Dragon, the creativity cat and baby blankets

A Creative Life, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, business of art, children's book, creative thinking, fabric design, Gifts, illustrated recipe, life of the mind, mental health, pattern design, poetry, recipe illustration, sketchbook, surface design, Sustainable creativity, This Rabbit, visual thinking, words and pictures, writing and illustrating

In my last post I talked about how I manage art projects and time. I have an heretical approach and I was asked for more details. Here goes:

One of my longtime interests is in how humans think, learn and how to maintain good mental health. I read on the topics often. Here’s a few of my bookshelves full of books on these topics.

I’ve learned that humans tend to learn best by hearing stories or anecdotes or metaphors or allegories. Or by seeing examples or demonstrations. Rarely does a direction “do it like this” get followed. This includes self-directions related to art projects and time management. Even if the direction is followed often the purpose for “doing it like this” is rarely fully understood at the time. This includes self-directions.

Let me tell a story to illustrate what I mean: Once there was a mother, with a very tiny kitchen, who always cut her pot roasts in half before cooking them. She taught her daughter to cook pot roast by explaining and demonstrating. Her daughter grew up and had a daughter of her own. One day the grandmother was visiting. The daughter was in her very large kitchen demonstrating cooking a pot roast to her young daughter. She said proudly “In our family we always cut the roast in half first. Isn’t that right mom?” The grandmother replied “Oh, no! The only reason I cut my roast in half was that I didn’t have a pot or a stove big enough to hold a whole roast!”

Being aware of this attribute of human thought and attention I approach self-directions about my own art projects and time use rather sideways. More details below.

The other interesting thing I’ve learned about human thinking is that good mental health and happiness often happens while we’re busy doing something else. Often with, and for, other people. I think the same is true of creativity.

Similarly when humans feel good about, curious about or interested in something they’re more likely to do it. If we make activities we want to do fun and easier to do it increases the likelihood that they’ll be done.

So I give myself directions about my projects in terms of what I *want* to do rather than what I must do and I accept that I may not fully understand what I’m doing, or why, until after the project is completed. I’m also careful to keep lots of projects in various stages of production so that I’m “busy doing something else” and not as likely to get too focused (and too critical) about one project.

I’ve mentioned it before but my approach to creative projects and time management has it’s roots in a mental health book I illustrated “Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit“. Below are a few of the pages  that relate to what I’m blogging about today.

For much of my creative life I have taken these concepts about human thinking/emotional health and applied them to my overall approach to creative projects and time management. It has helped me to consistently get projects done in a sustainable and enjoyable way. I say my approach is heretical because I have known art coaches and art teachers who advocate, for example, “strict discipline to do one thing till it’s done” as if we are machines and I strongly reject that notion. That’s too much like lunging and grabbing at a stray cat. That’s a sure fire way to spook the cat – or the ideas – away!

My approach to creativity is similar to the method for befriending a shy cat.  You see a cat hiding in the bushes and you can’t see enough of the cat to know what breed it is, whether it’s healthy or not or whether it’s wearing a collar. So you get some cat treats and with very slow movements place the treats strategically to coax the cat into visibility. You remove yourself, slowly, to a short distance where you do your best to act as if you’re *not* interested in the cat. With patience the cat will emerge at it’s own pace and you can see it. No lunging and grabbing is necessary on your part!

My morning work in my sketchbook is akin to the cat treats strategically placed. I wake up and I just play with words in my poetry sketchbook or with images in my mixed media sketchbook. I do *not* take these efforts seriously. This is just something fun to do while still half asleep waiting while the coffee percolates. Of course I hope something good will come from this work and often it does but that “good” is to be determined much later. At the time I’m drawing or writing in my sketchbook¬† I’m thinking of it as a fun gentle way to ease into the day.

I literally keep these sketchbooks handy in my breakfast nook along with a few pens and a small gouache watercolor set. The sketchbooks and the watercolor set are small 3 x 5 inches or so. Seldom have I spent more than 10 minutes on these efforts. You see, I’m busy doing something else besides creating – I’m making breakfast and eating it with my spouse. But I have this regular habit of luring ideas into my sketchbook.

Here’s a few recent sketchbook pages.

