birth and death.
Where have you experienced flow in your own life? Are you able to find that place as often as you’d like? How can I help?


Monday, February 3, 2020

Blue Moon Rising | Modern Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

On directions
“I think I’m lost,” said mouse.
“If you’re thinking,” replied fox, “there’s a good chance you are.”

Thoughts while making
“But how do I know which way is north?”

When I was a kid, my dad would take my older brother and me backpacking. For weeks, he’d plan, buy supplies, pre-pack and repack our backpacks. And pour over maps.

His were green topographical with thousands of contour lines, and they made my head spin.

“But how do you know where you are?”

As a teenager, malls were all the rage. But, even as I was looking at the store directory that clearly told me with a big red star that “You Are Here,” I often struggled to understand where I really was.

“But how do you know where you’re going?

As an adult before Google Maps, we had Thomas Guides: a book filled with page after page of street maps for a given city. If it’s possible for a map to get you more lost than you already were, I was at the front of that line.

“But how will I know when I’m there?”

Maps have always confounded me, so when I send off a mobile I rarely look to see where it’s headed. What matters to me are not the locations, but the relations that have been made in the making; and the precious lines that connect giver and gifted.

In 2019,
Blue Moon Rising mapped these sweet relations of connection 52 times between friends, family, and loved ones from Honolulu to Geispolsheim, Ludwigslust to Toulouse, Kockengen to Montreal, and of course this one given from a son to his stepmom in Denmark.

I am ever grateful to be even the tiniest part of the heart mapping and orientation that occurs when someone generously exclaims with a gift of love that “You Are Here” and you matter. That’s a map I can read and appreciate.

What is one way you can help someone feel “in the right place” today?

Friday, January 31, 2020

Wisteria Midcentury Hanging Art Modern Mobile | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Wisteria (44” wide x 21” tall)

On blooming
“It’ll open,” said fox, “when the time is right.”

Thoughts while making
“When you get right down to it,” my Gramma wrote, “I’m not very grandmotherly. After all, I smoke and do sinful things. I also gamble and like it.”

For as long as I can remember, my Gramma and Tim – her third husband who lovingly called her his Little Red Hen – would sit on our back deck and smoke. Christmas dinner, Easter brunch, birthdays, and everydays, they’d step out of the family gathering, taking a few moments on their own, smoke curling up from their long cigarettes.

“I truly wish I was like your mother, who can see good in everything,” she once wrote, “even those big pants the teenagers wear. All I can see that they do is make them fall off their skateboards. Perhaps, I just go to the Taco Bell too often. They hang out there and fall off their skateboards and bikes all the time. Mostly, though they are nice to old ladies with canes.”

In the winter, Gramma and Tim would bundle up in their thick jackets and retreat to the deck for their after dinner smoke. As a kid, I remember stealing glances at them through the sliding glass door. They were mostly quiet, sharing space yet not talking, a waft of smoky air following them back in as they wrestled with the heavy sliding door.

“I do not react well to gloom,” she wrote at another time. “It seems to creep into my mind and body and messes up my usual cheery disposition. I try not to let it show because your Mom and Grandpa get upset. Since they banned smoking in the Taco Bell, life is really dreary. When I started smoking it wasn’t a terrible thing, but it surely is now.”

In the summer, wisteria grew thick and full on the pergola over the back deck. The sunlight filtered through tangled woody stems with their candy green leaves, casting these shifting shadows of light and question.

As I was making this mobile – of laurel harvested from my backyard – I was thinking about how much my grandparents loved each other, how lucky I was that we wrote to each for many years, and memories of those clusters of purple wisteria flowers blanketing the deck as they sat quietly together.

What's your favorite flower? 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Midcentury Modern Mobile - Pinwheel | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Pinwheel

On breathing
“But it’s just going in and out?”
“You’ll see,” said fox. “You’ll see.”

Thoughts while making

 Have you heard the one about the girl and her bubble?

It begins simply enough…

Once upon a time there lived a girl who loved blowing bubbles. It made her so happy.

“I make magic,” she thought, “with my breath.”

One day when the sun was nowhere to be found, she sat under a tree, unscrewed the cap of her homemade bubble solution, dipped in her pink wand & began to blow.

She blew and she blew. And the bubble got bigger and bigger.

Soon, people gathered around: “Stop!” they yelled. “It’s already big enough!”

But she kept blowing.

“You’re going to ruin it!” they barked. “It’s going to pop!”

And do you know what?

They were right. It did.

