Chapter 3: Readings From The Heart

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I’ve been asked how I manage projects, like my “Readings From The Heart” exhibit, over a long duration. Half jokingly I replied “one bite at a time”. My joke is in reference to this saying I have thumbtacked to my art studio wall.

Seriously though when starting I create a general big picture, a kind of map for the entire project. Or, if you prefer, an outline. When I design a long project I do a hybrid blend of the two writing techniques: outlining and seat-of-pantsing. I apply these writing technique concepts to fine art making. I described in my last post what my big picture became for this exhibit that opens this week; the exhibit statement and the exhibit catalog Readings From The Heart. Here’s a few photos of the printed catalog. An ebook version is also available.

But when I began, more than 8 months ago, my big picture for this project was extremely vague. It was akin to a map of a forest without many details. It was akin to a book jacket blurb, with barely a teaser of what might be inside. It was akin to a writer’s outline with whole sections labeled ‘more research needed’.

My big picture map/ loose outline, was handwritten on a legal pad. Vague as it was it still served as a starting point. I keep a notebook/file box for each project so I can store all of my notes in one spot for easy updating and consultation as I work by the seat of my pants and a lots of “Very Small Goals” (VSG) for the project.

Then with the vague map in hand I identified some Very Small Goals (VSG) that would help me start and proceed on my project. These VSG’s can be as small as ‘buy a new art boards by Friday’. The VSG’s change as the process develops. The trick with VSG’s is to make them absurdly small, easily achievable and very specific – including what and when. It’s important to also find some way make each VSG fun.

I think of the creative life as an Eco-system rather than an Ego-system – what’s important is participating, showing up and finding ways to keep things fun. I can’t stress enough the importance of playing and keeping things fun. That makes creativity over a long project sustainable. Here’s another saying I have thumbtacked to my studio wall.

As I proceed to work I know many changes to my big picture/exhibit design will happen. I also know I don’t live in the big picture. I move organically back and forth from big, medium and small pictures of a project. It’s okay to be uncertain, to experiment and play. I just remember to update my big picture map as I have new thoughts. Slowly over time the picture map comes into focus. A project also changes as life happens.

In this case I began my Readings series well over 8 months ago. Then the pandemic happened and threw a monkey wrenchs in my plans. For example I had to suddenly adapt the way I was artistically inspired: to change from being inspired by things I experienced out in the world to a stay-at-home life, things that I read about or only happened in my imagination.

So to think through how to cope with the pandemic and quarantine I reread Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit, which I had created some time back, about mental health coping skills and wrote notes, drew pictures in my sketchbook in order to think.

I also worked daily in my sketchbook on the topic of how to adapt finding books to read, and the development of one’s mental life to a stay at home quarantine situation. Eventually this book was published as Another Sketchbook in order to share my entire process.

Being in quarantine meant cooking at home more so I consulted our Favorites So Far book. This is a sketchbook full of recipes that were enjoyable ways to feed body and mind. You could say that my work on these artist books/sketchbooks is the medium picture, the inset details within the bigger map, the more developed areas in the outline.

A look at the original sketchbook page which is included in Favorites So Far

All of this sketchbook work inspired my fine art, where I developed specific thoughts with ink and gouache on board. You can almost think of the fine art as the most visible leaves and fruits on the artist book “trees”. In the exhibit catalog I’ve tried to show the connections between the artist books and the fine art I created.

Sometimes, as the pandemic continued, the fine art on the topics of reading, cooking and thinking felt too serious. Needing some self comfort and to have some fun I began drawing portraits of dogs and cats. In order to organize these dog and cat drawings I decided to make them into a children’s book as a gift for some kids in our friends’ lives. Many of my adult friends enjoy my dog and cat portraits so I decided to share each pet portrait on my Instagram page as I finished it in hopes of cheering my friends as I created the kids book.

The finished artwork became an artist book titled Alphapets and was picked up by Storyberries.com. A sequel Alphapets Too followed. Many stories begin with love and an alphabet – so this portrait project felt fun, relaxed and like a small picture, a detailed map insert or a sample bit of text to be fitted into an outline. (In fact, I spoofed some of the pet portraits within my larger fine art paintings.) Here are the pages in the big picture book Readings From The Heart that tell about the smaller picture of Alphapets and how it fits in.

The original artwork for both Alphapets and Alphapets Too is on exhibit at the Aurora Gallery during August and September. More details about those projects here with lots of pictures of the artwork.