When my idea-cat begins to emerge from several weeks of my sketchbook morning work I’ll begin gently, tentatively, feeding and petting the idea. I do this by reading books somewhat related to my idea, by writing about my idea on a legal pad, brainstorming in a what-if-I manner.

Here’s a look at my legal pad list that eventually became my book This Rabbit and here’s my portfolio page about that project including links to blog posts detailing my work process for that project.

After doing enough sketchbook work and legal pad what-if work that I feel I’ve got something, some idea emerging into visibility, I’ll sometimes draw a series of thumbnail drawings on loose paper in color to try different color arrangements. Or perhaps I make a folded paper dummy of a book idea. Perhaps I’ll make larger drawings – redrawing images from my sketchbook onto art paper. I am still just playing around and seeing what could happen.

The intention is to test the idea in my sketchbooks to see if it might become  something more than a sketch in my sketchbook. A bit more time is spent, 20 or 30 mins in this phase of idea attracting. These writings and drawings are kept in a 3 ring binder by topic or perhaps with a tentative working title related to what my idea may become: an art exhibit series? A childrens book? A greeting card??? Things are left very open ended.

Still I am busy doing other things – specifically my main art project of the moment – the binder is just a way to keep all of my notions on a theme handy in one spot.  This is like giving that still shy cat a temporary foster home. This way we’ll keep track of kitty, give it some time to adjust, learn about kitty and see how it goes.

Here’s my shelf of 3 ring binders

Here’s some photos from the 3 ring binder for my currently in progress “How To Draw A Dragon” project. There are several folded paper book dummies, several rewrites of the poem and many drawings.

If a 3 ring binder project collection goes well and the idea begins to show promise – by ‘promise I mean ‘potential to be fun’ – then it may move to the “main project” status. The idea cat has been adopted…however we’re still in the probationary period. Anything could happen. This is where I currently am on my ” How To Draw A Dragon” project.

Here’s a few of the “Dragon” pages I did this week.

A main project has the serious art supplies out for it. It has the studio space devoted to it. Time during a day will be set aside for it, but not an entire day, I mean an hour or two. Time is set aside in a task-oriented way not a from-when-to-when on the clock way. I have a master list of tasks to be done on a main project and each day I pick from 1 to 3 of those tasks and set them as a goal to accomplish that day. That’s the establishing a working rhythm that I spoke of last post.

The main project is taken a tiny bit more seriously as in I will erase and redraw whereas in my sketchbooks, legal pads or binders I’ll leave a drawing however it is. I will also write and rewrite with attention to spelling and grammar on a main project. As I go I’m feeling my way along. The uncertainty is normal. Perhaps my idea cat isn’t ready for such attention. Or perhaps it will thrive on it. We will take it slowly and see. My “How To Draw A Dragon” so far seems to be thriving meaning it is still growing and becoming and I’m having fun with it.

Below is a studio photo showing that “How To Draw A Dragon” is filling my easel and overflowing into nearby surfaces. My art supplies used for this project are left out and handy. I don’t open windows in my studio so no breeze disturbs my papers. If you were to visit my house today we would stay far away from my studio because I have things in a careful order for my projects sake. My cat and dog are trained to not disturb things in my studio. There’s a door to my studio and I use it to remain undisturbed. A main project filling the studio is a tender kitten. I handle gently. I have heard art coaches speak of clearing ones working area at the end of each workday — that’s another area where I heretically scream *nooooo!*

Even with the extra attention given to a main project I carefully keep it fun and playful. I will find ways to “feed” a project- to feed my unconscious mind – for example by reading books related to the topic I’m making art about. For my current How To Draw A Dragon project I’m reading about creativity – about creating poetry in particular- and the interplay between our left brains and right brains, between our inner adult selves and our inner child selves. The topical reading is kept up for a duration of a project as it helps with my focus and fun. I simply cannot stress this enough *keep a project fun* and the project will likely get finished.

Another helpful way I keep going on a main project is that I *dedicate* the project to someone – I give the project a purpose, a reason for being (something *not* related to money or fame). I give it something beyond myself. The person or people I dedicate my work to often never know. But I am busy making my main project *for* somebody. During this pandemic openly dedicating works, or embedding symbols a friend might recognize, has been a fun way to stay in touch.

