This week war began and for a second being an artist felt frivolous. But in difficult times we need art more than ever. We need things and people that feed our spirits and remind us of why we’re glad to be alive. We need hope. That’s how we fight for democracy and win.
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began I listened to the news and searched my bookshelves for a title I had gotten in 2003 not long after 9/11 and when war began in Iraq. My thoughts then, like now, turned to the role of artists during times of war. “Artists in Times of War” by Howard Zinn was very relevant in 2003 and still is even though the current event details are different.
Spoiler: artists are carriers of democracy. To quote from page 108 they are “profoundly democratic”. Democratic is defined as upholding, however imperfectly, the ideas of rule of law, of equality before the law, equality in access to resources, equality of representation in government and the human right of self determination. The Arts are a living language of a people, a dramatization of what they feel, what they need, what their hopes are … The Arts help people become self aware. Self-awareness helps people make choices and become active participants in their own lives and communities. That’s what makes living artists so dangerous in the viewpoint of authoritarians.
And perhaps equally important is the fact that artists help us, no matter how high flying the political rhetoric, to remember that the kids will still need to be entertained and educated, that adults will still need kindness, that dinner will still be wanted. Art, poetry and writing of all kinds can help us remember that the statistics a politician quotes represent actual people.
Speaking of dinner: a dear friend came over to visit for an evening and to ask me to sign some copies of two of my book titles that she plans to give as gifts! It was so good to see her!
We had a free ranging conversation about life, books, movies and my friend indulged me as I showed her my art projects in progress and outloud we played with what “could be”. This is an extremely exciting and valuable sort of conversation! Bouncing ideas around in loose “what if…” and “what about…” ways helps me in my creative process! It was so unbelievably good to get my friends input! Sharing artwork in its fragile beginning stages is risky and I’m so lucky to have trustworthy creative-playing friendships.
I made a new batch of potato soup (recipe last post) and when it was ready the three of us ate soup out of large mugs while sitting informally in the living room where it was warm and comfy.
I delighted in having fabric cocktail napkins with my Professional Dog portraits on them and enjoyed our friends chuckles when she saw the napkins!
Whenever I feel unsettled about world events besides talking with my spouse and trusted friends I deliberately tune in to awe. Meaning that I purposefully do some small thing that delights me, sparks my curiosity or causes me to notice something and say “wow!”. A good article I read this week on the topic of awe and why it’s important is here. An aspect of tuning in to the feeling of awe is to cultivate time to play in unstructured ways, to make time to wander, to ponder.
On a recent wandering meandering car drive we saw snowfall and large trees. That’s a guaranteed “wow” from me – I love the large evergreens any time of the year.
The feelings of awe, the feelings curiosity and the feelings of an aha moment are part of why I object so strongly to book banning (see a recent post). The attempts to control the mental resources available to others is a form of abuse. Banning preempts the victims ability to be self-aware and to be able use, as democracy offers, however imperfectly, the right of self determination. The restrictions of a person’s access to books and other mental resources is as serious as someone restricting a person’s access to food, water or healthcare.
During times of unrest I think taking the time to ponder is crucial because an artist is so much more than a reaction to or a mirror of society. If an artist is going to take action rather than simply knee jerk react to current events it takes time to think things through.
Here’s a paraphrased quote that I wrote on a card and thumbtacked to my studio wall.
Progress is happening on a new experimental art book for Storyberries! It’s a wordless visual poem about letter soup with only 10 panels plus front and back covers. 12 images total. Ink, acrylic and gouache are my art methods on another 2 inch square concertina zig zag folded book. I focused as I mentioned last post on rhythm, repetition and surprise. It will be a challenge to talk about this poem on this blog and on my social media without giving the poem’s punchline away immediately before Storyberries has a chance to distribute it but I’ll do my best.
In the photo below I’ve laid in the extreme dark and light areas to establish the contrast as well as to focus on the visual rhythm. I’m thinking of how the ebooks on Storyberries flow up and down so I’m designing my content to flow with that book motion. Will it work? I don’t know. 🤷♀️ Yes, my new poem is for a category on Storyberries called “experimental” for a reason! 🤣
The sortof weird thing is that I’ve not completely finished promoting “How The Cow Went Over The Moon” yet. So there might be some promotion overlap. Oh well. People read more than one book at a time anyway right?
