In my last post I talked about creating rhythms and patterns. This week I created rhythmic art based on my real life. For example I saw a plant skeleton which inspired part of an artist book I made and shared earlier this week on my email newsletter (there’s a video flip-through on my newsletter). In my book titled “Mysterious Mural #1” I was thinking of the power of art, of books and of coffee… in my whimsical way of course. But the book contains a story sequence around a large pattern inspired by the plant. Here’s the plant…
Here’s a look at part of Mysterious Mural #1 so you can see the sortof resemblance to the plant above. More details on my email newsletter post here.
It probably won’t surprise you that my wife and I went to Beaches, a local restaurant, to attend, (along with half of Vancouver! ❤) the fundraiser for the local library system Ft Vancouver Regional Libraries. At the restaurant Beaches we sat by big windows looking out over the Columbia river watching the weather changing as we looked. We also saw seals leaping and geese swimming…
As you can see when we got our food and drinks it was bright and sunny.
Then the light changed and the color of the river changed… I find it endlessly fascinating how light affects the perception of colors.
Later we visited the main library downtown. It’s a 5 story building occupying a city block. Five glorious floors of public library goodness! There’s a sculpture garden on the walkway to the front doors. The top floor has a balcony with a garden and seating areas for reading outside but you can’t see that from the ground.
One whole floor, the 5th floor, is devoted to fiction and it’s the floor that has the outdoor balcony. Here’s a view from inside the fiction floor.
Here’s a view from the 5th floor balcony. If the day were clear and sunny this view would show snowy mountains in the distance. Even on a cloudy rainy day I think the view is pretty.
I went to the library in search of particular titles that were referenced in other books I’ve been reading. Of course I didn’t “stick to the list”. 🤣 Here’s what I came home with. My wife has her own stack!
Our library day was so pleasant that on another day I created a pictorial diary page about our pleasant day – which I shared on another email newsletter this week too.
I used fountain pen and a water brush in one of my larger sketchbooks. I find the ink wash technique an easy, no fuss, quick way to get things documented. And yes, I selectively edited when mentioning the weather and documented only the sunny parts of the day. I enjoy the rain too but for my pattern I needed to edit and simplify in order to explore my pleasant feelings within my 20 panel grid format. I also simplified the flower garden we saw and what we had for lunch. The story format, what is included and what is left out of a story are rather arbitrary artistic choices of the moment…another day I might’ve made different ones… anyhoo I think the pleasure of the day still comes through. 🤞
I enjoyed the challenge of making a story sequence that is also an overall rhythmic pattern. I’m thinking I might try to make this sequence into a fabric design. 🤔
I’m enjoying playing artistically with my daily rhythms, patterns, events and lists of pleasant things. It’s a fun way to combine life and art in soothing ways. It’s my way of practicing the idea in this story I illustrated in Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit.
I hope your upcoming week is as pleasant as it can possibly be! 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.
As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been sorting and winnowing my illustrations and poetry for a new children’s book.
By writing the poem lines on index cards and having the illustrations on paper I can physically spread them out and sort them. This is very much the editing and rewriting process that the books on writing talk about. I’m doing draft after draft after draft just like they recommend – my drafting is just in tangible form.
For example I put numbers on yellow post it notes which affix on the archival sleeves holding the artwork. That post it note number corresponds to the poem line written on an index card. My legal pad contains a handwritten record of sequences I’ve tried aka manuscript drafts.
The artwork and the index cards are laid out on a queen size bed in the number sequence I’d most recently tried. I read the poem out loud. Then I walk away after shutting the bedroom door so my cat won’t pounce on the artwork. Later, after lunch for example, I’ll go reread and view the artwork, perhaps make a change in the order of the art/poem by moving the art, the index card and the yellow post it notes. Then I’ll read the new order aloud. I’ll note the new numeric number order (draft!) on my legal pad. Then I’ll go do something else. Perhaps just before dinner I’ll repeat the above process before putting everything away for the evening. This short-burst working method allows space for my unconscious mind to work on my project.