When all of the artist books and all of the artworks were finished I reread my notes and used those to create the exhibit statement I spoke of in my last post. I also used these notes to create the exhibit catalog Readings From The Heart. That was the very last thing I did for the August and September exhibits at Burnt Bridge Cellars, the Aurora Gallery and Caplan Art Designs. Well, the last thing besides the framing and art delivery.

Below is a photo of all of my artist books that relate to my Readings From The Heart exhibit. Additionally I’ve created a webpage with all of this projects more than 20 fine art pieces and details about each of the 3 exhibits here.

All 6 artist books related to the Readings From The Heart fine art exhibit

During this time period I was interviewed for a Doodlewash feature about my work in which I describe my working methods, the materials I use, how my daily work routine goes, images of my artwork, etc – you can see that here: https://doodlewash.com/sue-clancy-artist-whimsical-visual-stories/

Here’s a picture of me working in a sketchbook

Clancy at work in a sketchbook

I hope this look at how I work on long projects has been amusing for you. The exhibits open this week. Many of my upcoming Instagram posts will likely be about that. And I will update the above mentioned portfolio pages too.

Then next Monday when I post here I hope to be beginning a new long-ish project; an illustrated poem for a children’s book titled Numpurrs. I found I quite enjoyed the serialized posts I did for Alphapets and Alphapets Too. So I look forward to doing that again!

Alphapets Too: M, N, O and P

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Here’s the latest work on Alphapets Too my sequel to Alphapets by Clancy at the request of my fans and Storyberries – the publisher/distribution house I’ve been working with! (See my last post for details)

The Alphapets Too pet portrait project this week is brought to you by the letters M, N, O and P. Here’s my abecedarian poem to go with these letters and artwork :

Major makes do with a rock

Nala nibbles the clock

Opie oogles the big blue sky

Paco pokes the large pink tie

Here’s the artwork (somewhere on each piece is an alphabetical letter):

I did portraits of a green lizard (basilicus plumifrons), a pygmy goat, a squirrel monkey and a parrot.

The thing about this green lizard that makes me smile is its ability to run on water for short distances which has given it the “jesus lizard” nickname. This lizard lives in trees, around water and will, as I depict Major doing, bask on a sunny rock.

Pygmy goats are just cute. But like all goats they’d eat almost anything. This week my time dissapeared all too quickly. So I imagined my clock-time was eaten by a pygmy goat named Nala.

As I thought about what character to portray for the letter O, I remembered climbing trees a lot when I was a kid. Grandma even called me her “monkey”. I loved to climb to the top of the pear tree in Grandma’s yard and look at the sky. Squirrel monkeys eat fruit…so, here’s Opie!

Memories of my childhood reminded me that I strongly disliked the color pink and would “pick at” such clothing especially when it had bow ties or itchy lace. Why that memory merged with a large parrot named Paco I’m not sure – but it’s fun – so here it is.

Like my first series “Alphapets” this artwork, too, was created with ink, gouache and color pencil. I do these portraits on board, size 3.5 x 2.5 inches. The original art will be framed…eventually … and be a miniature art exhibit at the Aurora Gallery.

I will also be making an artist book titled Alphapets Too – in a format like “Alphapets by Clancy”. You can see print and ebook versions of “Alphapets” by clicking here.

And when I get it all done “Alphapets Too” will be available on Storyberries.com (Btw: there are two different stories by me currently on Storyberries.com- search the site by my name)

You can follow my progress during the week on my Instagram pages and see the full details of my creative process here in my Monday blog posts.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement as I work on this project!

Alphapets Too: I, J, K and L

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More work on Alphapets Too my sequel to Alphapets by Clancy at the request of my fans and Storyberries – the publisher/distribution house I’ve been working with! (See my last post for details)

The Alphapets Too pet portrait project this week is brought to you by the letters I, J, K and L. Here’s my abecedarian poem to go with these letters and artwork :

Itsy is happy to sit on a twig

Jojo jumps when trying to jig

Kane keels over when putting on pants

Libby looks sideways while hoping to glance

I did portraits of a green tree frog, a Pacific jumping mouse (also known as a western/woodland jumping mouse), a jerboa and a chameleon.

Tiny green tree frogs look like little living jewels to me. So as I painted Itsy I hung the letter “I” like a pendant.

My inspiration for Jojo was having seen the Pacific jumping mouse on my past woodland hikes in the Pacific Northwest. If I’m quick enough, on hikes, to freeze when I see movement out of the corner of my eye I’ll get to see more of the mouse. The mice can jump about 9 feet so when encountering one during a walk they give the impression of a tiny bird trying to fly up from the ground. If the mouse is jumping forward to travel it almost seems like someone trying to do a hopping dance.

