Unwrapping the Present

It's Wednesday night rush hour, stand still traffic between I-90 West and I-5 South. I feel like a hockey player stuck in the pen, wanting to get where I'm going as quickly as possible, frustrated, helpless, hating this moment of my life.

Then I notice the sloping curves of the highways, the way they cross and become an archway over the traffic. Suddenly, I am sitting in a beautiful space. I'm imagining the cars as a school of fish, moving through coral archways, towards a glowing blue and green dome in the background. I am a scuba diver experiencing wonder and awe. It occurs to me that fish probably don't get frustrated trying to get somewhere; they're just feeling the water on their scales, the swish of their fins, the colors of the sea.  I am in a beautiful space, and loving this moment of my life.

I believe that any moment can be transformed by a willingness to unwrap it like a present, with childlike anticipation and a certainty that it will surprise and delight.  -This is the work I undertake as an artist.

  I use an improvisational process to unwrap my art pieces. I choose a medium, and then I give myself a suggestion. This could be as simple as a line of ink wandering across a blank sheet of paper, a smudge of yellow oil paint on canvas, or a stack of broken boards. I might also have a pattern from a sheet of origami paper, a glimmer of Ancient Egypt, or some physical motion in mind when I begin.

Once I have made a movement that leaves some sort of visual imprint in the space around me, the conversation has begun. My job is to stay present, be curious, and listen.


"What does that line look like?"

"Hmm...A little like an elephant ear."

And then I might draw the rest of the elephant.

 "That Elephant looks a little sad. I wonder what he's sad about."

"Maybe he has a friend in jail."

And then I might draw a cage with a bird in it, and then I might want to free the bird, or wonder who the jailer is, or muse on whether anyone can be truly free when others are imprisoned, and on it goes...


Being an improvisational artist means there are no mistakes, just whatever there is now, and whatever can happen next. It is important to be fully committed to each piece because there will be ugliness and doubts, and it will probably look like a mess in the middle, but there will also be discoveries and learning, and the sheer delight, the tickling surprise, of staring back at something I never could have imagined when I started unwrapping the present.

Eliza Furmansky in the act of creating a collaborative acrylic improvisation on board. 

How to Play the Game of ART


1)   Start with a “What if____?”

“What if I took a line for a walk on this page?”

“What if I painted the evolution of the universe on thread being knit by lightning-cloud-hands in the sky?"

"What if Medusa's head emerged from the sand?" 

2)   Choose your materials.

Wood, clay, bronze, stained glass, light, sand, fabric,  ink, oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, origami, sound, words…

3)   Set any restrictions of time, money, and space.

 Will it take you ten minutes or ten years?

Do you have a budget of $20,000 or do you need to use sand from the beach, and cardboard from the recycling bin?

Will it fit in the palm of your hand or hold a capacity of 300 people?



1) ART is an improvisational game.

That means there are no mistakes. Just whatever there is now, and whatever can happen next.

2)   ART is a conversation; don’t do all of the talking.

Make a move, then step back and listen, look, observe. Where is the piece NOW? What does it want NOW?

3) ART must be played with full commitment.

There will be ugliness and doubts, and it will surely look like a mess in the middle, but there will also be discoveries and learning, and when you play to the end, you’ll have the sheer delight, the tickling surprise, of staring back at something you never could have imagined at the start of the game.



1) Have fun.

2) Create something that inspires wonder and awe for humanity.


Where did it all begin? I could say, when my mom put a crayon in one of my hands, and a cookie in the other (so I wouldn't eat the crayon).  I can't remember a time in my life that I didn't love to create, with whatever was around- fabric, sticks, clay, sand...

What I really love about being an artist, though, is the improvisation: starting with nothing, and doing SOMETHING, having no idea where that line, or form, or color will take me, but also knowing that mistakes don't exist in my art, and that I will ride out whatever happens, through the ugliness, the doubts, and the discoveries, until something completely unexpected emerges! Then I have the pleasure, the sheer delight, the tickling surprise of staring back at something I never could have imagined or planned at the onset.

And THAT began at least 15 years ago when I made a deal with myself that I'd never give up on a piece, it could transform as much as necessary, until it found a form that worked, even if that process included cutting it up and reassembling it or burning it and recording it, but no crumpled up art in the waste basket! No mistakes. Just whatever there is, and whatever can happen next.

This is an example of one of my improvisations.  If you look just a little northwest of the center of the image, you'll see an abstract colored shape nested around the forehead and braids of the ocean. That was the origin of this drawing. I was on a plane, flying back from Israel, with my paper and colored pencils, and pens, and I made that shape. I don't remember the exact order of everything that happened next (this was in 2003) but I know that as I drew, the experiences that I'd just had, moved through me, into this story and image. So, I'll tell you a little bit about it:

I remember seeing this wall out in the water, immense, yards thick, made of stone, and just this little part of it was left, the rest having been, I imagined, washed away by the sea. That trip was one of many experiences where I've been disturbed by the boundaries we humans put between us, lines on maps, fences, designations by race, religion, gender, economics.  I've seen it in the borders between countries, and around reservations in the United States, I've seen it in the groups of kids and teenagers who separate themselves into categories outside of their schools, the list goes on, and I'm sure you have your own examples. It occurs to me like an amputated humanity, a painful and agreed upon separation between self and self.

So, as I was musing over this on the airplane, I drew. I placed all of these amazing things we've created in our civilizations on top of a wall, and they're burning: the planes, the apartment buildings, the teepees, the columns, the stoplights... because ultimately it's all built upon an amputated humanity.

The thing is, I'm an optimist at heart, so I saw too, that every wall, can be worn down, and destroyed, and there will be someone, some refugee from the world of separation that we've created, to take a little treasure box, out into the world to try again. Maybe she'll build a world, or find one, where humanity knows itself as oneself, and we care for each other without consideration of whether we are in the same tribe, religion, nation, group, or family. Or maybe the treasure box is Pandora's box...

And in all of my images, there are some surprises I myself can't even fully sum up and justify: perhaps the kites fly as a reminder not to take it all so seriously, that it might not be so hard to dissolve walls between humans; sometimes it can be as simple as sharing the experience of flying a kite, or the common inquiry into the divine... I'm pretty sure that's what the eye in the sky is about.

There is so much room for exploration and inquiry within my improvisations. You can play with the fire and water imagery, the breath of the ocean, the sunset (or sunrise?). I love hearing what discoveries other people make out of what spills from my hands and mind, from who knows where exactly. There are connections I can't see myself, thoughts I can't generate from my own mind.

So, I hope that sharing my work here will be the origin of something even greater, that once again, I can't see from the beginning: a new improvisation- a collaboration! This is the origin of my new project, where the images I create are just the beginning of what we (that includes you, dear reader) might create together, when we dissolve the walls between artist and art viewer.

So, please, leave a  comment!  Share what you see in my art or my writing (it's very likely that I haven't seen it yet), share a poem, a story, a thought, share another image! Share what you want me to start a new creation with (I really might do it), share what you want to create, or what you are creating!  Come play with me! Collaborate, co-create, originate!

~Eliza Furmansky