This week a box came from my sister that held a quilt our Mom was adamant that I have. Opening the box transported me instantly to my adopted Mom and Dad’s house. Love smells like old books, coffee, flowers, swimming pool chlorine, Mom’s soap and cleaning products, wine, champagne, cigars and cigarettes. Here’s what the quilt looks like.
As I wrote on my email newsletter I remember well over 25 years ago when this quilt was being created by both Mom and Dad. The quilt took some time to do so I saw it in several stages of production. During each visit Mom and Dad told stories and talked about ideas that relate to the quilt. Rather than completely repeating what I already shared – here’s the main story and…
…a related story…
…along with the truth as illustrated below that both the light and dark parts of ourselves are accepted – we may wish to be more careful about what parts of ourselves that we “pick up” or choose to feed. But no matter what we are accepted just the way we are. (Btw: These stories are are in this book)
There are other quilt related thoughts on my email newsletter A.M. Sketching but here’s a look at the frame and mat we chose at the Aurora Gallery. The just off white mat looks like fabric, woven texture and all. That was one thing I’d enjoyed about Mom, her use of textured fabrics around her house. The frame we chose is a teak wood which reminds both my spouse and I of Dad’s bookcases.
While we were at the Aurora Gallery I realized my current exhibit was still there. This photo is what I could see just by turning my head from where the quilt was spread out. It felt like Mom and Dad got to visit my exhibit. Yes, I teared up at the thought and no one at the Gallery minded.
Both Mom and Dad were unbelievably supportive of my artwork. My art was displayed constantly in their house. So it feels extremely proper that their artwork will soon be displayed prominently in our house! According to the Gallery it will take about 2 weeks until the frame is ready. We already have a place of honor for it in our living room.
Over 15 years ago, during my Abstract art phase, Mom asked me to make a piece for a particular place in their house. Spirals, dots and piano keys were my visual interrelated motifs, each element feeding other elements… I titled it “Food For Thought”. It was about storytelling, the arts and feeding our minds and hearts. My mixed media painting was a response to the quilt and the quilt related stories.
Here’s “Food For Thought” as it was displayed in Mom and Dad’s house many years ago.
All of the above has me thinking of the importance of stories more generally. I’m painfully aware that book writers, illustrators, publishers, educators and librarians are currently under attack – and that books are being removed from public access. I’m feeling an urgency to support local bookstores and the general awareness of books that encourage creative people. So I’ve begun keeping a few publicly available book lists here on Bookshop.org – online book sales there benefit independent bookstores and a small benefit to affiliated people who keep book lists. We create the world together. I learned that too from Mom Penny and Dad.
Ursula K. LeGuin, an author Mom, Dad and I enjoyed together, says it extremely well.
This is why I value the idea of democracy and a nonviolent society. Democracy is the ideal of creating a civilization rooted in free thinking, in equality, in equal access to ideas, to a society based on rule of law, to fact based evidence, transparency, and the right to explore ideas without having to tiptoe on eggshells in fear of some authority figures displeasure, without fear of violence from those who disagree. To create society based on the stories we tell ourselves and each other rather than via the whims of a strongman, or fists or other weapons. Stories can be dangerous enough… part of growing up (or of good therapy) is to learn to distinguish helpful stories from the unhelpful ones. To learn this valuable lesson one needs access to a wide array of thoughts. As this article says “….if we lose our librarians, we lose a core element of our democracy.”
Anyway, all of this was swirling in my head along with my memories of Mom and Dad, storytellers both, and I cried. After I subsided a bit my spouse gently asked if a visit to a bookstore would feel good. I said yes so off we went to Broadway Books. When we entered the store a clerk asked if she could help. I asked for some hopepunk books, books with gentleness and kindness in them. Quickly a book of essays by Ross Gay was handed to me followed by 3 fiction titles. Here’s a selfie of me waiting in the fiction section while the clerk looked up another title. She was so kind!
After a good browse we were at the counter paying for our books. Since we’d gotten so many books they gave us a thick cloth bag to hold them all. I teared up suddenly remembering how Mom made thick reusable cloth bags long before they were normal in stores. Mom even made cloth bags with drawstrings for use when wrapping presents rather than using paper. Whenever we had our lunch meetings at restaurants Dad would bring his Mom-made cloth bag with books in it and I would bring my Mom-made cloth bag with my sketchbook and other books… So there I was standing at the Broadway Books checkout counter with tears running down into my mask. Again no one minded. Everyone was so kind! I waited until we were outside to take my mask off to wipe my eyes and blow my nose.
