Cogitation, re-wilding ourselves and banned books

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, books, business of art, creative thinking, drawing as thinking, fine art, illustrated recipe, Kim Cooks Sue Draws, mental health, Odditerrarium, poetry, sketchbook, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking, words and pictures, writing and illustrating

I think a lot about thinking. So do cats I think. Here’s another painting in my Odditerrarium series for upcoming exhibit at Caplan Art Designs in October. My painting is titled “Cognition”. Sometimes it seems like brains are fish bowls with thoughts swimming about.

Here’s the sketchbook page that began my Odditerrarium series.

Besides forming a theory of mind as related to other living beings – I find it’s helpful in my creative life to keep notes, in a sketchbook/notebook, on things that happen in my life, things that catch my eye, my feelings, thoughts and responses to the world. My sketchbook/notebook becomes part of a collection of objects, photos, books, places etc that resonate with me in some way and yet may also be relatable to someone else. I think creativity is a way to connect with both ourselves and each other. To the elements of my ongoing collection I add my imagination…

… like in my current project for Nil-Tech I free-associated or imaginatively mixed a feeling experience in my life (of enjoying a coffee) with a real life cup from my kitchen and a photo of a dog. Almost everyone has has the experience of sinking into the relaxation of a pleasant beverage – almost like a hot tub – so it’s a safe bet that my feeling is relatable. A cup and a dog are common reference points too. Anyway, here’s a photo below and link to one of my videos on Nil-tech: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CitjpxIoBoO/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

My point here is that my system of getting creative ideas is a lot like cultivating a garden: carefully planting perennials, evergreens, planning to rotate annuals etc regular cultivation for ongoing use in cooking or decor. This helps me sustain my creativity over the long term. Also for sustainable creativity I find it helpful to keep an uncultivated wild patch or two, some experimental ground areas where anything goes and uncertainty reigns, where I’m in the classic “beginner mindset”, or in the spirit of a kid flopped on their belly coloring to their heart’s content with no thought of their scribbles being “good”. All of this in my mind when I say I’m re-wilding myself.

The term “re-wilding” typically refers to ecological conservation, a way of letting the land be naturally whatever it is as a way of restoring the ecosystem.

I really think we can do this with our minds too, we can re-wild ourselves and our own mental landscape, from time to time by allowing ourselves a more expansive diverse habitat of the mind, to sidestep our own habits, group-think, expectations and presumptions. To deliberately try a new methods or materials just to be playful. (Play, at any age, is necessary for good mental health.) As creative people re-wilding is a neccessary part of a creative life. Generally speaking re-wilding is allowing ourselves to play off-leash now and then so we can reconnect and restore ourselves.

I re-wild myself most regularly by reading and reading as widely as possible. I read banned books and obscure books — here’s a booklist of wild (and banned) books I’ve collected  https://bookshop.org/lists/banned-and-other-wild-books

I wrote over on A. M. Sketching about re-wilding ourselves and included this page from my published sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” as a reason why cultivating a mental life is helpful. For us creative types our mental lives are what we create with so the quality of our mental lives is also a precious piece of equipment.

Below are some more pages from Another Sketchbook with my reading techniques.

Here below is a picture of our household lion guarding a part of our library.

Here’s what the cover of Another Sketchbook looks like.

My 3d block project mentioned in my last post is coming along.

Another fun project currently in progress is also using ordinary things as prompts. I’m doing illustrations for a cookbook by Chef Kim Mahan! More on that as I go.

The experimental “re-wilding” projects I’m working on are two different poetry book projects. Possibly for Storyberries experimental art books section! Here’s a peek at my two projects. Both are about the size of a credit card when closed but they open out to about 20 inches long. The patterned and colored papers you see will possibly be the book covers of one book. I’ll share more as I go along.

I hope your week is wild in the best ways. See you next Monday.

Emotions, exhibits, drawings and books

A Creative Life, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, art prints, art supplies, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, books, business of art, creative thinking, fine art, Gifts, mental health, public art, reading, sketchbook, Sustainable creativity, teaching, words and pictures

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.

