I finished my commission for the Caplan Art Designs Gallery and delivered it. Still can’t talk about it yet but I’m pleased and the Gallery was pleased… enough said!
With the leftover paint from the commission I began working on this painting currently in progress…
As a reward for finishing the commission my wife and I took a day to visit a few of our favorite places in Portland Oregon to play and generally muck about. The first place was Powell’s City of Books where we explored many of their 5 floors of spectacular book reading goodness and other fun things…
We each came home with small book hauls. Here’s mine…
Our other favorite place is Oblation Papers and Press. We got 3 bottles of ink: two are coffee colored and named “Caffe Creama” and “Espresso”. The third ink is named “Portland Rain” and it is a grey-purple-blue color like the, um, rainy Pacific Northwest sky this time of year! I also got two dip pens because…they’re dip pens.
Needless to say I’ve been carefully balancing my time between work on the commission for Caplan Art Designs and time for rest and playing towards the art exhibits scheduled for this year. The commission has a firm deadline and I’m steadily on schedule. In order to stay on schedule I’ve let go of much of my social media. If I haven’t responded to you this is why. Anyway, around the commission priority comes work towards a new painting series.
As I mentioned last week extra paint from the commission gets used on another painting in progress. This way I don’t get distracted from the commission and am still making progress towards future exhibits. Last week I was working on this painting and this week I finished it.
As I mentioned on my recent email newsletter I’ve been reading and thinking about time. Specifically time and creativity. Human brains simply need time in order to put ideas together. Here’s some of what I’ve been reading. (Details about the books are available here https://bookshop.org/shop/clancy)
Yes, despite being busy I’m still carefully making time to read every day. It’s how I maintain my creative focus, enthusiasm and fun. Same with my sketchbook work which I share via my email newsletter.
A book – whether a library book or a personal notebook/sketchbook – occupies time in uniquely personal ways. The reader moves through time and space as they page through a book at their own pace and magically whole worlds, memories and ideas are built letter by letter, word by word, page by page in the readers mind!
As I say on another page of my website the definition of an “artist book” is “… a book conceived as an art object. It reveals a story over time and space using a combination of content and art techniques in a way that directly involves the viewers participation. “
Books and artwork both use time – time itself – as a creative technique!!! These thoughts about time and the book format also lead me to thinking more about handwriting, hand created art, handmade books and the value of the handmade in this Artificial Intelligence, rush rush, hurry hurry, often prefabricated and canned world. Can both handmade paintings, handmade books and handwriting be analogous to homemade cooking? What does it mean to be real? To be authentic? To be human? To be a time bound being that exists in space?
There is no one grand answer to any of these questions (that would be too hedgehog-y – in reference to the book “The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Isaiah Berlin) but all of this is in my mind as I work. You’ll see some evidence of my musings on these topics in the upcoming illustrated short story about an alien in outer space on my email newsletter…🤣… but I digress.
I hope you too are being mindful of your time this week. It’s a precious resource. Thank you for sharing time with me. See you next Monday.
A friend asked how I maintain creativity while doing a commission. My reply: a schedule and lots of joy breaks. I deliberately make the mundane magical. Especially via joy breaks.
Joy breaks, also called “Joy Snacks“, is purposefully taking time to recognize and savor small pleasures. Think of the old fashioned coffee breaks office workers were allowed within a work day but for me now it’s a scheduled “check in” with whatever seems pleasant to me at regular intervals throughout a day. It’s allowing myself to fully feel the pleasure I feel however small the feeling may be. I add a corollary that it’s also avoiding killjoy thoughts – including those U.S. Southern style self depreciating cynical put downs of my own pleasures. It’s taking time to make note of a memorable moment in my journal/sketchbook each day. Yes, notes of things I’m grateful for but also just things I enjoyed and the surprising things that pleasantly caught my attention during the day. It’s also taking a moment to maintain awareness of what is within my control and what isn’t – a crucial thing to remember during creative deadlines – while allowing myself to relax and let go of some things in the Stoic philosophical manner.
In a technical/physical sense while doing an art commission (my current one is for the Caplan Art Designs Gallery) there are times I need to wait for parts of the commission to dry before doing other parts. There are also times when I have extra paint that I mixed for the commission leftover. So part of the mundane creativity task is to monitor the commission as it dries – to stay on task – and yet also use up any excess paint. This week I did a painting of a pig titled “Red Eye Gravy Train”… (details of the painting, the related limerick and a view of my sketchbook is on my Substack https://sueclancy.substack.com/p/early-starts )
I had mixed a pink color for my commission and had a wee bit leftover so I added a bit more of the white and used it on “Red Eye Gravy Train”.
During another days work on my commission I was mixing a particular shade of light blue and the tube of blue suddenly smooged out too much color in a gush. So I had a huge amount of leftover blue color to deal with.
So I consulted my sketchbook for ideas and with a watercolor pencil quickly drew a design and filled in with the extra blue paint (and the wee bit extra green too).
Even after painting that there was still extra blue paint left so I covered two boards edge to edge with the blue till the paint was used up. No clue at this point how I’ll use these new blue boards…but that’s what creative thinking is for!