As a result some of the illustrations didn’t stay in the queue. Some poem lines went into the bin. Some art and poem lines stayed but took their time to find their place. Eventually after more than a week of these daily sort/resort episodes gradually more of my sequences resonate with me.
As I sort the pictures and words I’m keeping my eye and ear open for what resonates. By resonate I mean that I keep returning the art and poem lines to a particular place or order that makes me smile, makes my heart sing. This resonance is found slowly, page spread by page spread. I just keep on sorting until all of the pages and the entire book sequence feels that heart-sing way, a feeling I call “taking root”.
After that “taking root” has happened then I read the poem aloud and show the artwork to my spouse. Further adjustments are made according to her suggestions. Then I live with any new sequence another day or so to double check how rooted it feels.
I think of this entire creative process as a lot like growing a garden from seed; you plant seeds, you water, you wait, you position the pot on a window sill to catch the sun, you water, wait…at times it feels like nothing is happening…then eventually you have a seedling big enough to safely transfer to another container.
I’m about to the point with this new book of transferring it to another container – meaning that I’m ready to photograph the artwork and begin the book layout design, the computer hocus pocus of it.
The probable title for my new book is “This Rabbit”. But we’ll see if that holds as I shift the book, idea-seed soil and all, to it’s new digital pot.
Speaking of seeds and gardens: here’s a new fabric pattern design with bunnies and blooms. I’m now waiting to see a proof fabric swatch before I approve it to be in my Spoonflower shop.
Last week there was winter weather in the Pacific Northwest and friends and family lost power which caused concerns. But they were brief concerns, quickly resolved, and everyone is fine. Whew.
Then the Texas snow, ice and severe cold storm happened and was not quickly resolved (still isn’t as of this writing). We used to live in Oklahoma and we still have friends in Oklahoma and friends and family living in Texas…so we worried. And made phone calls etc.
And as we worried about friends everywhere I made a greeting card design that couldn’t really be sent, due to the storms, to the people we worried about. But I made the card anyway – the act of making it helped.
Worries distracted me some from my work on “This Rabbit” but not too much. My short-burst method of working accommodates such stuff-of-life.
Besides making the greeting card I puttered in my studio cleaning things. I came across some nice rice paper I’d forgotten I had so I stopped cleaning and made a small accordion book with the paper. It measures 6 inches tall by 2 inches wide when folded shut.
One of the many people we worried about is named Beverly. Last year during the pandemic on my birthday Beverly called to wish me a happy day and as a present she talked me through her grilled cheese sandwich method. I’d taken notes on a scrap of paper during our call last year and saved the paper folded and slipped into the pocket of my kitchen sketchbook. This week, in solidarity with Beverly, I made the yummy sandwiches and transferred the notes into my sketchbook.
And here’s the sandwich. My half of the sandwich anyway…the sourdough bread slices we have are large so spouse and I split one sandwich.
At various points during any day I find that coffee and books are comforting. So are homemade oatmeal cookies. Here are cookies resting on cloth napkins made from my fabric pattern with a coffee and books motif. It’s the small comforts that add up. Especially when worried about friends…
As of this writing it seems that most of our Oklahoma and Texas friends and family are more or less fine physically. Whew. Now we wait to hear how the horrific price gouging in Texas will affect them…
Once again I am struck by the difference in response to disasters between regions of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest the utilities are regulated and public. It is generally presumed that people are what matters. In the midwest and south there’s less regulation and more privitization. It is generally presumed that private companies’ profits are very, very important.
I’ve been thinking all week of how the kind of government one has can affect one’s daily life for good or ill. So we worry about friends and family in unregulated privatized Texas. (There’s a well written article here in The New York Times about all this.)