Learning almost anything and the magic dance

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, business of art, fine art, mental health, Odditerrarium, Sustainable creativity

Dancing smoothly nowadays as I near time to deliver all 20 of my Odditerrarium artworks for exhibit via Caplan Art Designs which opens in June at Burnt Bridge Cellars.

All 20 artworks are finished. In progress is the framing, the exhibit paperwork, the delivery and the social media about it all. An artist’s work is never done…it’s a lot like a cooks work that way.

But here’s one of my paintings titled “Learning Almost Anything”. Like the others in my Odditerrarium series it is 10 x 8 inches, created with ink, gouache and collage on board.

Here’s a closer view so you can see what this dog is thinking.

Doing fine art exhibits, like writing for publication, requires both being organized and resisting tempting parking spots. I have two phrases thumbtacked to my studio wall to help me remember.

When I began my Odditerrarium painting series in 2021 I did enough planning in my sketchbook that I knew the sizes I wanted to work in. I created 5 or so of the paintings to see if my series idea had legs. Then over a month ago I ordered frames from the Aurora Gallery. The frames are made by hand and that takes time.  The first box of frames is in my studio ready for action. A second box of frames is due soon.

Now that creation of the paintings is done I set up a system, a working routine, so that I don’t wear out my hand doing the varnishing or framing processes.

Elsewhere in my blog I’ve talked about working in short bursts as a way to make time, energy and the financial components of a creative life sustainable. This is true too of the varnish and frame stage.

More than a month ago I also ordered the cans of varnish I knew I’d need along with a few other art supplies from my local Artist and Craftsman. My dachshund supervisor made sure the order was correct when it came.

Now my daily routine includes a “spray two frame two” dance. It goes like this: just before lunch I take two paintings to my garage where I spray a coat of varnish. Then we have lunch. After lunch I spray another coat of varnish on those same two paintings. Here’s a photo of me in the respirator mask I use when I spray varnish.

Those just varnished paintings stay out in the garage the rest of the day. When I quit working for the day, around dinner time, I bring them into the studio and put them on the easel to finish drying. In the photo below you see two just-varnished paintings on my easel. To the right of the easel is a framing station. My painting supplies are still out because there are other projects in progress just to the left of this photo. There are other creative projects that get a short burst of work each day so that’s another reason why the just-varnished stay out in the garage till the day is done.

Here are two getting framed. Having the varnished art on the easel puts them within easy reach of my frame station. Doing the varnishing around lunchtime the previous day means that by the time they get put into frames 24 or so hours have passed and the varnish is completely dry.

Besides checking in the new art supplies my dachshund supervisor also oversees the framing. He’s very busy, perhaps more busy than usual lately, but like I do, he paces himself so that it’s sustainable.

Like the quote thumbtacked just above the light switch in the photo below says about dancing and magic happening, being organized doesn’t guarentee smoothly run projects. (Another mantra I use often: “Nothing has to go right today”) Organization gives my projects a sporting chance to be sustainable, it gives me the possibility of meeting deadlines with a smile. Besides I deeply despise chaos and rushing about so I prefer to pace myself (and dance) at a calm speed.

And I treasure time each day to read and learn almost anything.

I hope your week goes at your preferred pace. Take care of yourself. See you next Monday.

Wonders, my adopted Mom and real cheese

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, book design and layout, books, business of art, cat portrait, drawing as thinking, fine art, life of the mind, Odditerrarium, sketchbook, words and pictures

My adopted Mom’s favorite flower is the orchid. Both Dad and Mom enjoyed cats – even though sometimes the cats knocked over plants or books. So I thought those thoughts while creating a portrait of a friends cat. I’ve titled the finished painting “Wonders”. It joins the rest of my Odditerrarium series and is also 10 x 8 inches and made with ink and gouache.

Here’s a closer look at the details.