But with a big smile on her face and a sparkle in her eye, she dipped that pink wand right back into that purple bottle and began to blow again.

She blew & she blew. And the bubble got bigger and bigger.

“It’s just going to pop again,” they said. “Why can’t you just be happy with big enough?”

But she kept blowing.

And the people – thinking they knew what was going to happen – turned their backs on the little girl and left.

But she kept blowing. And blowing. And the bubble kept getting bigger & bigger.

In fact, it got so big, do you know what she did?

That’s right: she climbed inside.

“Oh,” she whispered, as her feet began to lift off the ground. “Look at the world now; it’s beautiful, all rainbows and swirls.”

As she floated higher and higher, the people turned and saw. “Look at her now; she’s beautiful, all rainbows and swirls.”

But she didn’t have time for those who had turned their backs. She had places to go, things to see, mountains to climb, and a life to live, happy + carefree.

Imagine what would’ve happened if that little girl had listened to the naysayers and doubters. Picture if she’d let others tell her what was right, enough, too much.

But she didn’t. Why? Because she just wanted to blow bubbles. And because of that she’s had one adventure after another … all from inside her bubble. But that’s another story for another time.

Where’s one place you’ll find magic today?


Monday, January 20, 2020

The Wham Midcentury Modern Mobile | Mark Leary Designs

 Mobiles: The Wham x 2
On chakras
“But I don’t feel like I have a rainbow inside me,” said mouse.
“You do,” explained bear, “and it’s beautiful; just like you.”

Thoughts while making
His name was Lloyd. He had curly brown hair and big glasses. And when I first met him, he was sitting on a desk in the lotus position, smoke from a stick of burning sandalwood mixing with sitar music.

Over the course of the next hour, Lloyd regaled us with stories of ancient India, holy sadhus, levitation, transmutation, and things I never even could’ve imagined were real, but that excited me to the core.

The class was Hinduism 101 and Lloyd was actually. Dr. Lloyd Pflueger. And, after 2.5 years in college with zero idea what I was going to major in, Lloyd’s class led to a year at Berkeley studying Sanksrit and Hindi, two degrees in religious studies, and a lifelong fascination with how we make meaning.

Lloyd was a gifted storyteller. Passionate about history, his experiences, and the way past and present, his and yours, here and there, came together in this magical and interconnected way.

I was watching the Screen Actor Guild awards the other night and two things occurred to me: 1) Where else do we get recognized for doing what we do in such a grand and celebratory way? 2) Where else do we have a formal opportunity to stand up in front of our peers and loved ones to take a moment to say “thank you”?

Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for trusting me. Thanking for taking a chance on me. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for making me better. Thank you for loving me and sacrificing for me and believing in me.

For all the bad rap award shows get, there’s something to 1) taking time to reflect on what we and others have done and accomplished in this past year, and 2) to celebrating with gratitude those who help us in our eternal becoming.

As I was looking at these two mobiles together and their circles, I had a flash of a chakra diagram Lloyd showed the class, and it made me think of him, and how he has no idea how he touched me and my life. So thank you, Dr. Pfleuger.

If we shine the spotlight on you for a moment, who would you like to thank?

The Classic Modern Mobile | Talking the Good Life Project and Jonathan Fields' Sparketypes™

 Mobiles: Follow Me, The Classic

On sparks
“But how do I know who I’m meant to be?” asked little bird.
“Keep asking questions,” said fox. “Like a match to wood, they will ignite your fire.”

Thoughts while making

She flew low and close to the ground. Black against a blacker night. Her feathers a whisper knifing cold through desert air.

I’d just lit the old Coleman stove. A relic from childhood camping trips. It’s small round burner glowing, gas blue turning a deep luminous orange.

I was all alone until she came. 600,000 acres of Anza-Borrego wide around, and yet I felt crowded. My thoughts a mob, thugs familiar, loud and unkind: doubt, fear, self blame; where was I going, what was I doing? Would I ever just feel okay?

When she first flew by, I felt more than saw her, a shadow at the edges. When she returned again and again, making these long, sweeping passes, she came closer each time, illuminated by the small circle of light—free and wild, curious and quiet, waxen wings poetic, her eyes seeing a man standing barefoot in the sand, a thousand starlit galaxies within reach if only he leaped.

As I was making these mobiles, I was listening to Jonathan Fields sharing on his always-beautiful Good Life Project podcast. He was talking about his genius idea of Sparketypes™, about finding that path in life that “fills you with meaning and lets you feel fully-expressed, alive with​ ​purpose and absorbed in flow ("sparked").”