Anyway, hopefully we’ll all have a quieter week. I’ll keep working on my projects much like a seed works at growing no matter what else happens – being creative helps me cope with stuff. It also helps to share my work with you. Thank you so much for looking at my pictures, reading my words and for your kind comments. Catch up with you next Monday.
I’m having fun with new combinations of colors. In a recent post I tried a yellow and grey color set. After posting about that a friend said she liked pink and grey together. So I tried that combination this week.
I’ve enjoyed playing with odd sized elements so I continued that in this new ink and gouache painting I’ve titled “The Comfort Was Indeed Beyond…”. Again I used some text collage from that falling apart copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice I’ve spoken of.
As mentioned in a prior post I’d played with yellow and grey colors while doing a cup pattern for fabrics on my Spoonflower shop… here’s how that turned out. I titled my pattern “Cups Of Comfort”
And thinking of rabbits…I made an encouragement greeting card this week with a rabbit character. Everyone needs encouragement so by making this card I hope to help people encourage others in their life.
Speaking of encouragement to keep going: we have had some serious snow in the Pacific Northwest United States. Over 18 inches! So that’s encouraged me to continue my reading, working in my studio and puttering in the kitchen. Taking everything that happens in life as encouragement to keep going seems a helpful habit of mind.
Speaking of habits of mind: I tend to blur the line between art studio work and my kitchen. Here’s my kitchen sketchbook and the meatball recipe I made this week. I make meatballs to freeze and store in my freezer to add as desired to future meals. I love having ingredients on hand that make other recipes easier.
As I mentioned in my last post I’m working on a new children’s book with lots of rabbit characters. I did the illustrations first this time…mostly. Here I am working on the poem couplets to go with the illustrations. There’s a cup of tea at my side. My spouse took this photo.
I spread out my illustrations on a queen size bed to sort, resort then sort again. As I sort I’m referring to my poetry and rewriting. I have far more illustrations and poetry bits than will fit in a 32 page kids book. So I have still more sorting and winnowing to do.
This is a physical way of creating a book. With real-life illustrations laid out I’ll write the poems on index cards for sorting purposes. After I get them all sorted then I’ll start photographing the illustrations and typing the poem. Lots to be done. More about this project in future blog posts.
When I was thinking of describing, for this blog, my working process towards a children’s book I thought of my recent reading. Here’s a shelf of books I’ve been collecting on the topic of how our physical world, the objects, technology, the environment affect the ways we think. And vice versa: the ways we think affects our physical world.
When I work on a children’s book using physical elements as opposed to abstract outlines, book dummies or computer files it feels much like what I do in the kitchen. It feels like having a full pantry, a stocked freezer and refrigerator to choose from for making meals. “It” exists and all I have to do is rummage till I find it.
The work feels easier this way…and more fun!
For my pleasure reading this week – with coffee, hot tea or hot chocolate depending on the time of day – I’ve been reading a hard-boiled detective mystery.
I hope you’re snug, cozy and are able to rummage for the good things in your life. See you next Monday?
In a prior post I showed a fabric design in progress. This week I got a fabric swatch proof, pictured below, which I approved and have made publicly available now. I like the bright colors of it.
In the most recent children’s book I illustrated, Pembral Forgets, I used a leaf motif thought the book. The story Steve Tubbs wrote was about fall leaves. good food and a mother’s love. So as I was doing a version of the leaf motif for fabric naturally my thoughts ran towards the possibilities of the leaf fabric as napkins and table runners – things for kitchens. Anyway, the fabric is on my Spoonflower shop now as well as on the Pembral Forgets portfolio page.
In my last post I talked of using things I enjoy as a guide for subject matter in my art.
Well, that also applies to the types of creative pursuits to which I choose to apply my artwork. For example I’ve been thinking for some time now about how much I enjoy sending and receiving greeting cards in the snail mail.
In the photo below you’re looking at my fireplace at home and the cards I’ve gotten by mail displayed there on the mantel. Some are handmade cards. Some are vintage cards. Some are postcards and folded cards found in stores. I like them all and love the connections with the people who sent them!