Here’s the dedication page for my Dragon book. Dedications for my fine art most often just happens in my mind.

It may be that I work on something as a main project for a while and it stalls. The stall could happen at the 3 ring binder stage or earlier in the sketchbook stage. A project may fluidly move back and forth between these three stages over a lengthy time period. This is another part of my business of art/creative heresy – I think this fluidity is perfectly normal and fine! Uncertainty is okay! I see it as part of the creative process, part of the ways a creative mind (and a subconscious mind) naturally works. Human brains are not linear machines! This is another reason I work on multiple projects – one stalls and I shift attention to another until the stalled one wants attention again.

Very carefully as I’m in the process of making artwork I avoid any sweeping declarative statements, to myself or anyone else, like “this is dumb” or “this is awesome”. I use moderate language statements, if a statement is needed and I can’t avoid it, I’ll say something like “so far so good” or “it’s a fun challenge”. To make a hard sweeping definitive declaration like “this is horrible” is to force a still-in-progress project into a labled pigeon hole. What may not work as a painting might be a good greeting card. I don’t know yet! When a project is in process I may think I am making X only to discover when I’ve finished that I’ve made Y instead. I deliberately leave linguistic and mental room for such progress! (See my pot roast story above) Harsh declarations make it hard to extract a project from the dispair/elation and continue. It makes it harder to allow a work to change from a painting to a greeting card. I prefer to leave room for discovering and being surprised by what a project becomes. It’s more fun that way. I would no more force an art project to become something than I would force a stray cat to accept a grooming before feeding it and earning its trust.

Here’s more from Dr Bob about being careful about self talk.

https://store.bookbaby.com/bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Dr-Bobs-Emotional-Repair-Program-First-Aid-Kit1

The tendency all humans have to take things too seriously- even obsessively – is another reason why I deliberately have multiple projects at various stages. One main studio project -or possibly two main projects- at a time but several other projects are being developed in my sketchbooks, legal pads and binders. This helps me not be too “precious” about any one of them. I work on something a while then stop working *while it’s still fun* and do something else. I find it helpful to try to stop working before I am too fatigued, while I’m still interested or enjoying my work and then move on to something else.

So I am always busy “doing something else” which allows my idea-cats space to breathe without micro-attention. This method allows my subconscious mind to work on my projects. I can trust that my inner voice will say “oh, let’s work on this!” when the next part of my idea is ripe. I can trust that I will keep returning to a project until it is finished.

When a main studio project is finished there is usually another project in a binder that’s developed enough that it’s ready for attention at my easel. No force to finish or start a project is needed. No strictness. No machine-like “discipline”. Knowing and accepting the way human minds are naturally has worked well for me. I work with my brain not against it. I am just playing around with topics that interest me. Like most real life fur covered cats I can trust that my idea-cats will tell me when it’s dinner time.

Speaking of dinner. The outstanding dinner of the week was broccoli pasta. I was out of fettuccine so I used short noodles but the recipe in my Favorites So Far kitchen sketchbook is still yummy!

https://www.blurb.com/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

Earlier this year I was asked to make some gender neutral fabric designs and put them on my Spoonflower shop so someone could get fabric with my designs and sew some bibs and blankets for a new baby.

Here’s a photo of me working at that time on the fabric pattern.

Here’s the finished original art

This week I was given, by the person who had requested the fabric patterns, pictures of some of the finished baby things they’ve made and permission to post about them! It was lovely having something fun like this to post about as my Dragon project is still becoming and is in the gawky teenage stage and camera shy.

Where I tend to run out of time in a day is the social media promotion thing. And frankly there are times, especially when I’m busy, that I’d rather just do my art projects than talk about them. But talking about them is necessary and most of the time I enjoy doing it so… Anyway, I really appreciate it when people share what I post or when someone sends me photos of themselves with my fine art or artist books or share photos of what they sewed with my fabric designs! It helps and is such fun to see!

Anyway, here’s the photos of a burp cloth and a few blankets my friend created with my fabrics! They turned out so well!! The sewing is marvelous!