His words brought me back to that desert night years ago, and to the questions that raven asked, “What is it that stands between you and that thing, those things, that light you up?”

And it makes me wonder, what would your life look like, feel like, taste, smell, and sound like – be – if you could step around that thing, those things, that you imagine block your way? If you stepped around and followed the light, a match igniting passion?

Perhaps sit with this for a moment? I will be. Then, if you’re curious, I encourage you to learn more about Sparketypes at, yep, Sparketype.com, and share what yours is here once you find out. Maker and Nurturer for me.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Arrow and Pivot | Modern Kinetic Art | Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: Pivot II, Arrow

 On directions
“But where am I supposed to go?” asked bird.
“Perhaps,” invited fox, “a better question might be ‘where am I now?’”

Thoughts while making
There’s a path on the side of my house. Nine oversized pavers mark the way. For 20 feet or so, you enjoy concrete-y goodness underfoot.

It’s a straight line. A sure shot. Makes you feel like you’re heading places, moving with purpose.

And then it just stops. Beyond that, get out your map, my friend, because you are on your own.

The idea had been simple: create a walkway from my side door to The Shed (aka my studio).

In the spring, grass between my toes is a delight. Yet, since Portland winters are wet, all that walking back and forth creates a slip-n-slide of mud and downtrodden grass.

So, this summer, I found the pavers, prepped the soil, got to work … and stopped woefully short, about halfway to my destination.

“I have plenty of time,” I told myself. “Plenty of time to wait to finish until [fill in the blank]: it’s cooler, it’s warmer, the ground is softer, I don’t have so many other things to do,” and on and on.

Big surprise: No other pavers have been laid.

For the first few weeks this winter, *every* time I made that trip - dozens of times a day - I was focused on what the path wasn’t rather than accepting what it was. I berated myself for not finishing, leaving it undone, failing.

How often do we struggle against what isn’t rather than embracing what is, inventing stories of lack and scarcity rather than seeing what is truly there?

I saw a brilliant @brianandreas illustration today that reads, “Try to remember it’s Always Whole, even Where you only see parts.”

In this case, that path has always been complete, always Whole. But I – focused on what parts I told myself weren’t there – was missing the opportunity to see what was: to slow down (so as not to slip), to pick my own path, and feel gratitude that I get to create art for others.

Together, these mobiles remind me of the many and varied paths we each tread every day and the opportunities that lay in every step.

Where’s one place you can gently shift your story from what’s “missing” to a gratitude for what is?


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Blue Moon Rising in New Colors | Modern Art Mobile | Mark Leary Designs

 Mobiles: Blue Moon Rising x 3

On being naked
“There’s so much more to you,” whispered crow, “than I could have ever known.”

Thoughts while making
She was just standing there naked. Like it was totally normal. As if she woke up every day ready for 30 people to gawk at every exposed inch of her bare body. I can’t speak for the other 29 people in the room, but *I* was highly uncomfortable.

When I was 17, I took an Intro to Drawing class in college. There were your standard still lifes with vases and fruit. And there was also this: a nude figure drawing session.

In our very first class, the professor had noted the session, and for weeks I worried myself sick about that one class.

At that point, I’d never seen a naked body in person. I was afraid of what would “happen” to me, how I’d react. Eight years of parochial education didn’t give me confidence I could keep it together.

I remember walking to class that day, blood pumping to my head, the sounds, shapes, and colors of campus a blur.

And there she was. A silk robe. Flip flops. A cigarette. Mussed hair. Tired eyes. She was leaning against a wall outside the classroom, smoking. She wasn’t wearing a nametag that read “Nude Model,” but it was clear who she was.

I looked away quickly.

Moments later, she entered, disrobed. My first sketch might as well have been of a carrot. That’s how closely I did not look at her. But sketch after sketch, I began to take courage, to look more. And that’s when I began to see.

The lines of her. Wrinkles, bumps, bruises. Curves and angles. Folds and hair and sweat.

This was not the Playboy the neighbor tucked between the stacks of newspapers. This was not the Penthouse found in the forts behind our house. This was not even the scrambled cable signal from late-night TV.

This was the human body, in all its variety; every scar and vulnerability tattooed like a story I could never know.

These mobiles together sparked a memory of that moment, of the time when a teenage boy saw his first naked woman and learned the lesson that a body is just a body until the author chooses to share the stories that write its lines.

What word would describe the first time you saw a naked body?