While researching the Pacific jumping mouse I came across the jerboa. The jerboa is similar to the Pacific mouse – but very different too: larger ears, longer skinnier back feet and are a desert rat rather than a woodland one. The skinny back feet of the jerboa had me imagining, for my portrait of Kane, how difficult pulling pants over such feet would be.

Eyes are one of my interests. How humans percieve the world is part optical data driven and part cultural training/interpretation. (And the ways our brains function, stories we tell ourselves, did a whole book about that… but that’s not today’s topic) Humans tend to see only what we expect to see. So in my work as a biological illustrator- and as a fine artist I enjoy reading about animal eyes and scientific studies about eyesight. When creating the portrait of Libby I read this article about the chameleons ability to see in 360 degrees! Wow! A whole different way to “sideways glance” or see out of the corner of ones eyes.

Like my first series “Alphapets” this artwork, too, was created with ink, gouache and color pencil. I do these portraits on board, size 3.5 x 2.5 inches. The original art will be framed…eventually … and be a miniature art exhibit at the Aurora Gallery.

I will also be making an artist book titled Alphapets Too – in a format like “Alphapets by Clancy”. You can see print and ebook versions of “Alphapets” by clicking here.

And when I get it all done “Alphapets Too” will be available on Storyberries.com (Btw: there are two different stories by me currently on Storyberries.com- search the site by my name)

You can follow my progress during the week on my Instagram pages and see the details of my creative process here in my Monday blog posts.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement as I work on this project!

On being at home and eating well

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In times like these we need to do what kindnesses we can for each other so I’ve decided to release my kitchen sketchbook earlier than planned. The title of this new artist book is Favorites So Far – a kitchen sketchbook. Details follow.

I spend most of my time working at home. Now, with coronavirus, more people, especially here in Washington state, are too. Welcome to my world. There’s lots of work but also books, good meals, drinks and snacks.

So perhaps it will be kind to go ahead and share more of how cooking at home fits with my working at home life? Hope so…

I was going to wait until just before my one-person art exhibit in June 2020 to officially debut this memoir cookbook, Favorites So Far, as many of the recipes relate to my artwork. I’ve been dribbling out teaser recipes on my Instagram page especially as they relate to the artwork as I finish the art. My original intention was to build momentum toward my June exhibit, display the artwork at the physical exhibit and have this 48 page sketchbook, itself intended as artwork, available as an accessory to the exhibit. You know, big splash.

But to heck with that. It seems kinder to share this book right now because people gotta eat.

Technically this book, Favorites So Far, is a printed 48 page memoir sketchbook – with my sketches on every page. That a meal could be made from it was just bonus. It’s suposed to be autobiographical amusement. But it really is a practical book, we refer to it for our own meals regularly.

Here’s a photo of the front and back covers of the printed book Favorites So Far:

Recently my co-author, Judy Sullens, and I got to talking: in the best of times what to cook/eat is a question. Door Dash and other innovative food delivery services are super helpful – but people suddenly being at home more… perhaps they’ll find it helpful to hear how a couple of busy creatives who’re not always flush with cash, not always remembering to get stuff at the store, how do they fill their belly’s?

So we decided to release the book now rather than wait. This link to the full color printed book has the entire book as a preview – and you can purchase it there too. https://www.blurb.com/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

The book is set up to be printed, 48 pages, full color, landscape format to showcase the artwork. And, since we’re not waiting to do a big splash at the exhibit, we’ve now set it up so the printed book can be shipped directly to you from the printer.

Perhaps even more helpfully we’ve set it up as an immediately downloadable ebook viewable on any device: Google Android devices, Kindle etc. It’s still 48 pages, full color with all the artwork. You can get the ebook version here. https://www.blurb.com/ebooks/709744-favorites-so-far (preview first 15 pgs)

Speaking of previews here’s some of the pages:

The title page
Book info page…. see, drawings on all pages!
Introduction page…how this book came to be.

And here are a few of the inner pages so you can see the memoir attributes.

More generally how I handle being a busy artist while not starving: after breakfast, before getting to work in my studio, I cut up veg and etc ingredients and throw them in a pot to slow cook until lunchtime. I work for several hours in my studio, take a short break to stir the pot. Back to work for another hour or so. Then lunch!

This is a pic of my sketchbook that Favorites So Far is a reproduction of – and a pot of just assembled stew:

And, yes, since it’s so near to St. Patrick’s Day I couldn’t resist posting this Irish stew recipe!

Oh, and we showed this sketchbook to a chef friend who said “I love it that a third of the book is cocktails!”

Hope you enjoy this book and that you eat well.