A few evenings this week I took a break from reading “The Annotated Arabian Nights” to read “Suds in Your Eye” by Mary Lasswell. This book was published in 1942 when World War II began. What I’ve enjoyed about this book, besides seeing an artistic response to the wartime events of the 1942 era, is that no single person is the “hero” or center of the story. The story centers around how a group of people work together as a community. The concept of working together is also what drives the story plot. And “good food, great friends and cold beer” could be the books motto. This is such a good book to cheer up by! I’d list this book as an early example of the hopepunk genre (mentioned last post). And the illustrations are darling!
Besides the visit from a great friend this week my wife and I talked by phone with my adopted mom and big sister! Mom said she’s proud of me and that I’m to “Keep making art”! Big sister agreed! So I wrote the exact quote of Mom’s on a card and thumbtacked it to my studio wall just above the light switch for the room. That way I will always remember!
I hope your week contains many connections with your support system so that you feel encouraged to do all the good you can in this world.
I painted an unauthorized portrait of a playful cat that I’ve met courtesy of a dear friend. This portrait is titled “Wholly Bent” and is 10 x 8 inches. This is me just playing and working towards future art exhibits.
Here’s a closer view of “Wholly Bent” it is 10 x 8 inches, ink, gouache and collage on board.
As you may remember I’ve been reading “The Annotated Arabian Nights” by Horta and Seale most evenings. I’ve been struck by how much the book talks about being true to yourself – accepting that you’re “bent” in your own ways- while also being an ethical contributing member of a community. So I’ve been pondering ethics in my sketchbook.
The above photo shows my spouse’s homemade blueberry lemon scones. Seriously yummy… but I digress.
These thoughts reminded me of an eon ago when I asked my adopted mom how to know when someone is “for real” i.e. ethical, honest, kind. Her response was “watch what someone says and does over time.” In my art journal I recorded a conversation we had on that same topic years after I’d asked the question originally.
In my last post I showed a hint of an art print project I’m working towards that I can’t talk much about yet… but a sneak peek is here (the grid of 6). Now I’ll wait to see what happens.
My last post also talked of book banning, a topic I’m following… well, on the attempts to ban books (and a thrilling subtext) there’s this article which reminded me of the skills I learned to use when dealing with people in Oklahoma who were in my face wanting to ban my artwork (see a prior post for details). This page below from Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit gives details about the skills.
Speaking of coping skills: some students in Missouri are suing the school board because of the book bans. (Article here.) Sometimes standing up for your right to read anything you want is neccessary. As said in the article “The lawsuit alleges that the district’s decision to remove books was based on the “dislike of the ideas or opinions contained in the books by policymakers, school officials, community members, or a combination of those.” Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the district’s removal of books violated the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights “by restricting their access to ideas and information for an improper purpose.”
I’m proud of and inspired by the students and their efforts to maintain a wide intellectual world. Restricting access to ideas and information can have serious negative consequences for both individuals and society. The larger our intellectual world the better we’re able to cope with whatever comes in life and then, having coped personally we’re then able to help our community cope – and the people in our community are better able to help us…
Also the more expansive our mental life is the more fun rabbit holes there are to explore that can also help one personally as well as one’s society.
Anyway, here’s a post from Austin Kleon that reflects my feelings about the importance of taking time to read widely and pursue the rabbit holes of your own making.
On a related topic I also read this article about how our attention span is not a product to be bought or sold. Our attention isn’t solely a vein of data to be extracted by a corporation. Our attention isn’t something to be controlled or abused at the will of someone else’s religious or political ideology. Our attention is a precious gift that deserves to be treated respectfully. And it’s up to us to protect, preserve and defend our attention as well as to carefully curate and cultivate it.
Having wide access to ideas and thoughts – lots of books – is how we learn over time what is worthy of our attention. Our attention span is ours to exercise and explore throughout life. What we get for our payment when we “pay” attention is the power to choose.
I find that having a wide range of books to read helps me stimulate and cultivate my own ability to pay attention where it nurtures my creativity the most. My sketchbook is where I practice noticing/tracking (accounting?) where I pay attention and how helpful it is or isn’t. It’s where I play with ideas and cook up my own “good wolf food”. It’s where I live and work with the questions. It’s where I “stick around and find out”. 🤣
As a creative person I want to be respectful of my readers/viewers time. So I enjoy creating “short” things: art, stories or poems that can be understood in a glance yet there’s more to be seen if a reader chooses to take the time to look. (My Monday blog is possibly the longest form I work in… 🤣)
Speaking of sketchbooks and reading: I feel a sense of urgency to create more books for children that are “artsy” and perhaps a little “different” from the usual kids books. So I’ve been reading about poetry in two books: “Writing incredibly short plays poems stories” by James H Norton and Francis Gretton and “The Intimate art of writing poetry” by Ottone M. Riccio. And I’ve been brainstorming in my poetry sketchbook (the orange book in the foreground) some visual poem ideas for my new “experimental art book” category on Storyberries.
