Being creative is like cooking – you get one meal cooked and cleaned up then it’s time for another meal. It’s the slog – long live the slog! Hooray for the slog! Okay so the word slog can have a negative connotation… I also call it a a good working rhythm! There’s a wonderful article about slogs aka work, talent and audacity from The Painters Keys. [Spoiler: it’s not the talent so much as the willingness to see it through]
Here’s some of my more finished than unfinished Dragon pages. I still have to ink all of the poem text and fill in certain visual elements on many of the pages but the entire book has been penciled!! Feels like an accomplishment… which I celebrated (more on that later in this post)! Anyway here are some of the mostly inked pages!!
If you recognize some of the pages, well that’s because I go through the book penciling. Then I go through the book inking this bit then I go through the book inking that bit then I go through the book….
See what I wrote earlier about slogging. Writers most obviously slog – you hear about novelists working on a draft of a novel for years, decades even. You hear about it taking years to rewrite and edit a novel. The same is true of my visual artistic life too. But the public doesn’t often hear about the slogs of a visual artist. I’ve written in the past about the similarities I see between art and writing – what I write here today is of a piece with that idea. Anyway, I find that it helps to celebrate small milestones of creative projects.
I penciled the entire How To Draw A Dragon book!! Yippee! So I celebrated by having margaritas with my spouse on our backyard patio. I also did a small painting in color. I’ve been thinking of of color as I have been working on “How to Draw A Dragon” a black and white line drawn book for other people to color. Indulging in both an adult drink and some gouache paints was decadent!!
And while I was painting the light outside changed but I kept painting.
While this looks like a complete painting done during the duration of a drink – and it is – but it is also only one piece of my much larger Odditorium exhibit. You might say this is like novelist writing one decent short paragraph during the time it takes to drink a margarita. A paragraph is not a novel. One painting is not an exhibit.
On another day this week my spouse snapped a photo of me drawing in my morning sketchbook. Below the photo you can see what I was sketching.
The next morning I got one of my small art boards and re-sketched my thought. This is what I love about keeping a sketchbook – I can explore thoughts messily in my sketchbook then later pick the thought I really like and re-explore and repeat with variations. I can try it in different sizes, art mediums and colors. This way there’s no pressure to get it right the first time. And I get to play with a group of fun thoughts as long as I like. Some might call it “flitting about” but I call it normal creativity. (See also my last post) Can you see how similar the visual art creative process is to the writers process of rewriting? Below I basically “rewrite” my thought.
I’m thinking this artwork will be fun on a mug for a gardener to use. There I go again dedicating a gift for someone – whether they ever see it or not. I mentioned doing this gift making / dedications in my last post. This mug and a card with the same artwork are on my Zazzle shop now.
I’ve even thought about color when eating this week – inspired by a recipe in my kitchen sketchbook Favorites So Far.
Below is one of the books I’ve been reading in the evenings before bed titled Nature’s Palette. My spouse gave it to me for my birthday earlier! Do you notice that some botanical and zoological drawings look sortof coloring book-like? Well in part that’s because long ago books were illustrated using etchings which were often colored by hand before being bound into a book. And from my past experience as a biological illustrator often both black line drawings and color drawings are needed for the same plant – so color is filled in (so to speak) after one has an accurate line drawing. Is it really any surprise that I’ve been thinking of color and coloring books lately?
I hope your week is full of color and delights for your senses. See you next Monday.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
While working on my new household surrealism art series I’ve been thinking of my art as souvenirs of special moments.
For example: a friends daughter and grandkids left a cup of daffodils for us on our porch. I photographed and sketched the flowers.
Here’s one of my sketchbook pages that seemed most promising for a painting idea.
Here I am starting to paint in acrylic on board…while carefully looking at a flower model.
And so my painting progressed by building up layers of color. I chose a mouse character, a shy mouse offering gifts, because I was thinking of the emotional risk a gift-giver bravely takes. Also I was thinking of the gifts of nature, like flowers, that are there if we’re able to notice the subtleties of colors, patterns and textures as they change with the seasons. I chose yellow croc shoes for my mouse character to wear because waterproof footwear is useful for puttering about outdoors where I live in the Pacific Northwest. So there are gifts of culture too. Gifts are to be found everywhere if you remember to look.
Below is the finished painting I’ve titled “Well, well…”. I looked through my falling apart copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for any words that would relate to gift giving or receiving. Finding the collage text is a lot like doing Blackout Poetry – I scan the Austen pages looking for words and phrases that fit my painting topic. For this painting I chose the phrase “Well, well…” because sometimes people say, when recieving a gift, “well, well, what have we here?”
Painting the little wrapped gift in the lower corner of my artwork reminded me of how much I enjoy making designs for tea towels…and using the towel to wrap a gift.