I have dabbled in card making most of my life. But only in the last few years have I been semi serious about it. This week, however, I had the thought “What if greeting cards are little illustrated story books?” and my dabbling is suddenly more focused.
Below are a few of my greeting cards which are now on my Zazzle shop here. Some of my cards have rabbit characters but there are other animals too.
I want to make more cards now, for many reasons. But I realized this week that there’s a big reason: my pleasant memories of whenever my adopted Mom, Dad and I met in a bookstore cafe for lunch.
In addition to looking at the books no visit was complete without a visit to the greeting card section of the store. Dad was a psychiatrist and he used to tell me that sometimes when he had a patient with depression he would prescribe weekly visits to stores that sold greeting cards. He would ask that the patient write down descriptions of the cards that amused them to share in future appointments with him. Bonus points (so to speak) if they bought a card and mailed it to someone.
So yes, I want to make more cards in addition to my other artwork – in the “Hi Mom and Dad. 👋” sense of things as well as for my “help others share their stories” sensibility with which I run my creative business.
(Btw: this reasoning is why I do my fabric designs too)
Anyway you’re the first to see the whole collection of cards I’ve done so far. Plus these below…
Needless to say I’ve been busy this week. Fortunately I made a big batch of my “Simple Sauce” and stored it in a jar in my fridge for quick easy to prepare meals. Naan bread makes such a nice pizza crust: just spread on a spoonful of sauce, chop and add desired toppings then bake in a 425 degree oven.
My “Simple Sauce” recipe is in my kitchen sketchbook Favorites So Far. The whole book can be previewed here and you’re welcome to capture my recipe below.
For one meal my spouse and I were in the mood for bell peppers, onions and olives on the Naan bread crust. Yummy!
Speaking of good things, books and rabbits: I’m starting a new children’s book. One question I get asked “which comes first the art or the words?” and in the case of this new book the art largely came first. Here’s an array of the illustrations I’ve done so far along with my legal pad on which I’m scribbling book text drafts by hand using my fountain pen. More about this project in future posts.
More too about a new painting currently in progress…
Hope your week is full of your favorites too. See you next Monday?
I’m amazed at how easy it can be to change one’s perception and be inspired. For example I took these yellow lemons and set them next to a grey and cream cookie jar. Suddenly I have a color scheme I hadn’t thought of before.
The randomness of all the creative stimuli in the world can feel a bit chaotic. Making links between stimuli can be a puzzle. The challenge is devising methods to sift through the chaos to find the nuggets of inspiration that are relevant to our lives and our personal forms of creativity.
One way I find focus – or links – is to think about what I enjoy. For example hot beverages and books are reliable enjoyments for me so I often use that as a focal point when exploring color schemes, patterns or shapes.
Here’s an original drawing playing with colors using the books and beverages topic:
Then, later, after I’ve chosen a focal point and created a drawing I’m pleased with, I find ways to take my original drawings and make something that might add to the random pleasures in the world.
My entire creative process is a way of talking, listening and actively participating in the world.
Here’s what I did with the above original ink and gouache drawing of hot beverages and books: I made a fabric pattern of it for my Spoonflower shop.
Yes, much of my artistic inspiration comes from my personal life. Below is one of my favorite hot beverages. I wrote the recipe in my sketchbook. A sketchbook is where I do a lot of my sifting through my thoughts and making links.
And here’s some random books I’ve been reading this week:
The Norton Reader 6th edition is a book of essays, a wide ranging freewheeling collection of essays. I like it for it’s oddness this way – most essay collections are more narrowly focused. This book was given to me back in the late 1980’s by one of my literature professors. I had gone to the professor’s office during the appointed office hours but just after I arrived the professor got a phone call. Those were the days of phones connected by cords, lines and an absence of answering machines. While my professor took the call I sat next to a table with books on it and picked up The Norton Reader. By the time my professor finished the call I had read several of the essays. The professor asked if I liked the book, I replied that I did, and she gave me the book to keep. I have read the book multiple times since those college days and this book currently lives in a place of honor on my dining room shelf with my poetry and short story book collections. It has influenced my creative thinking in ways too numerous to list here.