Hope this description of how I manage my art projects and deal with time was interesting and even helpful to you as you do your own creative projects! Have a creative week and I’ll see you next Monday.

Dragon in the details

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A work rhythm has been fairly firmly established. I wrote about that in my last post. My days now have a regularity that goes like this:

Breakfast time contains sketchbook drawings with or without characters from my currently in progress childrens book “How To Draw A Dragon”

Perhaps after eating breakfast I spend a few minutes more reading a poem or working the crossword puzzle with my spouse (we take turns doing 5 or 6 clues) while we finish our coffee. (The poem in the photo below is by Robert Service)

Then I pour another cup of coffee and carry it to the studio. There I look at the work I did last and my project schedule/guide that I described in my last post. I sip my coffee and settle in to work.

By now I’ve done about 10 of the 32 pages but even those, as you can probably see in the photos below, aren’t really finished. Some elements like the text will be the last to be inked and only after all 32 pages have been mostly finished. Similarly I will edit and ink all of the elements of foreshadowing for my poem story after all 32 pages are mostly inked.

As I work I am thinking of the pages both as page spreads and as individual pages.

These pages below have been quickly photographed where they are on my easel for sharing my progress with you here. My set up for photos for book reproductions is another thing entirely- and I’m not at that point yet.

The sharp eyed will probably notice that some changes have been made to my story setting and to my poem text since my last post.

Basically I’m in the early stages of this book project and everything is in flux and there aren’t “for public” images for this project yet.

So instead of anything about this project when I put something on my social media I post about my current art exhibit Odditorium at Burnt Bridge Cellars and about the related items I’ve designed on my Zazzle shop. For example my “Odd mugs” collection.

And my books. I talk about one of the 9 books in my portfolio. Or I talk about one of my 10 books on Storyberries. Or I post a photo of my cat or dog. Or I post nothing at all. Especially as I settle into a project working rhythm I find I’m online less and less. That said I do enjoy finding your kind comments when I check in! And I thank you in advance for them.

Lunch, however, is rarely missed. This week the easiest meals were bean and grain bowls like this photo below and here’s the recipe scheme from my Favorites So Far kitchen sketchbook.

https://www.blurb.com/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

After lunch I head back to the studio for more work on my How To Draw A Dragon book. Generally speaking I get 2 pages finished per day. If I’m lucky I’ll get a start on a 3rd page. But my focus is on maintaining a work rhythm not in a quota of pages. If I have to totally redo a page and thus only get one page done in a day that’s fine! I just keep going! It’s a dance between discipline and the spaciousness of pleasurable play as talked about in this article.

I did take the time this week to go with my spouse to visit a new independent bookstore in our town Birdhouse Books! This was my book haul.

Short stories, poems and short essays give me an intellectual boost without requiring an investment of time like a long novel does. But sometimes a long novel is just the thing to accompany a long creative project. It just depends.

What’s not in question is the fact that time to sit and read each evening is essential to helping me maintain a steady working rhythm.

Hope your week has some good rhythms too! See you next Monday.

Crocodile to dragon transition

A Creative Life, Alphapets, Alphapets Too, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, book design and layout, creative thinking, drawing as thinking, illustrated poem, Numpurrs, poetry, Sustainable creativity, words and pictures, writing, writing and illustrating

My crocodile became a dragon as I’ve been working on a new childrens book. I’ve been alternating work in both my poetry sketchbook, the orange book on the left, and my black visual sketchbook on the right.

Below is a look at my handwritten poem text in my poetry sketchbook.

I also have a 3 ring binder in which I have collected sketches and drafts of the poem text. Initially I was calling my poem “How to paint a crocodile”. My idea was to do a coloring activity book featuring a human child and a realistic crocodile. But the humanness didn’t feel right to me. And the crocodile felt too, well, reptilian.

So in my black sketchbook I tried a few more cartoon-like crocodile drawings. I’ve done many sketches and am only showing a few here in order to keep this post brief. Also not pictured are my sketches of various animals along my way to a decision to make the human child character into a rabbit.

The crocodile kept feeling too sinister in my sketches. So I dropped, temporarily, the coloring book concept and just painted who might be the main adult-like logical no-nonsense left-brain character to play opposite my rabbit right-brain creative playful child-like rabbit. The “adult” character it turns out is a dragon.