Blue Modern Hanging Art Mobiles | Mark Leary Designs

On privilege
“But I don’t know if I can,” said blue bird.
“If you have the option of can or can’t,” explained crow, “then the question becomes will you or won’t you.”

Thoughts while making
 “Pick it up,” he yelled. “PICK.IT.UP!”

On the concrete in front of him was a collection of odds and ends. A small, blue plastic bottle of Bombay gin. Some loose change. A dirty blue plaid handkerchief and a bunch of crumpled papers.

He pointed directly at a nickel, looked at me directly in the eyes, and dared me, “Pick It UP!”

I’d heard him from a block away. Seen him running back and forth on the corner. I’d watched three groups of people cross to the other side of the street to avoid him.

As I approached, he kept yelling. I met his blue eyes and just smiled the kindest smile I could find. And then it happened.

For a perhaps a second, he was silent. He stood still. He seemed to clear his throat. Then, looking right at me, he said, “Fuck you.”

And this may be the best present I receive this holiday.

Walking around downtown Portland is a lesson in privilege, a primer on the turbulent and fickle economies of fortune. It’d be easy to oversimplify or create labels and boxes, and we each have our hardships, all carry our own burdens: But fuck me if I forget for a second how fortunate I am.

It’s a story, I know (and one told from a place of privilege), but what I told myself is this man wanted somebody to see him, hear him, stop for him, and simply do what he asked: pick it up. And I just smiled at him.

How many people in our lives, including one another, have this same need to be seen and heard? How many people, including ourselves, silently just want to be picked up for even just a moment?

Where is one place you can slow down, stop, see, listen, and “pick it up” for someone—or for yourself—today?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Color Palette on Modern Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: The Bakersfield (44” x 23”)

On paint
“If I could be any color,” said fox, “I’d be happy.”
“But that’s not a color,” explained crow.
“Oh, and grateful, too,” fox smiled.

Thoughts while making
They were yellow. Like my mom’s backyard daffodils. Like the scrambled eggs dad made on Saturday mornings. A no. 2 pencil. Hope.

Spread over 18 miles and dotting a monotonic landscape, each was nearly 20 feet tall, almost 30 feet in diameter. 1760 in total.

In the fall of 1991, I drove down from Oakland to meet my mom and younger brother on the Grapevine, the massive canyon that connects southern to central California.

As a kid, we’d driven that stretch both ways every summer. Going north from San Diego, looking out the passenger seat window, a feeling of leaving the world behind, ears popping with altitude, a hundred adventures waiting. Returning south at summer’s end, a mix of fear and excitement of what the new school year would hold.

Depending on the season, the Grapevine’s hills were painted anything from lime green to weathered brown. Yet if fortune (+ rain + sun) smiled, there was a riot of yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and blues.

Goldfields, tidytips, and phacelia. Fiddlenecks, monolopias, and lupines. Van Gogh, Miro, and Picasso. Klimt, Giacometti, and Rothko. Your world an orgy of colors dry brushed in three dimensions.

Ostensibly, we were meeting to see Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Umbrella” art installation. Enormous parasols shading the rolling hills from a mild October sun. But, really, we were meeting to give and get hugs and say “I love you.”

As I was painting this mobile, its vivid colors reminding me of thoughts thunk as I looked out the car window as a kid, and that windy fall day, and gratitude for the connection that art enables between us all.

If you could hop in your car and go anywhere in your history today, where would it be and why?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Black Beauty | Modern Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

 Mobile: Black Beauty (Approx. 24" wide x 28" tall)

On darkness
“But I can’t see,” cried bird.
“Then, close your eyes,” whispered fox, “and open your heart.”

Thoughts while making
Imagine: With the flick of your wrist, magic. Sparking light in a black night. A moment, bright and clear. A breath taken, a gleam in your eye, a dream illuminated. Offering hope under a starless sky.

Blend together one part phosphorus pentasulfide (P4S3), a little potassium chlorate (KClO3), and a bit of powdered glass. Swirl a small wooden stick in the mix. Then, strike it against the world.

When I was a kid, I loved everything about matches. And I still do. What else do we hold in that way, between thumb and forefinger? What else makes that sound, potential drawn across grit? Where else does time suspend, right before the ordinary ignites? A puff of smoke separating what was and the impossibility it has become.

The modern strike-anywhere match is a chemical marvel. Take your P4S3, add the heat generated when you scratch that tiny piece of wood or paper across a short inch of frictional surface, and the match sparks. KClO3 literally adds fuel to that fire, offering itself up—by way of oxidation—to allow the flame to burn bright.