And here’s a link to the Instagram Reel I did of me painting another layer of yellow on “Wonders” https://www.instagram.com/reel/CdOX5mgpJuj/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

Below are some sketchbook pages from this week. In difficult times I find that helps having a sketchbook routine.

When I first met my adopted Mom and Dad I asked “how do I know you’re for real?”. Mom’s response was “Watch what I say and do over time”. So during almost every visit with them I brought my sketchbook along and took notes. Sometimes these notes got illustrated during the visit. Often the notes were rewritten and illustrated more neatly shortly after the visit. As time has marched I have used these sketchbooks as source material for making my books and other creative projects. For example when I put together “Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” I referenced my sketchbooks and consulted Dad and he shared his original lecture notes.

Here’s a recent video of me reading a story from this book here – it’s still a favorite story all these years later!

My friend Sherri Kennedy has a great post here related to this topic of imaginations and “feeding” attitudes.

I also see a correlation to what Michael Graeme says in his blog here “Try to go deeper, into the sublime, and feel it.” We can choose what we focus on, we can fully experience our feelings (taking breaks as needed) and fully embrace whatever feeds our good wolves and let that in turn feed our creative souls.

Speaking of feeding things: I remember as a barely in my 20s young person visiting my adopted Mom and Dad. We would get to talking with books and papers strewn about, including my sketchbook and drawing tools, time would fly by and suddenly Mom would put a large plate amongst the books. On this plate would be an assortment of foods, many of which I hadn’t seen before: specialty cheeses, meats, crackers, fruits, vegetables and nuts. The first time that happened Mom explained “charcuterie plates” to me. From that time on during visits when such plates appeared she’d tell me “this is Gruyere cheese” or whatever the new-to-me cheese was, each visit was an ongoing education in life, literature and food. Needless to say all of our visits revolutionized my previous “processed cheese food slices” existence for the better!

Naturally I included Mom’s charcuterie instructions when I got around to reproducing my kitchen sketchbook, along with I hope a sense of the combination of drinks, foods and conversation about books.

Here’s one of my favorite photos of a younger me with Mom and Dad.

Here’s a photo showing how things often looked just before Mom would put a charcuterie plate down.

When I was looking through my photos for this blog I saw this one of Dad looking at one of my wee books.

I miss Dad and I miss Mom being healthy (last post)… I am beyond glad that they (and my 5 siblings) adopted me! I will always carry them on in my life and creativity. This, I think, is part of the idea of “working from life” perhaps even more than the act of looking at a real life object and drawing it.

And I find comfort in loving the colors outside my window and the light and shadows. May have to try painting the grey-blue, greens, browns with that salmon color…

And I get comforts in doing the work of my creative projects. Here’s my art studio dachshund supervisor helping me with the book design and layout for my Odditerrarium exhibit book.

In my last post I was working on my exhibit statement. I edited it this week…chiefly I remembered that I needed to say something in the statement about the art media I work with! Amazing how I could forget something so basic! Ha! Thank goodness for creating books and the editing processes!! Here’s the finished exhibit statement that I’ve sent to the Caplan Art Designs gallery.

A dear friend sent a surprise knowing that I love getting books by mail! Such fun to share a favorite author in common with a friend!

Mom’s self-care directions throughout my life often included advice to “remember to eat mindfully”. Indulgence in her opinion was welcome, necessary and to be done in moderate mindfulness. This week I made macaroni and cheese using onion, garlic with Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. The recipe is here.

I’m reading an autobiography “The Summer of a Dormouse” by John Mortimer. I love his fiction and his way of writing in general. This autobiography is adding to my good-wolves in that I can read about Mortimer going though difficult times in his personal life while simultaneously creating his pleasant fictional works. I’m reminded that it is possible – normal even – to be able to acknowledge difficulties and still create pleasant things.

I hope you’ll be able to feed your good wolves this week and create pleasant things too. See you next Monday.