So I went with the dragon! In subsequent sketches I resumed my coloring book notion. The working title for my coloring book poem now is “How to draw a dragon”. I’m using the word ‘draw’ in the sense of ‘attract’ in addition to the usual sense of drawing with a pencil. Below are a few sketchbook drawings of the dragon in which I aim for busy adult postures – grumpy perhaps but not sinister.

Besides rewriting my poem in my poetry sketchbook I have also rewritten my poem on scraps of paper which are kept in my binder. There are -tons – more rewrites and sketches than I’ve shared in this post. Here I’m sharing just enough, I hope, to give you a sense of my working process. When I felt my poem was settled, more or less, I wrote it on a stiff paper so it could stand on my easel as I work. You can see it below.

When I spoke in a my last post of “having my crocodile project all over my studio” the photo below perhaps gives you a sense of what I mean. In this photo the papers on my easel look blank but there are pencil drawings on them. There’s also a blizzard of drawings in ink on tracing paper.

Multiple drawings on tracing paper enable me to draw a character similarly but holding or doing different things as the character goes through my story. Below you can propably see what I mean.

Yes, I know there are computer programs that would enable me to copy and paste character elements from one page to another. I have used such programs in the past. But I find it more satisfying to do original hand made drawings for every element within a book. I fancy myself as like a chef who prides herself on using local ingredients and cutting them up fresh when a dish is requested. A chef’s hand made dish is better, I think, than a frozen box meal reheated. But I digress.

Below is a “scene” or a stage set upon which my characters will act. I’ve made a master template in ink on tracing paper which I will use for reference – and for story foreshadowing – throughout my poem book.

Below is a look at some of the rabbit character sketches on tracing paper.

Below is a look at a few of my dragon character sketches. I feel I’ve finally found a balance between a grumpy adult appearance while not being too sinister.

Here’s a closer look at the Rabbit character.

As I build these pages I will do my story foreshadowing using many visual elements. So even after I get the entire book drawn the visual foreshadowing will still need to be carefully edited. But first I’ll get the entire book roughed in. Lots of work to do.

To help get me to my studio work more quickly in the mornings most of the evenings I’ve been making overnight oats. Into lidded mason jars I put some raw uncooked old fashioned oat meal, some milk to cover the oats, maple syrup, fruit like raspberries or blueberries (or both) and yogurt. Then I add a bit more milk as needed, put the lids on and put the jars in my refrigerator. In the mornings I don’t have to think of what’s for breakfast or spend time cooking. I can get right to my sketchbook work!

This week Storyberries added an audiobook to my On Looking At Odditorium book there! How nice is that?

https://www.storyberries.com/bedtime-stories-odditorium-free-art-books-for-kids/

Also this week I delivered the artist books that the Aurora Gallery had requested along with some signed bookplates! You can see more about each of these books on my portfolio page.

My plan is to work steadily on my Dragon, a bit of work almost every day, until it’s finished. Some days only a short burst of work will happen but other days I’ll have more time to spend.

So along with my tracing paper templates I’ve made a strategy, a loose agenda/schedule, of items to be done on this project which I’ll use as a guide to enable me to pick up wherever I left off even if I only have 10 minutes of time to work. I’ll use the same guide if I have hours of time. Such a project schedule is a guideline – a suggested working rhythm – it is not a god to be worshipped or slavishly obeyed. My guide is a way for me to keep this project in small manageable chunks. Keeping it small helps me to maintain momentum and to keep it fun. (There’s even a business article here about the kind of strategy I’m talking about.)

I have already spent months working on this poem and have only just this week outlined, and otherwise prepared, 32 pages to draw, ink and hand letter over the coming weeks. In other words I am just now ready to begin in earnest. Forming a good steady working rhythm now is crucial. So is focusing on the fun.

Some sort of strategy – I like to call it “planning the mundane” – some consideration for keeping long haul projects like this manageable, not overwhelming, is important. But it’s the fun that is the lynchpin of what keeps a creative project sustainable. So I consider having fun the most serious aspect of living a creative life.

Hope your creative week is sustainably fun too! See you next Monday.