Between those fingertips, creation held at the end of a matchstick, bringing that which was shadow to sight.

And here we are now. You, the match. The world, your “frictional surface.” With a flick of your intention, an explosion of possibility realized; igniting the ordinary, casting light on dark places.

And what it does it take? Not much. Applying yourself across that short inch: a kind smile, a soft hello, a listening ear, an extra thank you. Watching as your world illuminates around you, trusting your creative spark.

Where’s one place you can shine a little extra light this week?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Passages | Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Passages (36” x 21”)

 On rites of passage
“But I’m scared,” said little bird.
“I know,” replied bear, “but we’ll be here on the other side.”

Passages is part of my ONE Series, a collection of 1-of-1 bespoke fine art mobiles. Each design in the series is totally unique and will not be reproduced. Your ONE Series mobile is handcrafted in Portland, OR, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity. Grab Passages while it's still available.
Thoughts while making
Her name was Anastasia. She spoke slowly, her words distinct and clear. I sat there as she asked me a seemingly endless list of questions, ticking boxes on her computer with my answers.

“Anemia? Arthritis? Asthma?”
“Hernia? Heart disease? Headaches?”
“Skin rashes? Sinus trouble? Shortness of breath?”

How many times had she asked these very same questions, a medical history conflating systems with symptoms, psychology with STDs?

She’d called it a “rite of passage,” and as I was chirping off the string of yeses and nos, I was struck with how few actual rites of passage we have during the bulk of our lives.

Sure, we frontload with “coming of age” rituals. And, yes, we have graduations and weddings, and even retirement parties. But what about the rest of life? Where are all the other markers like Colonoscopia, Menopausism, Crowsfeetasia, and Hairlosseoum?

As we grow older, where do we turn for help to make sense of aging, meaning, and death in the very real ways these show up for each of us every day? Outside of checkboxes on a medical intake form, where are our prescribed rites of passage – that move us from feeling *alone* to *allin* this together?

I am not the first man to lose his hair or have a colonoscopy. I’m not the first person to hit “midlife” with questions, doubts, and fears. Yet we are often left to feel like it’s up to us to figure all this stuff out, isn’t it?

Generations have experienced all of life’s parts and pieces. And there’s wisdom embedded in their experiences, deep, vital, beautiful wisdom to wrap us up, to comfort us, to help carry us forward, integrated & incorporated. But how?

Perhaps it starts with a simple “I’ve been there,” “I’ve felt that, too,” “I’m afraid of the same thing,” “I don’t know what to do,” “Can you help me?”

As I was making this mobile + thinking about my colonoscopy yesterday, I began wondering what I could do to better mark rites of passage in the year ahead. I’m looking forward to it.

If you could create one new rite of passage, what would it be?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Wham | Modern Hanging Art Mobile

The Wham (36" x 23")
Am I Blue (22" x 15")

On the new year
“Can’t I just focus on today?” asked rabbit. “A whole year seems like a lot.”
Bear smiled. “I think you’re beginning to understand,” she said.

Thoughts while making

After the sweet taste of Martinelli’s was gone, and the acrid smell of confetti poppers had dissipated, and all the pots and pans and wooden spatulas we’d banged to scare away the evil spirits were safely back in the cupboards, and Dick Clark had counted us down, we’d tuck into our beds “to sleep, perchance to dream.”

As a kid, New Year’s was staying up late, waking up to the Rose Parade, endless sheets of Chex mix baking in the oven, and bowl games. I don’t remember thinking about another trip around the sun, time being marked, opportunities for resets and reimaginings, or even resolutions. The idea of intentions was decades away.

In high school, I’d drive to a cliff overlooking La Jolla Shores. I’d light a single candle. Review the year. Decide whether – on balance – the past justified stepping into the future or off the edge. It was admittedly moody and appropriately 80s with a soundtrack of The Cure and Joy Division thrown in for good measure.

While I’ve left the teen dramatics long behind, I’m still not convinced by the “new” year. On the one hand, it feels like an arbitrary date plunked down in the dark of winter; one that is filled with expectations, one that doesn’t care where you may actually be in your own trip. “Celebrate me,” it demands. “Judge yourself,” it whispers.

On the other hand, it’s a unifier, an opportunity. “Come together,” it invites. “Because we’re all in this,” it explains. “And time does not stop: you too will pass,” it says frankly. “So how can I help you become?” it gently asks. I prefer this hand. And, in the end, it’s just a day. There are many others.

What can I do to help you become?