Both books about poetry cover techniques to keep things short. I’m translating in my mind the advice in the books regarding writing words into what may also work when I’m making visual images. As you see in the above photo of my poetry sketchbook I’m thinking that the poetic concepts of rhythm, rhyme, repetition and surprise can work within images too. But we’ll see how it goes… more in upcoming posts.
Dinner recently was a favorite potato soup recipe from a favorite cookbook. Even in the solitary pandemic days I love reading about community being formed around shared soup.
When there’s a yellow sticky note on a page in one of the cookbooks in our collection … that’s a reliably good recipe! Add a star and the phrase “Judy likes” and you’ll know it’s a real good one. Then there’s the penciled in variations and now you know this recipe is a great one! It has consistently proven itself over time!
We had mugs of soup with a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich split between us. Yum!
For fun I’ve added James Thurber to my evening reading. He too talks about ethics and community while also being whimsical.
Thanks to a friend on Twitter I’ve just learned about a genre called “Hopepunk” – here’s one of the articles I read about hopepunk that defines the genre and has examples (book list!) of literary works within it. To quote from the article “…Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion… Hopepunk is a reaction to our times, an insistence that a hollow world built of hatred and financial ambition is NOT the norm. It is stories of resistance, stories that celebrate friendship and truth and the things that make us human.”
I have more to learn but I’m feeling like I’ve found another genre that possibly fits me and my work well! Discovering the “hopepunk” genre feels exciting like my discovery of the “miniature art” and “gift book” genres! With my creativity I do want to share whimsy and hope while also being thoughtful and real.
Yes, I’m finding it good to know more about the ways I’m wholly bent and to be able to find books and people bent in ways I enjoy.
Thank you for honoring me with some of your attention. I hope you have a playful week of more or less your own design, a week bent in all the ways you find fun. See you next Monday?
Some of my sketchbook pages this week felt like personal milestone markers, like “Yeah! That’s exactly the point of it!” This what I enjoy about having a regular sketchbook habit, the aha moments.
In the studio I’m working on a fine art reproductions project that I can’t talk about much yet. But I’ve discovered another side benefit of working smaller- doing 6 paintings at a go, working in groups of 3, is more easily done when they’re smaller! Working in groups also lets me coordinate colors more easily! Who knew?!
But instead of my new art project we’ll talk of other things. Like how my bio on Storyberries tells about my art studio supervisors. I include their photos in this post along with all due deference because they’re very good at their jobs – there are 14 books from me now on Storyberries!
A box came in the mail this week from Vintage Books with the new banned books we’d ordered! My last post tells about our current quest to buy and read banned books.
The Mississippi library mentioned in my recent post whose funding was taken away because the town’s mayor objected to LGBTQ books has met it’s fundraising goal several times!! Celebrating this success!! Up to the minute details are here.
And there’s also been lots of love for my new books on Storyberries!! Readers are reading in our new “experimental art books” category!! Wahoo!! I am inspired to make more books and have begun already!! (More of that in future posts)
Speaking of celebrating good things – my wife and I are celebrating 26 years together and 9 years of marriage!! I am so incredibly lucky to be with someone so warm, witty, wise and in possession of a wonderful sense of humor! And she’s a reader who is always reading interesting books!
We had a good weekend talking about the books we’ve been reading! We do this often – it’s one of the many fun things we do together! A sample conversation is in our kitchen sketchbook of our favorite dishes – titled Favorites So Far – we’d published when we’d only been together 24 years. Our conversation about books is on a drink recipe.
Speaking of love – to coincide with Valentine’s Day here’s a love letter to librarians, teachers, authors and readers. This letter began as a conversation with Liz Gauffreau since our talk I’ve handwritten (and edited of course) my part of the conversation and did some illustrations for it. Then I’ve set the artwork up as an art print on my Society 6 shop for the encouragement, love and support in it for my fellow bibliophiles.
Happy Valentine’s to my fellow book lovers! See you next Monday.