Here’s the stack of books we came home with.
So I think we chose well. As both Mom and Dad often said “Stories, for better or worse, inform how we relate to our own emotions and experiences”.
I wrote in my last post that there may be hedgehogs and foxes in my upcoming sketchbook pages because I’m reading “The Hedgehog and the Fox” Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay about Tolstoy and history based on the Greek aphorism “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing”
In his book Isaiah Berlin writes (I’m paraphrasing) of how history is actually created by a whole bunch of people but when we talk about a time in history we tend to single out one person as a “hero” and the lone “causal agent” of an event. Berlin writes of how as a creative person Tolstoy was naturally a “many things” fox but as he got older Tolstoy wanted to be a hedgehog with “one big thing” that explains everything.
My reading got me to thinking about hedgehogs, foxes, Tolstoy’s demands of himself as a creative person and how that aphorism related to creativity. I said something about that and my friend Liz Gauffreau asked me how hedgehogs relate to the literary world:
Well, besides the fact that both foxes and hedgehogs are so very cute and fun to draw and write about here are a few of my somewhat random thoughts while reading the essay by Isaiah Berlin. Don’t worry I’ll intersperse my thoughts with sketchbook drawings of hedgehogs and foxes using all 3 of the new fountain pens I described in my last post. (BTW there are even more fox and hedgehog sketchbook pages in my recent email newsletter )
As I read Berlin’s essay I’m realizing that as a creative person I use the fox-like kind of “knowing many things” in a free ranging playful open way while I’m in the midst of creating. I’m free-associating between many things while I’m on the hunt for how to best express my elusive thought. But once I’ve finished my creation and caught my thought then, if I’m not careful, I can curl up into a prickly ball hedgehog-like defensive about whether my creation “means” something, what it means, whether it was worth doing, which “one big things” label it belongs within…etc. Staying for any amount of time in such a prickly ball isn’t helpful.
This getting stuck in a hedgehog ball mode happened more often in my younger years but still occasionally I feel a despairing “what was the point of doing all that?” moment. By now I know not to “feed” such overly self-critical negative thoughts and to deliberately stretch out and switch my thinking to some other more pleasant topic. I know such moments will pass especially after a good meal, a good night’s sleep, time spent reading a novel or going for a walk with my spouse. It’s not always easy but that’s the way I deal with it. I avoid getting stuck by deliberately keeping fluid movements between the modes of fox and hedgehog. Anyway, in my mind, that’s one part of how hedgehogs and foxes figure in the creative/literary life.
Another part of how hedgehogs and foxes figure in to it: our creative life isn’t “one big thing”: we aren’t the sum total of one published book or one painting. We aren’t one label. A creative life is cumulative. Of course when people talk about artists or writers shorthand references – labels – are often made like “So And So is the insert genre label author of Famous Book”. But this is just a way of speaking, a verbal convention. It’s even a necessary one because we use helpful labels to find things, like books to read, and a name or a genre category label is a great starting place.
Yet during the lived reality of a creative life things aren’t so simplistic. Creativity is many-things fox like when we’re in the midst of our unnamed, unlabeled creative project. It can feel unfocused, messy, free ranging all over the territory at the beginning only slowly becoming focused over time as the thought “scent” is caught and the project develops towards completion. After completion then the one-big-thing hedgehog label can be applied. And while my diagram below simplifies the fox/hedgehog creative process please know that this process isn’t linear, its fluid, there will be foxhogs and hedgeoxes, there’ll be all sorts of fits and starts, beginnings and endings, rushing currents and still pools… before a project is finished.
This process of metamorphosis from fox to hedgehog is part of why it is such a challenge for writers and artists to think up loglines or book jacket blurbs or elevator speeches or art statements that sum up their creation in a few sentences (or a Tweet). To sum up their work of the last few years, work they sweated daily over, work they gnashed their teeth on – to distill what it was about using 150 words or less both encompasses and transcends the lived creative process itself. It’s hard to rise above the creative life meadows where the foxes and hedgehogs have played and, from a birds eye viewpoint, select a single meaning for the shorthand talking points. This difficulty is why it’s also a challenge to write query letters that briefly describe a manuscript submission. It’s hard to reduce a fox-y many splendors creation down to a hedgehog-y one big thing and to call the hedgehog an accurate, yet attractive, name.