Using much eloquence while juggling numbers

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, book design and layout, books, business of art, children's book, handmade books, household surrealism, mental health, miniature art, Odditerrarium, publications - publishing, sketchbook, Storyberries, wordless story, writing and illustrating

A new painting in my Odditerrarium series for upcoming exhibits via Caplan Art Designs is titled “Using Much Eloquence”. Like the others in this series this one is 10 x 8 inches and made with ink, gouache and collage on board.

Here’s a closer view so you can see what this dog is thinking.

Now that I’ve made sufficient progress on my Odditerrarium series – I have 15 of the paintings finished  – it’s time to write the art exhibit statement that will be used both for the Odditerrarium artist book and for the exhibit. I have written before in this blog (here) about writing art exhibit statements or “blurbs” as I call them. Exhibit statements are a short, around 150 words, first person description of what an exhibit is about. I think of it as like the description on the back of a book. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

I also think of a shorter sentence that can be used like a log-line is used in book publishing. For Odditerrarium I’ve written “I wonder what our dogs and cats think about the objects, people and places in their lives so in my Odditerrarium fine art series of portraits I imagine the contents of their thoughts as a terrarium hat.”

Whenever I begin a new series I keep a logbook where I make notes of my thoughts towards the series while I work. I write what I’m excited about, the questions I’m asking, what I learn etc and those notes are what I pull from to write an exhibit statement and logline. Making “notes” includes my sketchbook pages like this one.

Whenever I have finished more than 10 paintings from what I think is a series I’ll spread the finished artwork out where I can see it all, reread my logbook and see which bits fit with the finished artworks and which of the artworks do look like a coherent series. Of course I add these thoughts to my logbook.

My statement writing process is a whole lot like the project narrative writing for grant applications directions (link here) except I don’t apply for any grants with my project narratives aka exhibit statements. I used an informal version of my Odditerrarium statement during discussions with Caplan Art Designs about my proposed exhibit. Whenever I decide the formal written Odditerrarium statement is as good as I can make it I will send it to the gallery.

Putting together the artist book version of my Odditerrarium series will help me know when my statement is done.

Here’s my dachshund supervisor helping me process photos of the finished artwork for use in the book design for Odditerrarium.

My newest artist book “Juggling Numbers” is now out on Storyberries!! In this video I’m showing the original artist book “Juggling Numbers” a handmade artist book that plays in a visual way with the flow of numbers. I made a digital ebook version of this artist book for the experimental art category of Storyberries.com – see it here – a free ebook site for children. I chose the number range from 1 to 25 because a friends grandchildren could count to 20.

https://www.storyberries.com/counting-books-juggling-numbers-by-clancy-experimental-kids-art-books/

Below are a few still photos of the original book – video and links are also on my portfolio page here. The logline for Juggling Numbers is something like this ” … can you count forwards and backwards with a cat?”

I got news this week that my adopted Mom is not doing well health wise (hospice) and big sister, Mom and I visited by phone several times. Mom told me repeatedly to “keep making your art”. I know she’s quite serious about that. So I’ve begun drawing and painting orchids, Mom’s favorite flower. That’s all I know to do whenever I’m sad – channel feelings and love into art. Putting symbolic things in my art is my way of doing a version of Carol Burnett’s ear tug. Printed books whenever they appear in my artwork are for my adopted Dad – in case you wondered.

Grateful for my sketchbook as a way of both holding on and letting go.

A brunch I had with my wife this weekend was particularly lovely: homemade scrambled eggs, bacon, sourdough toast with homemade jam made by our friend Carol. Our coffee cups resting on handmade coasters by our friend Jeannie – and we felt surrounded by the love and support of friendship! And yes I put tobasco sauce on my eggs and tobasco jelly on my toast … is there anything I don’t put Tobasco on? Maybe ice cream. But I haven’t tried that yet so I don’t know for sure.

I hope your week is full of love and friendships. I hope you have plenty of tobasco sauce if you like it. I’ll keep making art because my Mom says so and I hope you’ll keep on keeping on too. See you next Monday.