Since I’ve been so busy working we’ve had lots of beans and rice for our lunches. I have a keeper of my precooked magic beans in the fridge so I toss a scoop or two in on top of the rice in my “push here dummy” rice cooker, to quote my adopted Mom’s phrase for simple kitchen appliances.
I add spices, freshly chopped onions and other vegetables to vary the dishes from meal to meal, press the cook button and head back to the studio to work some more.
Even though these beans and rice bowls I make are simple and cooked in a busy-artist-hands-free-cooking way they still feel like homemade comfort food. (My beans and grains bowl recipe/strategy can be found in my kitchen sketchbook “Favorites So Far“)
I like handwritten works, homemade food and just about anything made by hand. So I enjoyed this post by Austin Kleon about how AI (and algorithms) can’t kill anything worth keeping.
And I admit to getting a joy snack style chuckle from this article about today’s teenagers going luddite and ditching social media and smartphones in favor of handmade real life!
The additional poetry book title by Andrea Gibson, the new favorite poet I wrote about last post arrived this week! I love it that it looks handwritten. I know it’s a font…but I like the look. Gibson’s words feel so true to my own experiences and the semi-handwritten hand illustrated look adds a sense of comradeship for me.
Speaking of handwritten poetry… I read a fun article about a park ranger who got creative and made a free little library style kiosk for poetry in the park!
One of the most delightful joy breaks was this video of what happened when a girl gave a street musician a coin.
And I hope today’s post itself gave you a small joy break. Remember to take breaks and notice pleasant things. See you next Monday or thereabouts.
This week I delivered the finished 3D box I’ve titled “Dogs On The Block” to the Caplan Art Designs Gallery for the upcoming holiday exhibit.
It has come to my attention that I’ve not explicitly shown that in the mornings I use two small books, both referred to as “sketchbooks”, one for writing and thinking in words: my efforts at poetry, stories, and plans about my artist books and art exhibits. The other book is art, drawing and painting focused. From either sketchbook I work on more finished versions of the art, poems and stories. Here’s a few photos of what I mean and there are more details on my email newsletter.
The writing sketchbook has lighter weight pages which are nice to write on with fountain pens and suit light pen drawings. When I want to really explore an image idea I redraw it in my art sketchbook which has thicker paper that can deal with heavy pen drawings or whatever other art materials I want to use. Here’s an example of that. The writing book is on the left, the art book on the right.
There are promotional things still to do about Patchwork Poems but the active creation part is done.
Whenever I’ve finished most of my current art projects to refuel my creativity I turn my attention to what I call my “Bradbury Reading Program For a More Creative Life”. I’ve practiced this program fairly constantly for more than a decade by now and firmly believe it has helped me be as creative and prolific as I am. Here’s the “Bradbury Reading Program” in a nutshell: for the next 1000 days read one poem, one short story and one essay on any topic. Even if I don’t actually manage 1000 consecutive days I aim for as many in a row as possible. If life happens and I miss a day I forgive myself and get back to it asap. Here is a video of Ray Bradbury himself talking about this reading program. https://www.instagram.com/reel/CkdkDiuvNrR/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
In the mornings I play in my writing or art sketchbooks in response to whatever is on my mind in the mornings while I’m still in that groggy half asleep state. I am *not* a morning person and this is my superpower: dawdling, doodling and dream-noodling over coffee and breakfast.
The poetry and short stories I read each day are seriously short. Towards evening I randomly pull a book from my shelves, read the poem or story within a few minutes, replace the book on the shelf and go on with making dinner. To show you what I mean… here’s a bookshelf with poetry books on it…
…the book I chose is titled Comic Poems – Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets…
… I open it randomly and read the 4 line poem by Ogden Nash. I replace the book on the shelf and the poem section of today’s Bradbury Reading Program is done.
Now from part of my short story bookshelves…
… I select Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah and open it at random…
… to a half page sized story titled The Oath. I read the story and replace the book on my shelf. Now the short story part of the Bradbury Reading Program is done. And possibly dinner is ready too – or will be shortly.
I shared this photo below in my last post but I’m still happily reading these books each day after dinner. The top most book, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, is a book of short essays that fits with my “Bradbury Reading Program”. The essays generally are two pages long, sometimes a bit shorter or longer. It doesn’t take long to read an essay after dinner prior to clearing the table and doing dishes. I’ve been reading these essays aloud to my wife just so I can keep my voice in practice while I’m basically without hearing aids.
The titles by Salman Rushdie were chosen because I enjoy reading biographies of artists alongside one or more of their creative works. In this way I learn so much about living the creative life. These Rushdie books are what I’m reading each night for about an hour before bedtime. Usually with a mug of hot chocolate.
Details about the books in the above photos are available on my public bookshelves on @bookshop_org – and book sales from this link benefit indiebookstores https://bookshop.org/shop/clancy
The only book pictured in this post but not listed on my public bookshelves is Comic Poems by the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets. Sadly it seems well and truly out of print however they offer many other small books with short poems https://knopfdoubleday.com/imprint/everymans-library/
I hope your week is pleasant and full of creativity! See you next Monday.