By the way if you formulate the hedgehog one-big-thing, the logline or art statement, in advance and are rigid about it (i.e. curl up in a prickly hedgehog ball) the resulting project is seldom satisfying to either the foxes aka the creators themselves or to their audience.
And yet a hedgehog can be a great starting place – if you aren’t rigid about the hedgehog label and use it as a prompt! It’s highly likely that a creation that starts out as one defined hedgehog can shape-shift to a fox during the creative process and finish up needing an entirely different hedgehog-y label. So that’s another reason it’s a challenge at the end of a project to select the exact hedgehog that was metamorphosed from that fox. This is also part of the exhilarating fun of a creative life.
We enjoy the arts for the fox-y complexity of many things in them – we talk about that complexity we enjoyed viscerally using simple hedgehog-y verbage. The fox represents a direct experience and a nonverbal expression of life. The hedgehog represents a definition and ways of talking about that artistic representation of life. We need both the foxes and the hedgehogs. The challenge is to remain loose, open, letting the foxes and hedgehogs become themselves while also keeping a benevolent watch over them.
What a work of art or literature “means” in the big scheme of it’s hedgehog label, is identified (if ever) after the work has been made and existed in the world a while. After the artist is finished then we use simple language to sum up what a creation meant. We give it a genre, a category, a label. That summing up or meaning finding is done and verified over the duration of time that the art exists – it gets reevaluated by the artist and by the audience constantly. The lables often get changed multiple times before they “settle” if they ever do. Almost all of Tolstoy’s work has gotten reevaluated numerous times since the era in which he was living and working.
From a creative person’s point of view I find it’s sanity-saving to not worry about the meaning of one work in the big scheme of things but to just get on with the next project. I don’t worry overmuch about the hedgehog labels I give my work for use when submitting or promoting it. As I wrote in my last post I’m regularly surprised by what labels publishers, distributors and art gallery owners place on my work. I just accept the label and these labels become tools I can use to talk with that distributor. For example I now can say to Storyberries “Here’s a new ABC123 Poetry book from me”. But even with that new knowledge generally my attitude when I’m working in my studio is “I’ll make the stuff and you can sort it out” rather than getting stuck on any of the potential labels while I’m in the creative process. Anyway, here’s a note on this topic that I have thumbtacked to my art studio wall.
The meaningfulness that is found after the creation is finished also has an element of danger. Sometimes because an artist is so tired upon completion they, in their fatigue, misjudge their own work and may mislabel it or even destroy it. Sometimes an artist gets stuck on a label and that impedes their progress. Sometimes the selected audience isn’t ready for a creative work and rejects it. Sometimes a work isn’t found to be meaningful until long after the artist and audience’s current era is gone and a new era begins. Sometimes a different audience within an artist’s lifetime finds the work more meaningful. Sometimes meanings and labels change over time too. Sometimes these new labels are helpful and sometimes they’re not.
So for all of those reasons I find it’s best to avoid gaslighting myself, i.e. making hard declarative statements about my work, either as I’m working on projects or whenever they’re finished. I just enjoy the process of making things. Other people can sort them into meanings and categories. That said, I do find the effort of succinctly summarizing my own creative works as a logline etc helpful as long as I don’t take it too seriously. Whatever you want to call it is fine with me as long as my personal foxes get to play and my hedgehogs stay cute.
Which brings me to book banning. I despise censorship because someone somewhere has decided in advance what a book or work of art “means” and they aren’t willing to let people decide that for themselves. They get rigid, in a hedgehog-y prickly defensive ball way, about everything fitting into their one big thing label whether that label is political or religious. They can’t, or won’t, deal with the foxes free ranging exploration. They’re allergic to questions and uncertainty. They reject categorically the concept of changes over time. They’ll decide they just don’t like one particular fox or hedgehog and insist that the external world must conform to their preferences.
Creativity is all about questions and dealing well with uncertainty. To be creative is to actively participate in change and growth. Creativity is a response to the world. Anyway, here’s an article about many of the current censorship efforts that I keep a careful eye on.
In my current art exhibit at the Aurora Gallery on the upper left shelf in the photo below is an artist book I made which tells a truth about rabbits and metaphorically about people. It’s called “The Rabbit” and it is about book banning.
I also participated from home by posting this: I #standwithsalman in favor of free expression. For the Aug 19 2022 @PENamerica event I’m reading from “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” by @SalmanRushdie – it’s one of my favorites – Here’s my reading on YouTube.