Book banning is a hot topic with me because I’ve been on the receiving end of bans. Those occurrences happened in Oklahoma over 10 years ago when I lived there. To name just one example, in 2008 I was to have a one person art exhibit at the Oklahoma State Capital. More than a few of my paintings were banned from the Capital exhibit. I called my Tulsa Oklahoma gallery, Joseph Gierek Fine Art, to tell about being banned. The Gallery owner, Joe, said “Stay right there, I’ll come and pick them up!” Tulsa is about a 200 mile drive away from the Oklahoma Capital but Joe was there with his van in a trice. Then the Joseph Gierek Fine Art gallery did a special exhibit behind yellow caution tape in Tulsa and we called my one person exhibit “View At Your Own Risk” with a statement telling a bit about my work being banned. Oh my, was the Gierek Gallery brave! So that very weird experience of being banned turned out very well for me and for Joe!
After my spouse and I had newly relocated to Washington state I had an interview with the Caplan Art Designs Gallery. Having just moved I brought along to Caplan’s the finished artworks I had on hand which was some of my then recently banned-in-Oklahoma artwork. The Caplan Gallery immediately signed me up as a gallery artist and sold 4 of my paintings before the ink on my contract was dry! In Oklahoma my work had often been considered “subversive” or even “offensive” (there were a number of bans of and objections regarding my artwork) but in the Pacific Northwest my work – the very same artwork! – is considered “charming” and even “delightful” and “whimsical”. What a pleasant shift of perspective!
This painting below is one of my paintings that had been banned in Oklahoma but quite welcome in the Pacific Northwest. Allegedly this painting was banned in Oklahoma because of the semi nudity. 🙄 This photo is of the same banned art newly located in the Pacific Northwest where instead of offending adults it amused adults and children!! (Yes, I have found my happy place!!)
More to the point of my blog post today – in 2010 the public library where we then lived in Oklahoma was going to display a few LGBTQ friendly books under glass deep inside in the library. It seemed like almost the entire town turned out to protest in a 4 hours long city council event. The majority of the speakers were vehemently homophobic. After the event one young gay person committed suicide. It was that vitriolic. After the event we contacted a realtor in Washington state and asked her to please find us a home and that we would even consider a hole in the ground with a tarp on it. We needed out! Long story short we, with the help of a wonderful realtor, found and bought our Washington house sight-unseen over the internet and within 6 months of that Oklahoma council meeting we had moved! One of the best things we ever did!! Being gay in Washington is no big deal at all! Also no big deal: being an artist, a book reader or being deaf.
I don’t for one minute think that every book has to resemble and reflect the superficial attributes of a reader in order to be a book worth reading. As an adult I enjoy reading work about, and by, people unlike me but I can see how it would help young people to be able once and a while to see, in a book, a superficial likeness of themselves. It helps to feel less alone, even safe, wanted and welcome somewhere – even if that place is in a book.
I went though my entire childhood – as an avid, dare I say obsessive, reader – never once reading about a gay deaf artistically inclined tomboy girl living primarily with her grandmother and enduring “visits to hell” with her abusive biological uber-religious parents.
The only deaf person I ever read about in a book was Helen Keller and that didn’t feel relatable to me.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was the first time I read of violence and family dysfunction happening to someone besides me and that was SO relatable – even though all of the characters were boys. That book helped me feel less alone then and I can still quote verbatim from that book today.
Judy Blume’s “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” helped me address my confusion about cruelty/weirdness about bodies that was done in the name of religion.
I didn’t encounter a gay character in any book until I went to college in 1986 and read “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” by Jeanette Winterson which had been written in 1985. And that book felt like a welcome healing salve to my 18 year old psyche.
I could go on naming books – many of them now banned – that really helped me get through things as a young person. But I’m sure you’re getting the idea of why wide availability of books (and art) matters so much to me.
So naturally my spouse and I in response to the spate of book banning in 2022 went looking for lists of banned books so we could buy copies of those books. If you too want to use banned book lists as book buying recommendations 😁 Below are the lists we found.
A juicy oh-so-delectible list of banned books for grownups at Powell’s one of my local Pacific Northwest independent bookstores. (I think most of my high school and college required reading is on this list!🤯)
I mentioned last post about Maus by Art Spiegelman being banned … well here is a great article about why that book is important and why it is shocking that, to quote from the article, “people could be more upset by mild profanity than they are by genocide.”
And another article speculating about why book banning and even book burning has become “a thing” in late 2021 and early 2022.
There’s also an article about a Texas lawmaker who wants to ban and burn 850 book titles statewide… but enough of that.
When things begin to feel overwhelming I find it helpful to look for one specific thing I can do something about. This is in the vein of “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”
Here’s an article we found about one specific library in Mississippi whose funding is being withheld by the mayor because he disapproves of some LGBTQ books. My wife and I chose this library and donated money. Then we spent time tweeting and sharing the info in hopes of getting more donations for them.