Way of all fresh food

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I’ve been working on a large painting and posted a pic of me at work on my Instagram page. A friend asked me to explain my symbolism when I finished it …so here goes:

First the painting. It’s titled “The Way Of All Fresh (Food)“. The size is 36 by 24 inches and I used ink, gouache and color pencil to make it.

The Way Of All Fresh (Food) – by Clancy

As evidenced by recent posts of my sketchbook pages I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the life of the mind. I’ve also been reading classic fiction on the topic: “Stoner” by John Williams, “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin and “The Way Of All Flesh” by Samuel Butler.

When creating fine art I like to use symbolism that originates in literature and mythology as a way to orient myself in order to create a visual story.

In this case Butler’s novel had me thinking, as I read, of the ways mental development, new learning – like love – can sneak up on us, and yet it’s something that we process daily. The challenges and necessity of purposefully participating in one’s own mental life dominated my thoughts – especially after I finished reading Butler. I thought of how the maintenance of one’s mind is similar to the maintenance of one’s physical body.

With that as a bare bones thesis I sought, and selected from literary history, symbols with which to construct my visual story:

Lizards represent inner life, taking time to reflect. (I also remembered a quote from the children’s book author Madeleine L’Engle “Love is a funny thing, shaped like a lizard, that runs up and down and tickles your gizzard.”)

Celery, in Ancient Greek writings, represents victory and a warding off of evil spirits. Parts of the celery plants were woven into garlands, crowns, and given to the winner of sporting events. They were also woven into funeral wreaths.

Parsley stands for useful knowledge, joy and feasting. (Practical stuff of life.)

Apples have a long literary history signaling love, knowledge, self-awareness, attainable joys….all elements of life that have been, in some stories, forbidden or used to trick (think Snow White and the 7 dwarves). So I see an element of good critical thinking skill development in an apple but I digress.

Bulldog represents tenacity, courage, willingness to do the right thing.

Cat represents curiosity.

In addition to playing with symbols I’ve also hidden what’s known in the movie and gaming industries as “easter eggs“. Some of the eggs I hid are:

The cat portrait in this painting is a spoof of my own artwork, i.e. there exists an artwork by me that’s similar to this painting within the painting. (There’s also a jigsaw puzzle I designed with this cat artwork.)

I’ve waved “hello” to many of my friends – the kitchen furniture waves to my interior decorator, visionary friend, Carolyn. The cutting board high-fives Kevin, a friend who’s a talented woodworker. The lizards are a shared giggle with my friend Kim. The socks are a howdy to Frank and Elaine. The purple shirt is there because of Beverly, Kris H and Erica M. The book and the heart-art are for my spouse – as always.

Since the lizards represent time to reflect I’ve included a clock near the heart and brain artwork with a special time on it. Most days by 10:40 a.m. I have spent time writing and drawing in my sketchbook. One of my methods to cultivate my own inner life. (And yes, I post these sketchbook pages on Instagram and make artist books from them. You can see some of the books here.)

Oh, almost forgot, there’s a yummy celery, apple and parsley salad recipe that goes with this painting too.

There now. I’ve told most, but not all, of the punchlines. Enjoy!

writing techniques my kitchen sketchbook and fine art

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I’m working towards 3 one-person fine art exhibits this year and I’m using writing techniques to design them. Gathering sources, aka a bibliography, is a starting spot for nonfiction works. So I’m borrowing that concept only I’m creating the books I’ll use as, ahem, source citations.

For example, in my last post I depicted a woman reading and having breakfast. Here is the source for the breakfast within the art… the source is my kitchen sketchbook:

During my exhibits I’ll want to show my sources (like a writer would) so I’ve published a new artist book based on my kitchen sketchbook titled Favorites So Far. The recipes come from both me and my spouse, a kind of memoir sketchbook cookbook… and part of the basis for my fine art. Anyway, here’s a picture of the cover:

That you could make your own meals from this book is a happy bonus…it’s primarily yummy source material!

If you want to you can get a copy of this book via this link: https://www.blurb.ca/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

I’ll post more on this topic over the coming months.

a familiar unfamilar language

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My friend and neighbor, who has two grandchildren under the age of 2, was showing me a vintage toy that was purchased for the kids; a red and blue ball with shaped holes in it, with the yellow-block shapes inside the ball. You pull open the ball, the yellow-shape blocks spill out and you can put the blocks back inside the ball by matching the block shape and the hole shape.

At the time I was working on an illustration and was stumped for the “language” that the space alien creature would be speaking. The “language” in my artwork would need to somehow imply the ways the content of a book can “fit” with or resonate with a reader.