There now that I’ve finished this blog post I’ll deliberately avoid the one-big-thing type question of “did my efforts to write this blog post mean anything or matter in any way to the larger literary or creative culture?”. In such a question lies gaslighting madness. So instead of going there I accept that I enjoyed writing out my views of the creative process within the context of hedgehogs, foxes and the essay by Isaiah Berlin. And I hope my friend Liz will enjoy reading my thoughts on how hedgehogs and foxes relate to the literary world. There, that’s enough mattering and meaning for me.
Aha, now after rereading what I’ve written (and correcting the autocorrect 🙄) I see that there’s a few category and tag labels that I can use when publishing this blog post! Good enough…
I hope your creative week is full of playful foxes and hedgehogs. See you next Monday.
My spouse’s sweet pepper plants are doing well in the heat! I stuffed the just picked peppers with cheese and roasted them with black beans, corn, zucchini and red onion. Tasted yummy!
The heat inspired me, as I’ve illustrated recently with a drawing demo, to stay in a cool place and finish reading a wonderful novel.
A Gentleman In Moscow by Towles was so good that when I finished reading I added it to my books-to-cheer-up-by shelf for rereading whenever I need a pick-me-up.
I got wonderful news from Storyberries this week – they’ve started a bookstore! (Here’s a direct link to some of my books https://www.bookstore.storyberries.com/product-tag/sue-clancy/ ) When I looked at the new store I discovered that of the 18 books by me on Storyberries 12 of my titles are spread between 3 categories: art books, poetry, ABC123!! What a fun surprise!!
When someone clicks on a bookstore link the viewer can sample the book, read about the book, click a button to read the book for free and now there’s an option to buy a print copy too! Below is a screenshot example of what it looks like, this is a screenshot and not operational, click this link if you want lights and action about my poetry book below.
Since we’re just having fun today here’s one of my illustrated poems from Patch La Belle so you can see how I’ve hand written all of the poem text for the book. I wrote with a felt tip pen. I went through lots of felt tip pens while working on this book. I already had a fountain pen so I was missing the ability to refill a pen but the fountain pen nib I had at the time of this project wasn’t bold enough. (This is how I knew what to request as a birthday gift! 😁 ) Anyway, here’s a poem.
This week the rest of my birthday present came in to our local pen and stationary store Oblation Papers and Press ! The extra fine nib fountain pen that I got the actual day of my birthday is now joined by a broad nib and a stub nib!
I love fountain pens for the ease of use that a good quality pen, like these TWSBI kind. They write and draw super smoothly have a built in converter which allows me to fill them with my preferred ink (Heart of Darkness by Noodlers Ink). Now there’s even fewer plastic bits of disposable felt tip pens to go into a land fill from my studio!
Right away I practiced writing an alphabet and drawing with each pen.
Here’s a single drawing I did with all 3 fountain pens. Yes, I totally see more handwritten illustrated poetry books in my future!
Over on my email newsletter A.M. Sketching I shared my favorite book about fountain pens and I’m sharing it here too just in case you’re curious.
To test how my new pens write over my gouache colors I wrote a poetic kind of phrase on a scrap of paper.
Then I painted an Earth in Space inspired by the “plaid” striations in my breakfast orange.
When the painting was dry I wrote my phrase as neatly as I could.
So you can see the page better…
…it worked fairly well! So, yes, I’ll definitely be doing more illustrated poetry!
The above mentioned novel by Towles is a hard act to follow but here’s what I’m reading and enjoying now. I’m thinking there may be some drawings of foxes and hedgehogs soon.
I also made some progress this week on a new painting for an upcoming fine art exhibit, there’s my current art exhibit to promote, there progress I could share on a new ABC123 category book (I have a category! Wahoo!! 🙌❤) but it’s early days in these projects and I’m tired of typing now.
I hope your week is sweetly filled with peppers, prose, poetry and pens just as you like them. See you next Monday.
My exhibit “For You By Sue the ABC’s: Art, Books, Cards” opened at the Aurora Gallery. It was my first art event since my adopted Mom passed so it was hard in many ways. But I spent time talking with my spouse and being in touch with family and friends so that helped. I didn’t attend my art opening in person because I’m still being careful re Covid and, frankly, I didn’t want to cry in public. Even so I heard nice comments via social media from people who saw my exhibit during the opening and took the time to tell me they enjoyed it. It’s safe to say quite a wide spectrum of my emotions were covered.