The other 3 titles in the stack of books in the photo below are all books that I similarly encountered randomly:
Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane was a recent gift, sent by mail, from a friend. I love a good mystery novel and this one is gripping. I’ve almost finished my first reading of it and …wow. Just. Wow. I had never heard of this author till my friend mentioned and sent the book! I’m grateful to my friend…
Given Sugar Given Salt is a book of poems by Jane Hirshfield. I love the way Hirshfield examines little things, small objects like buttons or our habits or ways we sleep. This book (along with Mary Oliver’s work) has been an influence on my own love of little things.
The Blank Canvas by Anna Held Audette is a big “you can do this” support system even though the book is small in size. I dip into it often when I need a little pick-me-up.
All of the books in the above photo were gifted to me. I relish the randomness the book-as-gift adds to my creative life!
I thought a lot this week about those yellow lemons and that grey color together. And about hot beverages. The weather here has been cold, rainy, which makes hot beverages even more pleasant. Here’s what I drew exploring the yellows and greys:
This week I’ll probably do the digital hocus pocus to turn my grey and yellow cups drawing into a pattern repeated on fabric. (This process will be much like what I described last post.)
My other technique for creative focus – for finding links – is to ask myself what would feed my good wolves today?
Then I think of art topics and creative projects that encourage my own thinking towards kindness and the other good-wolf attributes. And provide amusement and comfort.
For example here’s an ink and gouache painting I’ve titled “The Fall Collection”
And here’s another ink and gouache painting I’ve titled “Anyone Bring Cups?”
In both of these paintings – in addition to yellow, grey, leaves, lemons and cups (sortof) to link my thoughts together – I used a bit of text as collage along with my ink and gouache. The text is from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I had a much used copy of that title that has pages falling out so my spouse gifted me with a newer intact copy. So I’m lovingly recycling the old falling apart book into my fine art and my perception of Austen’s writing is shifting in nice ways as I do this.
I’m sure you noticed in the paintings that in addition to my use of yellows, greys, leaves, lemons I also used my current “everyman” characters in the form of rabbits.
As I describe in my last post I use techniques for writing as my guide towards creative thinking. In these paintings and in my fabric pattern designs I am following both pieces of advice given to writers: “write what you know” plus “write about what you want to know“. I am also imitating mystery genre writers who use the same characters and themes with subtle variations over multiple books.
Randomness and changing ones perceptions are such fun creative tools to play with! I hope you’ll enjoy some pleasant randomness this week too.
After finishing my Pembral Forgets project I was asked if I would make a fabric design from the leaf pattern I had created for the book Pembral Forgets which was written by Steve Tubbs and illustrated by me – (details here)
So this week I’ve been making a fabric pattern of leaves that I’m calling “Leaves From Pembral” and here’s my process…
First I cut out a 12 inch square area of the original hand stenciled paper I did for the Pembral Forgets book. Carefully I chose an area that wouldn’t have leaves touching the 4 edges of the paper. Then I used acrylic paints and created more stenciled leaves to fill in where there were gaps, trying to make the new design square balanced and interesting.
When the above was dry I “cut up my darling” – to borrow from advice given to writers about editing – and made all 4 outer edges now be on the inside of my 12 x 12 inch square paper. Basically I turn my design inside out.
Next I fill in the new gaps with more stenciled leaves.
Then when that was dry I photographed the finished design, trying to keep the soft creamy look of the original and keep the pattern square with my camera. This is easier said than done. After several attempts I was happy with this image below.