My conversation with my neighbor helped – creative problem solved!!

TakeMeToYourReader

 

the sacred stew dance

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It’s finally gotten to be “soup and stew” weather here in the Pacific Northwest! When I was making a stew the other day I realized I was twirling, aka dancing, in the kitchen; popping quickly between the stove, the counter where I was chopping veg, the pantry and the refrigerator. I was so excited about making a stew that I’d forgotten my cardinal rule of getting all the ingredients out before starting.

Ah well.

The experience inspired this artwork I’ve titled “The Sacred Dance Of The Stew-pot”.

SacredDanceOfTheStewPotPicSm

Sacred Dance Of The Stew-pot – by Clancy – 8 x 10 inch – ink and gouache on board

I created the artwork using my fountain pen and gouache on board – after I’d finished eating of course.

The stew turned out okay. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever made. But for the first stew of the season I’ll give it marks for effort.

 

the eggplant technique of creativity

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“Feelings are guides not gods” is a phrase from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”, the new print version I’m currently working on. The concept is illustrated by this story:

EggplantSM

Here’s some text from the book related to the artwork: “Do you think that feelings keep you from doing things? More good news – they don’t! We’ve all done many things we didn’t feel like doing – such as going to school or work when we didn’t feel like it – which proves that: Feelings don’t keep us from doing things. Moreover, when you do that thing you feel scared to do, you are nourishing your courage…… Remember, you are responsible for your feelings not responsible to them.” (see the Eggplant story above)

Cultivating and maintaining a high level of Emotional Intelligence is essential to well-being (and creativity). Good mental health is about more than just the absence of mental illness – it is the presence of good coping skills, being able to self-regulate, to see feelings as a guide whether the feelings are your own or someone else’s. (Btw: there’s a good article about teaching Emotional Intelligence here.)

I’ve found Dr. Bob’s concept of “feelings are guides not gods” applies to creativity, and the creative life, as well. Whether or not I feel a particular way doesn’t have to affect whether or not I make my artwork. My feelings are not a “god” to be obeyed. If it’s time to work in the studio, however short or long the time-to-work I’ve allotted is, off I go to my creative work no matter how happy, sad or inspired I feel at the moment.

Where I use my feelings as a “guide” is when I’m out in the world on the lookout for possible art-topics. I keep my inner eye open for things that capture my curiosity and my imagination. Then I keep a list of those things and my feelings related to them in my sketchbooks for future art-making. My use of this “feelings as guide” technique has helped me create many helpful guidebooks, so to speak, for my own creative life.  I find it a sustainable creative practice.

All that aside I’d like to add that eggplant can, once in a while, be a very good vegetable – especially as eggplant parmesan.

the art technique of attention

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I’ve been very busy getting ready for a one-person fine art exhibit at Caplan Art Designs that will open in September. (So my social media activity has slacked off lately.) Around the edges of creating new fine artwork, framing, paperwork and so forth I’ve been working towards a new print edition of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.

This story from the First Aid Kit has been a good reminder of an art technique I try to practice daily – even when I’m busy:

Attention

Even when I’m very busy I practice taking a moment within my day, wherever I am, in the here-and-now and pay attention to my 5 senses. I try to let go of any preconceived conceptions, to just expand my awareness. I also include, in this exercise, paying attention to my free-associations and my imagination during my 5-senses check-in moment. I’ll note my sensory experience and “watch”, like you’d watch television, the memories, thoughts and associations that cross my mind as a result of the sensory experience.  I’ll often make notes in my sketchbook.

What I “get” for my payment – when I pay attention – is the power to choose what to focus on when I’m at my art easel working.

This practice of paying attention to both sensory input and the content of my mind –  is a version of what Betty Edwards wrote about in her book “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” – in the section where she talks about chairs. How (and I’m paraphrasing) a drawing student first attempting to draw a chair will substitute their knowledge about chairs (4 legs, a square seat and back) and will draw a child-like symbol of a chair. One has to learn to see the shapes of the spaces around the chair as well as the shapes of the chair itself – what is actually seen (3 legs, a trapezoid shaped seat and back).

I find too often – especially when I’m busy – I’m substituting my “knowledge” about the world, my preconceptions, for what “is” in the world. So I find it helpful to practice seeing the shapes of spaces, so to speak, in my sensory experience of the world. And to see the shapes of spaces within my own mind.

Paying attention allows me to merge real-world phenomenon with my mental life and to choose to communicate, via art, in ways that are helpful, playful and fun.

Currently “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” only exists in e-book form. But as I said above, I’m working on that. This book has had such a profound impact on my own creative life that I want to have another print version around.