Which made me glad that I’d spent time reading Marcus Aurelius recently. Over on A.M. Sketching I thought, as I sketched, about a quote from Marcus Aurelius – regarding not needing to always have opinions and the practice of letting opinions float by as they will. I find this is true of my emotions too – they come and go if I just let them alone. So, it helped this weekend to just let my emotions come and go without forming an opinion about how I felt. Not forming opinions about my emotions helped me to sustain both my creativity and my ability to do the business end, so to speak, of living a creative life during a personally difficult time.
This last week I made an effort towards my new drawing tutorial gig via Nil-tech. I did a demo of drawing “Hedgehog in Shade“.
It’s a beginning… here’s a link if you’d like to see my very short tutorial effort.
Here’s a book I’m reading and enjoying. I find the main character’s way of cheerfully adapting to difficult circumstances very refreshing.
I’m going to read and rest some more. Thank you for reading and for your kind comments. See you next Monday.
I’ve been thinking about the process of teaching and learning lately as I plan upcoming drawing tutorials for Nil-tech. I don’t think I’m an authority on drawing. I’m just fascinated by the subject and have done drawings almost daily for a really long time. It seems that there’s interest in me showing more of how I draw. So as I wrote in my last post I’m planning how to do that in simple, no-fuss, ways. Nil-tech has an online library of drawing tutorials and that’s where I’ll be adding my tutorials. I’ll also share them on my social media. If someone buys an art supply kit from my link I’ll get a small, but appreciated, royalty. We’ll see how this project goes … please wish me luck.
More than a decade ago I used to teach art in person in Oklahoma. For a number of years I even designed hands-on art exhibits for children and created teaching curriculums for a staff of teachers to teach from. Fun times except for experiencing the right-wing political opposition in Oklahoma to teachers teaching art (or even teaching reading and writing) and the general objections to the “intellectual eliteism” supposedly evident at any and all art exhibits and literary events. Suffice it to say that I can empathize all too well with teachers (plus librarians, booksellers, writers and artists) who are currently on the recieving end of right-wing anti-intellectual ire.
Yes, I have a bit of PTSD from my time in Oklahoma. There were some nice people there who were supportive of education and the arts in general – people I’m glad to know, people I’m still in touch with – but hooey the PTSD is real. And meanness selfjustified by anti-intellectualism still sucks.
Anyway, imagine my delight when, mere months after we had moved (12 years ago) to the West Coast, during my first in person art opening in Oregon, I was respectfully asked about my usage of metaphors in my work! After replying to the question I hurried to find my wife and, grinning from ear to ear, exclaimed excitedly “They used the M word!!!”
So, I keep reminding myself that as I contemplate a new art teaching opportunity that I’m not, emphatically not, in Oklahoma any more!
That’s why last Friday on A. M. Sketching I included a monument to teaching and learning.
My art exhibit “For You by Sue the ABC’S: Art, Books and Cards” has been delivered to the Aurora Gallery! The exhibit officially opens August 5th. I’ve been updating the portfolio page about the exhibit and, for the fun in it, included all pages of my book “Coffee Please”. Coffee Please is an amalgamation from the sketchbooks I’d kept during our pre-pandemic travels. I looked in my sketchbook for all the times I recorded requesting coffee; what was said and the type of cup I was given. You can see part of this artist book at the bottom of the photo below and you can see the entire book page by page, in my portfolio here.
Apropos of nothing here’s some of the flowers from our garden.
And here are some books I’m reading because both of these humorists maintained their humor during difficult times. Robert Benchley (b. 1889 – d.1945) lived through WW1, the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. P. G. Wodehouse (b. 1881 – d.1975) lived through the same events as Benchley plus WW2 – he was even held prisoner by the Germans – and lived through many other world events in his long life. Both continued to write – and be gently humorous – all of their lives.
Resilience and creativity seem to correlate. I find it comforting and encouraging to learn how other artists made it through hard times and maintained their creativity and sense of humor.
It’s been hot this week so the studio supervisor and I have made sun tea by the gallon…
… the sun brewed tea is added to a large lump of ice in glasses. The chilling tea glass is kept on a coaster covered with a bit of paper towel so that drips of condensation don’t fall onto books. Mustn’t drip on the books. Nope, mustn’t…
As Kurt Vonnegut (another artist who turned hard times into fodder for creativity) often said “and so it goes”.
Hope your favorite beverages are just the way you like them this week. See you next Monday.