Professional dogs, artist books, unmentionables and hamburger

A Creative Life, art commission, art exhibit, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, books, business of art, children's book, creative thinking, dog portrait, Dogs in Art, fine art, Fine Art Commission, public art, Sustainable creativity, whimsical art, words and pictures, writing and illustrating

My new childrens book, The Professional Dog, is progressing nicely. I’ve been thinking of this as a fine art dog portrait album inspired by the idea of the 19th century parlor game The Minister’s Cat. My book concept is an excuse to talk to my friends about their dogs and see if I can do 40 portraits of dogs whose owners are people I know. It just so happens that I know people occupying an alphabets worth of professions! How fun is that?! Anyway, here are three of the dog portraits together.

Below the larger portrait is the text I’ve written for the book.

The Helper’s dog is a hopeful dog.
The Inventory Manager’s dog is an insightful dog.
The Judge’s dog is a jolly dog.

Besides keeping on my work schedule for The Professional Dog I’ve been working closely with two of my galleries. We’re doing fine art commissions and studio visits in prep for the upcoming gift giving season. It’s beginning to resemble Santa’s workshop around here.

For example I created, then delivered, an art commission to Aurora this week for someone’s holiday gifts (shhhh!). Then while I was in the Gallery I got to see a glorious display of my own work! That sight inspired and encouraged me to keep making my stuff. https://auroragalleryonline.com/

The Aurora Gallery does such a good job displaying my wide variety of differently sized things – artistbooks, greetingcards and fineart – I love it that someone can see my books and around the corner nearby in the art gallery they can see the original artwork in the books!

Since we’re not talking about the fine art commission I just did for the Aurora Gallery here’s the art studio dachshund keeping mum with me.

And as I mentioned in my last post we’re still very definitely not talking about the Caplan Art Designs upcoming holiday box project.

Also there’s another event upcoming at Caplan Art Gallery that… well, we’ll talk more about that later. (There is a hint on my Instagram page about that however 😉)

Suffice it to say that I was extremely busy this week, working in both short and long bursts, on several projects I can’t talk about publicly.

Thank goodness I can talk about my childrens book project The Professional Dog! The book is farther along than my posts make it appear. And I’m excited about this book! I believe kids need fine art in their lives too so I’m taking great pleasure in making an album of fine art paintings and producing the work in such a way that while being an art object itself – as in I am personally making an artistic reproduction of my original artwork – my finished book will be affordable and will also withstand little hands with grape jelly on them!

I’ve been so slowly posting about this work because when I run out of time in a day it’s the online posting that drops off my to-do list. Creative work comes first. Talking about it comes later.

Similarly there wasn’t time for one of my Creativity Chats this week. I wrote notes for it though.

Food got simplified this week too. I threw ingredients for this recipe from a blog I follow called In Diane’s Kitchen into my slow cooker, pressed buttons and went to work in my studio. The reheated leftovers were even better the next two days.

And you bet your sweet bippy that I am still taking the time, up to an hour or so every evening, to read books and have hot chocolate before bedtime. It’s the way I keep calm and carry on during busy times.

My secrets to maintaining this level of creativity? In the mornings 5 or 10 minutes daily playing around with my sketchbook. In the evenings 30 minutes to an hour playing with books – print books I own as well as ebooks from my local library. (I especially love cozy mysteries, fiction, short story collections, poetry…)

And between those daily just-for-me fun times I play with whatever project is at hand. I just charge ahead with my project in my best imitation of a child arriving enthusiastically at a playground.

Yep, those are my secrets to a sustainable creative life which could be distilled to “Play and have fun every day come heck or high water!”.

I hope your week is a playful one no matter what else is happening. See you next Monday.

Dragon, family, books and paints

A Creative Life, art gallery, art techniques, artistic inspirations, business of art, creative thinking, life of the mind, sketchbook, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking, whimsical art

This week we had a fully vaccinated family gathering planned. So these pages of my “How To Draw A Dragon” were the only ones nearly finished this week.