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.
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.
In a prior post I wrote about sharing the correlation I see between art and mental health. Writing and drawing your thoughts and feelings can help you check in with yourself. It’s a way of caring about and listening to your innermost self. Beyond any therapeutic benefits a habit of writing and drawing is also intelligence at play. Play is essential to mental health and not valued nearly enough… but I digress. Reading books and viewing the art others have made serves both of the therapy and play purposes too. Telling and showing more of my own work, my own intelligence at play, in my sketchbook is one way I can think of to share this correlation I see. That’s part of why I’ve begun A.M. Sketching anyway. (Btw this week there was a featured bug…😆)
Longtime readers of this blog know how I like easily portable sets of art supplies. Well, this preference has dovetailed with my above mentioned thoughts about mental health and having a regular sketching, writing and reading habit. Towards this notion I’ve found a company that makes sets of good quality art supplies and maintains an online series of tutorials about drawing. I am now in the process of affiliation so that whenever I share some art techniques (and add to the online drawing tutorial library) someone can easily access the supplies if they want to. http://shop.nil-tech.com/?ref=DmLN4hDZ
I remember teaching art, in pre-pandemic days, and sourcing the art supplies was always an issue. Even for adult classes the list of supplies to buy often overwhelmed students. So it’s nice to make it easier for someone to get the supplies they need to start a sketching habit by having everything available in one portable zippered case.
By the way when I say “a sketching habit” I include both words and images. Writing and drawing are both powerful tools for thinking and living well.
I wrote in my last post about my upcoming art exhibit at the Aurora Gallery. Here’s another video look at some of my artist books that will be in that upcoming exhibit. https://youtu.be/_VqH-Jw9wbg The featured book “Stories we could live inside…or not” relates to the mental health theme… here are some still photos but please see the video.
Besides fine art and artist books there are also limited edition greeting cards… the art, books and cards all relate to each other… anyway here’s a photo of the box of 90 pieces of art. Many of the artworks are the size of an open hand or smaller. It was nice to just carry one 11 x 11 x 14 inch sized box into the Gallery! I’m telling you I’m totally sold on the miniature art genre!
You can see a bit of what’s in the box on my portfolio page here. Needless to say I’m tired. I’m also reading a very good book. So I’ll get back to reading it now.
I hope you have a good book to read too and that your week is as pleasant as possible. See you next Monday.
I’m still mostly having a break from blogging and social media: Last week for my birthday my spouse and I went to Oblation Papers in Portland Oregon https://www.oblationpapers.com/ where, one of their knowlegeable staff, directed me to the TWSBI ECO fountainpens with their high volume ink chamber!! I also got a new Noodlers Ink called “Heart Of Darkness”! Won’t it be fun to make my whimsical art from this ink of Darkness?! We rushed home where I immedately filled the new pen and drew in my sketchbook!
Later that day a box from Vintage Books https://vintage-books.net/ came via mail!! I love how they individually wraps each book so they arrive in beautiful condition! In the last photo you can see the titles of the books I got!! This was my first birthday after my adopted Mom’s recent death. It was hard but focusing on things I know I enjoy helps. I even wrote a smidge about keeping a list of self soothing things over on A.M. Sketching.
Quite on purpose not a lot else happened this week so I’ll catch you up on another art for a winery project. This happened over the last 6 months or so and was kept under wraps till the winery could open publicly. For Canal District Wines in Massachusetts I did a series of pet portraits and made them into art prints.
Here you see them being installed.
Here’s a few photos with my art in the background.
Here’s a closer look at a few of the art prints themselves. You can see the whole collection on my Society 6 shop here.
I’ve shared it before but this thumbtacked note on my studio wall containing what Mom said in one of our last conversations bears repeating … she said it in her authoritative Mom voice too! Mom had worked as a psychiatric nurse and she always placed a high value on self-care, especially upon mental health self-care as a way to foster good relationships with yourself and other people, self-care as a lens through which to view one’s choices of activities. When I was younger and Mom learned – before I realized it myself – that drawing and writing were some of my main ways to self-soothe whenever I was upset she would gently direct me towards pens and paper.
Now after Mom’s passing I keep thinking about creativity and mental health skills… what if making stuff is primarily a way of listening to yourself? Not something to be primarily viewed as a way to make money or even with an expectation to make “good art”. What if writing and drawing, along with reading and looking at art, are simply coping skills in times of stress? Something accessible to everyone. What if, as I shared last Friday in my A.M. Sketching email newsletter, art making is simply intelligence doing self-care and playing?
Now I’m thinking of sharing more of my sketchbook work in a step by step way over on A.M. Sketching and possibly here too. Somehow I want to emphasize the connection I see between mental health and marks on paper … but how do I want to do this? How can I do it that also helps me take care of myself by not adding to my already long project list? I’m reminded of this teaspoon page in my sketchbook.
Now I look at the silverware drawer in the kitchen as a homage to grit and resilience.
I wish you to have a good grasp on your spoon too this week. See you next Monday.
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.
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.