Next I uploaded my digital photos into my laptop and used the Spoonflower system to set up my pattern for a basic repeat…so my pattern will flow across any length of fabric without interruptions.
As I worked on the digital file I was thinking of leaves falling and then laying on a wet sidewalk.
What you see below is a screenshot of my finished pattern as I set it up to be repeated on a “fat quarter” an 18 x 21 inch area.
Now I’m waiting to get a proof sample from Spoonflower which I will approve – or not – before it gets added to my public shop on Spoonflower. https://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/sueclancy After that I will tell the person who requested this fabric pattern that it’s there and will hope they’re pleased. In the meantime I hope this blog post will amuse…
I enjoyed playing with leaves in my sketchbook, too, this week – with my rabbits. Another bit of advice for writers is to develop a character and use them to explore ideas and situations instead of creating a new character each time one sits down to write. This technique is most obviously used by mystery novelists who create a character (or two) that repeat over a series of books.
I’ve borrowed this concept for writing and applied it to my fine art and artist books… I have certain motifs and characters – selected species really – which repeat in various ways throughout my projects within a span of time.
In my sketchbook page below I have leaves, books and rabbits. For almost a year now rabbits have been a constant character… (previously I have done series of Dogs and Cats … click on the word Dogs or Cats to see a collection within an artist book)
I posted the above photo on my social media pages and someone asked for an art print of my sketchbook page. So I created an art print of the sketchbook page on my Society 6 shop. The unframed print looks like this (below)
In the evenings I’ve been reading about meditation and, of course, reading a mystery novel. Thinking of little things; leaves, drops of water, ones breath are ways of calming oneself for meditation. Little things; scraps of paper, drops of blood, air quality are often clues in a mystery novel. So I keep thinking of little things…
I broke up a chocolate mint and put it in my hot chocolate. It was a tasty little touch – Yum!
I know it’s not a holiday but little pleasures really do make an ordinary day feel special.
A horrible but predictable insurrection happened in the US last week. My book shaped box to hold the original artwork for Pembral Forgets was at the needs-to-dry stage the day before, so Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the day of the attempted coup, I nervously read a lot of news. And thought of how a seditious insurrection was the inevitable outcome of the right-wing rhetoric of the last several weeks, months, years. But I don’t want to blog on that…. after time spent on the news Wednesday I drew in my sketchbook and read fiction to give myself a mental space from the violent seditious insurrection, to calm down and think.
So on to a more pleasant topic: here’s a few photos of the printed and bound version of Pembral Forgets – you can see more on my portfolio page. The print book is available on Blurb here.
The printed book is slightly different from the original artist book. Same content just a different presentation and minor differences in the book-info pages and, most obviously, the cover. There’s several reasons for this: an original artist book can only be enjoyed in person. And we’re in a pandemic so going to galleries isn’t an option for most people. Multiple printed books can be mailed directly to someone and can be enjoyed by many.
Yet when I create a book to be printed and widely enjoyed I still end up with a physical one-of-a-kind set of paintings. Since I’m a fine artist first and foremost I gravitate towards making things that can be hung on walls or displayed on stands/shelves. But see aforementioned pandemic which has made the use of other means of art production and distribution i.e. Blurb.com or Zazzle.com or Society6.com or Spoonflower.com on-demand shops helpful.
Even so I love making handmade boxes and used to regularly make them for the artist Deloss McGraw and others. So I look for excuses to make boxes…and am loving this box for Pembral Forgets!
Below is a series of photos of the box for Pembral Forgets that you saw a bit of in my last post. In this first photo I have laid the naked box on the handmade hand stenciled paper that I’ll use to cover the box. I lay the box on the paper and try to position it so the paper will be placed well when I glue it on.
I “mark” my choice of placement by creasing the paper slightly. Pencil marks would show through this delicate paper.