My adopted mom, back in the early 1990’s, made fabric bags with a drawstring for use and reuse in gift giving. She was environmentally friendly before it was cool. So even though I don’t have Mom’s flair with a sewing machine I love designing fabric patterns and thinking of the fabric being used to wrap a gift!
Here’s a closer look at the art I did for the tea towel. These were drawn, over time, from real life.
Speaking of hot sauce: this week I got brave and baked hashbrowns! Yes, bacon, eggs, hashbrowns served with hot sauce! Turns out I really can imitate the not-quite-so-greasy-spoon diner at home! And keep the coffee coming! Here’s a link for the recipe I used for hashbrowns.
But back to the artwork. I have 4 more paintings that I hope to finish before mid May. I’m scheduled to have one-person fine art exhibits at Burnt Bridge Cellars and Caplan Art Designs later this year so I want to have at least 18 to 20 new works for the shows. Wish me luck?
I’m calling this new art series “Odditorium”… I chose this title because I intend the entire group of my works to be “odd” uncommon visual stories about common things. For my title I merged my thoughts of the word odd with the word auditorium. “Odd” means different from the usual. “Auditorium” means a building or space for an audience. I want to make a mental space for looking anew – or looking oddly – at mundane things.
As I work in my sketchbook I ponder things like: Perhaps those flowers, that towel, that coffee mug are really souvenirs of pleasant moments in life? What if dealing well with mundane life is itself a gift or even an art form?
In his book “Keep Going” Austin Kleon talks of making art as a gift. There’s also a wonderful book by Lewis Hyde titled “The Gift“. The message I get from both of these books is to remember the people. Both art making and gift giving are about emotionally connecting with people and sharing moments together.
Often when I’m creating I think of a person I know, or have known (even if they’ve died), and I make something they might like. Or I make something that reflects a feeling of connection. The person I have in mind is often never explicitly told that I thought of them. So, that thing you like … well, it just might be a gift for you.
So I make souvenirs of kind gentle moments in life by depicting common objects and animal characters in imaginative, surprising and whimsical ways that hopefully give a viewer pleasure. This, in my mind, is household surrealism.
I also see a visual pun in putting my artwork onto ordinary household objects like fabric or mugs. By making my objects available digitally and via mail (see my gifts here) I’m musing about objects that enable people to emotionally connect in a socially distanced pandemic safe way. My thought is that my work is not just about the stuff; the objects or books, it’s about our connections and our perceptions within our mundane lives. Can we find love, comfort and even art in the ordinary?
Anyway, lots of work still to be done to get ready for my exhibits! I hope you have a pleasant week full of the gift of kind moments with people you love! See you here next Monday?
Behind these sketchbook thoughts is my ongoing thinking about Jane Austen’s work. In her novels – Pride and Prejudice most certainly – Austen writes of civility and the social comedy of manners. I see Austen’s work as exploring how stories affect civility and how the presence of civility, or lack thereof, in turn affects not just the individual but also the people around them and the larger society.
Here’s some of the books I’ve been looking at (besides the ebook murder mysteries on my phone): Living With Books by Helen E. Haines, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (my new copy!), The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, Art Matters by Peter de Bolla, In the Presence of Fear by Wendell Berry.
So in multiple ways I’ve been pondering the mundane roll-sleeves-up get-hat-gloves-boots-on kind of work it takes to have a humane civilization. Pleasantness takes effort, talent and perseverance. It can take effort to remember to notice and accept when something is pleasant and then to share it.
As Kurt Vonnegut said “I urge you to please notice when you’re happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.””
The odd surprises which delight us in nature, in cooking, in art, in literature and in music help us to cope, to see things anew, to remember why we’re working so hard – and that’s what the Arts are for, I think, to help us remember our humanity, our capability to be humane.
Anyway, I eventually finished this painting and titled it “Of Civility”. As per my last post I used some collage text from my old falling apart copy of Pride and Prejudice. This is another piece for art exhibits later this year.
Yes, it may take effort sometimes to be civil and show civility … but forward looking pleasantness usually works out better. As Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Also while thinking on these topics I made a coffee mug design for my Zazzle shop. My hand lettering on the mug says “I love you…you’re probably thinking ‘but you don’t even know me’ … but if people can hate people they don’t even know then I can love…so, I love you.” (Yes, I consider this mug tangentially part of the “household surrealism” work I spoke of in my last post” – my whimsical enjoyment of mundane things which includes making items that could be given as gifts)
Speaking of mundane pleasures, thanks to “An Invitation To Indian Cooking” by Madhur Jaffrey, I have finally learned to consistently make good Basmati rice on the stovetop! (My rice cooker bit the dust so making rice stovetop became a project)
Some quotes I like about rice:
And here’s another sketchbook page … I keep thinking about this one…
I hope you have a pleasant week full of gentle stories, kindness, civility, some odd delightful surprises and a very good bowl of rice. See you next Monday?