Too hot for a crocodile

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, books, fine art, household surrealism, mental health, public art, sketchbook, Sustainable creativity, visual story

June 25 through the 28th we had an intense heatwave here in the Pacific Northwest. It was hot enough to melt cables on the streetcar. It was hotter than the Mojave desert. My spouse and I stayed in the room of our house with the ceiling fan and the portable air conditioning unit. We drank water like it was a career. We ate salty snacks to help stay hydrated. We hugged ice packs to help cool our cores.

Most homes in the Pacific Northwest don’t have A/C because normal summer temperatures average in the mid 70’s to low 80’s. Very rarely are the temps higher than 90 degrees. A strategy of opening windows and doors in the cool of morning and at night then closing them just before the temperature gets to the 70’s is usually enough to keep a house comfortable all day.

Allegedly the recent heatwave was a once in a thousand year heat dome exacerbated by the climate crisis. Whatever you want to call it – it was very hot. And it took me most of a week to recover. 118 degrees outside and 93 degrees inside even with the air conditioning running full blast feels hotter than you can imagine. Hugging an ice pack like a teddy bear really helped.

During the heat wave I did a lot of reading and by habit I continued my daily drawing in my sketchbook. But my new crocodile project (prior post) is spread out in my studio where it was far too hot to stay more than a few minutes. So the only progress on my crocodile was an email discussion with the folks at Storyberries about formats. Still some forward motion and I’m glad of that!

Anyway, here’s some random sketchbook pages created under the ceiling fan next to the A/C. And yes, besides water we did drink our morning coffee.

What do you eat for meals when it’s record-breaking hot? Milkshakes, salads and sandwiches. Here’s the relevant pages from our Favorites So Far kitchen sketchbook. I was glad I had made a book of our favorite foods to pull from because it was too hot to think properly much less be creative in the kitchen.

Favorites So Far – https://www.blurb.com/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

The process of dealing with the heat was something of a learning curve. Did I mention that heat is not normal for the cool rainy Pacific Northwest?! Here in case it’s needed – which I hope it won’t be – is an article about being safe in extreme heat.

Then later, July 2nd, there were my art openings at Burnt Bridge Cellars and at the Aurora Gallery! Fortunately I felt enough better by then to do social media to share about them.

Below is part of what Burnt Bridge Cellars shared.

Here below is what the Aurora Gallery shared of part of the Gallery exhibit. My “Bear, Matt” original art and a few of the prints can be seen in the lower left corner.

My original “Bear, Matt” painting was done on a beermat coaster I’d gotten on a trip to Buoy Beer. (details in an earlier post)  So the back of the original art shows the brewpub logo. You can see both sides below.

In case you missed it here’s a blog post about my “Bear, Matt” project. The photo below shows a few of the prints. You know it’s a print because the back is plain except for my studio logos.

It was a treat this week, a real bright spot, to hear from my favorite college art history professor! She wrote of her delight in having gotten a copy of my new childrens book On Looking At Odditorium and her pleasure at still having one of my paintings in her dining room! Wow!! How nice is that?!

Back when her children were young I had the thrill of having her children as two of my “favorite fans” – one of her girls had even specifically picked out artwork of mine to buy for their very own collection! Oh, that ranks high in my list of happy memories!

Now this week my professor added to my happiness by sending me this photo!! In the top left corner you can see one of my artworks circa 20 years ago give or take. I remember being so excited back then when my painting found a home with this professor!

Also this week I got to sign some of my green dragon bookplates for another dear friend’s two grandkids!! That was another high point!!

It was also an uplift, during the heatwave itself, to post here the conversation I’d had earlier before the heatwave began with Mrs Perry, the guest art teacher I featured, and then to follow the readers comments!!

I just love doing the work I do and I would do it even if there wasn’t anybody around to notice. But I really like creating my artwork as part of an ongoing conversation with friends. And it certainly helped my own spirits this week to hear from friends that my artwork brings them joy!

So note to self: go ahead and write that fan letter, send that card, type that text and tell someone something kind. You might make a really big difference in someone’s week and help them get through a rough spell.

Stay cool and hydrated this week and know that I appreciate it that you follow my blog. See you next Monday.