Glue is applied to the paper within the crease “marks”, the open box is laid onto the glue, then the box now loosely covered with glue-y paper is gently closed. I use a roller to press the paper firmly in place, wiping away any excess glue. Next, as in the photo below, I add glue to the flaps of paper and fold them around the edges of the box using a bone folder to get the creases smooth.
Then after carefully gluing all edges I turned the box over to check the paper placement.
Inserting wax paper allows me to close the just glued box without accidentally gluing the box shut.
At this point, Tuesday evening, I let the book box dry for a few days. It will be dry to the touch within hours but I have learned the hard way that too much handling too soon can cause the paper to slip.
Then the next day saw the news of the insurrection…
Here’s the fiction book I read as a spirit restorative…
The beverage in the picture is Clancy’s Special Chocolate and here’s the sketchbook drawing I did about how to make it. Whenever I feel stressed it helps to draw whatever is in front of me.
In case you wonder: I get my archival glue and other book-box-making supplies from Twinrocker.com
A helpful technique book about making boxes by hand is by Franz Zeier titled Books, Boxes and Portfolios; binding, construction and design step by step.
There’s still more to do on this project. So I hope to see you here next Monday after, hopefully, a more quiet week – but I know it’s not likely to be quiet here in the US – but no matter what kind of week it is I wish you some calm creative moments.
Mid November 2020 I was asked to illustrate Pembral Forgets by Steve Tubbs. It’s a story about fall leaves, good food and an absentminded boy who forgets something important.
In mid December I took a social media break in order to focus more intensely on my illustrations. (There’s 38 pages of illustrations!) I’m glad I took the break as I think my illustrations for Pembral Forgets are some of my best work so far. The story written by Steve Tubbs was great inspiration!
I finished the illustrations and uploaded the digital files for the artist book reproductions on December 21 and told the author Steve Tubbs that Pembral Forgets by Steve Tubbs was now available! (You can preview the reproductions of the artist book via this link here)
Then I shut off my screens and have since been recovering from my creative efforts. Reading books and cooking are my go-to restoration methods and it’s really helped to spend time deeply reading in a novel! And trying new-to-me recipes! Truth be told I’m still in this hibernate and recovery mode.
Still, because it may amuse, I wanted to share some of my working process on this artist book project.
Since fall leaves are a theme in Pembral Forgets I studied leaves I found in my yard and neighborhood. I both drew them in my sketchbook and photographed them….here’s two of the photos
Then out of thick mylar (a sheet of clear plastic) I drew the leaf shapes with a marker and then hand cut stencils in the shapes of several different kinds of leaves. The masking tape tabs on the edges of the mylar make it easier to lift and move the stencil when in use.
With a sheet of handmade paper taped to a board on my easel I set about using the 5 different stencils I’d made. I mixed acrylic paint colors and used a natural sponge to dab into the color and then onto the stencil. This overall leaf pattern was done over a multiple day period to allow for layers to dry.
My spouse snapped the above photos so they could be shared digitally with the author Steve Tubbs and his wife. The pandemic being what it is – the project discussions between the writer and myself were all virtual.
Here’s what the finished leaf pattern looked like while it was on my easel with still wet paint.
And here’s what the cover for the artist book reproductions looks like:
Variations of this leaf motif carries throughout Pembral Forgets….
When I create books I think of them, as an art object. With the attending artistic concerns about rhythm, balance, beauty and, in my case, pleasantness. For this project I was inspired artistically Steve Tubbs’s story Pembral Forgets and did my own artistic response to his story.
My way of working also means that most of the time my book creations have, in addition to the multiple print and ebook reproductions, a physical one-of-a-kind book-like-art-object.
Anyway, here’s the book-box for Pembral Forgets that I’m still in the process of constructing.
I will show pages and talk about my illustrations for Pembral Forgets in coming blog posts. My hand is still very tired so I will write more later…like next Monday.
If you’re curious: I’ve been reading the novel “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” by Theodora Goss.