Here’s a portion of the letter we got after donating which has the libraries snail mail address if that is preferred.
Two days later we saw that they had achieved their funding goal with still more time to spare!!! We’re hoping even more donations will happen!
Since I took the above screenshot the Ridgeland Library has adjusted their goal upwards… and is reaching the new goal too!! Yippee!!! Click this link to see up-to-the-minute progress. I’ve been monitoring and boy is it fun to see the library succeed!!!
Anyway, for me public libraries are intimately interconnected with basic human rights. Images and words make up the human mind much like air and water make up the human body – we need trusted sources for all of these. Humans are social beings intertwined mentality and physically with the community around them. Here’s a poem that illustrates this idea that I have written off by hand and thumbtacked to my studio wall where I see it often.
And that’s why I make artist books. It’s my “why” for most of my creative efforts really. It’s part of why I feel it’s important to be a participant in a community of artists, writers and readers. It’s why having an egalitarian community – at least on the gallery walls and the library shelves matters so much to me.
Books and art are communal in nature and utilizing them often is part of being fully human within a community.
I thought about my Vancouver USA downtown and how I love it that the 5 story library and the independent theatre are some of the tallest most iconic buildings. I also thought about the scrubjay blue birds that are native here.
Then I wondered just how did Mother Goose’s cow travel over the moon… and how do birds remember their songs?
Storyberries has even created a new book category for my work called “experimental art”!! Oh I’m gleefully looking forward to making more books for them to distribute!!!
So it can very truthfully be said that my new artistbook is a direct result of community !! Thank you all!! And I love you all too!! ❤🙌
I’ll repeat myself here because I am so excited and grateful to the Storyberries community for this new “experimental art books” category! Thanks for giving me such a valuable space to just be me! I’m so looking forward to sharing the fun of playing with imagination and creativity this way!
Speaking of imagination and being creative: there’s a wonderful article on creativity written by Luzemy Romero and Fleur Rodgers on Storyberries – and I have an illustration in it! But what’s fun is that these creativity tips the authors write about are things I do… Every. Single. Day! Especially the reading part!!! And if you go by chronological age I’m a grownup… so… the authors ideas apply to all ages. Anyway there are some really great creativity tips here https://www.storyberries.com/creativity-kids-how-to-help-your-child-to-be-creative-storyberries-parenting-portal/
Here’s my illustration within the article by Gamboa and Rodgers and a bit of the article text. We need a wide variety of stories in order to practice flexibility in our thinking and creativity. A variety of material, some of it liked, some disliked, gives our minds something to respond to within our own creativity.
Also on the intersection of creativity and libraries there’s a fun article right here about an 8 year old who wrote and illustrated a handmade book and slipped it into the public library collection in Boise Idaho!
This week our copies of Maus by Art Spiegelman came by mail from one of our local bookstores Daedalus Books!
I had posted on my Instagram page that I was looking online at our local indiebookstores to see if anyone had Maus and didn’t see it – as they indicated sold put or it wasn’t listed. Well @daedalusbookspdx commented on my post that they didn’t have all of their books online but that they *did* have copies of Maus!!! So I called them immediately and bought the copies of Maus!
In the past when we’ve visited Daedalus Books in person I’ve relished their “books about books” section… While I had the store on the phone I named a price range and asked the store to pick a book for me from that section and include it with our Maus copies… I also asked that they *not* tell me what title they selected! I love a good book surprise!
Here in the photos below is my surprise book! It’s perfect!!! It’s a book about giftbooks – which is what I create!!! (See my portfolio page) I’m beyond happy with my surprise book! I immediately wrote a postcard to tell Daedalus thank you!!! Wow! What a treat!!! I am so glad Daedalus had copies of Maus too!!
The last photo has contact info for Daedalus…and as I’ve learned you can just call them up, ask politely and they’ll hand you a smile in the form of a book !! Wow!!!
Come to think of it becoming a semi-vegetarian while in college in fried-meat-and-fried-potatoes Oklahoma was another, ahem, “interesting” experience. I’m not, and have never been, a strict vegetarian (I don’t want to be strict about anything) I just do like vegetables and well vegetarian meals frequently happen. But I remember accidentally shocking people in Oklahoma with vegetarian fare now and then. 🤷♀️
Back to the present yumminess… the mushroom chili was served in big mugs with crackers and a side of books to read. I’m lucky to have married a fellow avid book reader!
Here’s another favorite quote about books that I’ve handwritten and thumbtacked to my studio wall.
I hope your week is full of subversive literary, artistic and culinary delights and that you’re able to radically and wholeheartedly enjoy them!