Also just before the family visit the Aurora Gallery wanted more of my books and signed green dragon bookplates so delivery arrangements were quickly made. (Details about these books on my portfolio page.)

And then family came! It was very good to see them all! At one point we had a mini family reunion of 10 people! Especially after hardly seeing them during 2020 it was a treat to get to visit in person! I was grateful we were all fully vaccinated. Still I worried about everyone’s health and safety. But everyone was careful of everyone else. (So proud of my caring loving family!) We spent almost the entire week outside on our patio and in our yard. When we were inside to sleep we had all of the windows open and fans running. I was grateful too for nice weather with the high temperatures in the low 80’s and low temperatures in the 60’s.

My morning sketchbook work more or less continued while I made and served breakfast. More on that later.

My brother-in-law Jim had a career in the military in electronics and was a Master Sargent in the Air Force before he retired. He noticed the first day of the visit that I was drawing and asked to see what I was doing. I showed him my drawing of a hedgehog sitting in a measuring spoon. I explained that I was combining the thought of how one weighs and considers books in a bookstore with the way one measures things in a kitchen. He grinned and said “That makes a lot of sense!”

After dinner the evening we had the most people at the reunion I drew sketches of our family members and shared them. The entire family seemed to enjoy seeing my drawings and I had fun loving everyone that way! After that evening during the rest of the week Jim and I regularly talked about my sketchbook work.

Over the next days I shared that my thoughts for these sketches pictured below were about drinks and my feelings about the drinks. That made sense to him too! It made me feel good that my art could be so easily understood by someone who self described as “knowing nothing about art”.

We also talked of colors and color mixing. We looked at the shirts other family members were wearing and talked of how colors are mixed with black or with white or other colors. I talked of what paint colors I’d use to mix the colors of various family members clothing. He talked of the importance of colors in electrical wiring or as identity marks on planes and military clothing.

I showed him the book about colors I’d shared here in my last post.

At some point I took a moment and called my local art supply store Artists and Craftsmen and ordered all the butterfly colors from this page below. Won’t it be fun to make butterfly colored worlds?

Within a day my order was delivered by mail!

I checked to make sure all of the colors I wanted were here. They were! Artist and Craftsman really did a great job filling my very specific color order!

During another spare moment I labled my new palette and each new paint tube with the color number listed in the book. During other spare moments I squeezed out paints into the palette well corresponding with the numbers and put the tube I’d just used into a small drawer on my supply shelf.

In another snatched moment of time I labled my drawer of the new paints the “butterfly drawer”.

Another moment included a quick sketch of a butterfly on sticky lable paper which I stuck on my new palette.

Such labels help me – in the midst of work – to be able to grab the proper palette and paints without having to stop to re-read or re-research my original source book.

I think Master Sargent Jim enjoyed seeing my organization skills. His wife enjoyed looking at the colors. We had lots of fun conversations and many of those were about art and creativity.

I will swear again that being creative is a normal facet of being alive and that labeling only certain activities “creative” is merely a cultural convention. What military man hasn’t creatively rigged something when necessary? What mother hasn’t done the same? Being creative simply means being a fully alive aware and thinking human.

Anyway, I also got to practice making brunch for 6 people! I learned how to bake bacon and sausage in the oven on parchment paper. When the meat was almost done I put English Muffins on another parchment covered sheet pan in the oven to toast them. Then all that was left was to make the scrambled eggs in my cast iron skillet. I managed to draw a little and have all of the food hot at the same time to serve breakfast buffet style! A good time was had by all I think! Wahoo!

I hope this week to do more on my Dragon book and to get to spread the new colors around on something using a brush or two! 😁

I hope your week is a creatively arranged buffet style selection of love, color and happiness! See you next Monday.

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

A Creative Life, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, book design and layout, books, business of art, creative thinking, Gifts, household surrealism, illustrated poem, Odditorium, On Looking At Odditorium, recipe illustration, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking, whimsical art, words and pictures

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.