One of the meals I’ve enjoyed cooking recently is a pasta, cheese and pepper dish I’d read about on the Food In Books blog – https://wp.me/p75xYM-1bY – I don’t know if I’d read the novel talked about in that blog post but it’s fun to see the novel that inspired the blogger’s recipe. I can tell you, for certain, that the pasta, cheese and pepper recipe in the post is a winner!
Well I didn’t expect that. My books sold out at the Aurora Gallery within 11 days. By request I’ve ordered more books to sign and deliver to the gallery asap.
I began doing this series of kids books as a gift for my friends and their kids and grandkids. When this pandemic began, for safety reasons, I started making my artist books on Blurb.com because they’ll print my books on demand and then mail those books from where they’re printed to any place in the world, including mailing books to my local friends.
Here’s a photo of all 5 of my children’s books. (Accessible on my shop page)
The worldwide aspect of Blurb has turned out to be a good thing also because all 5 of my children’s books are now on Storyberries.com as ebooks and audiobooks worldwide. Storyberries links to where a reader can get the printed books at the bottom of each ebook.
Even so I’ve gotten multiple direct questions about where to get printed versions of my children’s books so I’ve put them on my shop page as well as my portfolio pages.
Also on my portfolio pages are links to blog posts that show my working and thinking processes as I created the books.
What I hadn’t expected was the requests for signed books. I’ve been working on that: I’ve mailed signed labels for the book owner to affix in the book. And I’ve taken, in a pandemic safe way, a few signed books to the Aurora Gallery where they went quickly to new homes. I’ll have a few more signed books at the Aurora Gallery soon and the gallery is able to mail them on to a reader/collector.
Anyway, to be safest of all, I’m focused on working with places that can do the direct shipping of books and other items. I’m also enjoying making downloadable ebooks. (Look at the bottom of my shop page for ebooks I have there)
You see, I keep thinking “what if this pandemic is actually opportunity to slow down and really connect with people?”.
Books are ways to connect, in my opinion, and for that reason I make books. I may dedicate each book and have certain people in mind as I create my books but when I share on social media about my books (and other items) I share for anyone who needs a bit of comfort, a smile and a visual hug.
Here’s a look at the display at the Aurora Gallery before they sold out of my books.
At any rate I’m enjoying making my books available via Blurb and Storyberries and the Aurora Gallery and I’ve enjoyed hearing that my books have given people comfort and enjoyment during this time.
Most days I make an effort to catalog what I’m enjoying and finding comfort in these pandemic days. This is expanding my awareness of things, besides books, that help us connect with each other. But in my list making of comforting things I’ve found books and coffee so comforting so often that, for fun, I did a fabric pattern on the topic.
A friend liked my coffee and books fabric pattern and requested a coffee mug with it. So I did that. It’s fun to think of mugs as gallery walls or as book pages or even as pieces of fabric. And I get comfort from thinking creatively about the ordinary stuff of life and the comforts found there. I’m very grateful that both Spoonflower and Zazzle can ship my designs directly to someone.
I find it helpful to create things with specific people in mind. Sometimes the people know about my creation because they requested something or because I wrote a dedication in one of my books. Most often the person I had in mind while I was creating never knows about it.
As Kurt Vonnegut says “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
A side effect of thinking of my artistic creations as gifts for someone I have in mind is that I’ve discovered that my books, fabrics, mugs, puzzles and other items have been purchased as gifts by one person for another person.
And I love this thought that what I make as a gift, in my mind, for someone I know becomes a real-life gift from one person to another person.
It feels like I’m the author of gifts to be given, as if my artistic mediums, my paints so to speak, are love and kindness shared between people. With that in mind I’ve begun making more note cards… like this…
The text on the inside of the card says “wishing you calmness and peace or at least comfortable sweatpants”
Yes, comfortable pants made my list of enjoyed comforts this week. So did thick socks and warm sweaters but this is enough typing for right now.
See you next Monday? Till then please make yourself comfortable and share a comfort with someone else.