I think a lot about thinking. So do cats I think. Here’s another painting in my Odditerrarium series for upcoming exhibit at Caplan Art Designs in October. My painting is titled “Cognition”. Sometimes it seems like brains are fish bowls with thoughts swimming about.
Besides forming a theory of mind as related to other living beings – I find it’s helpful in my creative life to keep notes, in a sketchbook/notebook, on things that happen in my life, things that catch my eye, my feelings, thoughts and responses to the world. My sketchbook/notebook becomes part of a collection of objects, photos, books, places etc that resonate with me in some way and yet may also be relatable to someone else. I think creativity is a way to connect with both ourselves and each other. To the elements of my ongoing collection I add my imagination…
… like in my current project for Nil-Tech I free-associated or imaginatively mixed a feeling experience in my life (of enjoying a coffee) with a real life cup from my kitchen and a photo of a dog. Almost everyone has has the experience of sinking into the relaxation of a pleasant beverage – almost like a hot tub – so it’s a safe bet that my feeling is relatable. A cup and a dog are common reference points too. Anyway, here’s a photo below and link to one of my videos on Nil-tech: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CitjpxIoBoO/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
My point here is that my system of getting creative ideas is a lot like cultivating a garden: carefully planting perennials, evergreens, planning to rotate annuals etc regular cultivation for ongoing use in cooking or decor. This helps me sustain my creativity over the long term. Also for sustainable creativity I find it helpful to keep an uncultivated wild patch or two, some experimental ground areas where anything goes and uncertainty reigns, where I’m in the classic “beginner mindset”, or in the spirit of a kid flopped on their belly coloring to their heart’s content with no thought of their scribbles being “good”. All of this in my mind when I say I’m re-wilding myself.
The term “re-wilding” typically refers to ecological conservation, a way of letting the land be naturally whatever it is as a way of restoring the ecosystem.
I really think we can do this with our minds too, we can re-wild ourselves and our own mental landscape, from time to time by allowing ourselves a more expansive diverse habitat of the mind, to sidestep our own habits, group-think, expectations and presumptions. To deliberately try a new methods or materials just to be playful. (Play, at any age, is necessary for good mental health.) As creative people re-wilding is a neccessary part of a creative life. Generally speaking re-wilding is allowing ourselves to play off-leash now and then so we can reconnect and restore ourselves.
I wrote over on A. M. Sketching about re-wilding ourselves and included this page from my published sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” as a reason why cultivating a mental life is helpful. For us creative types our mental lives are what we create with so the quality of our mental lives is also a precious piece of equipment.
My 3d block project mentioned in my last post is coming along.
Another fun project currently in progress is also using ordinary things as prompts. I’m doing illustrations for a cookbook by Chef Kim Mahan! More on that as I go.
The experimental “re-wilding” projects I’m working on are two different poetry book projects. Possibly for Storyberries experimental art books section! Here’s a peek at my two projects. Both are about the size of a credit card when closed but they open out to about 20 inches long. The patterned and colored papers you see will possibly be the book covers of one book. I’ll share more as I go along.
I hope your week is wild in the best ways. See you next Monday.
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.
Ants are making progress… in my new artist book that is! In my last post I was working on “Ant Hology” using a collage of letters, ink and gouache. It’s another miniature 2 inch square book that opens to 20 inches long. Here’s the progress:
Now to do the graphic design hocus pocus and send a digital file containing all of these ants to Storyberries!
In my last post I shared a sketchbook page that had Anteaters in it … yes, there’s a new children’s book in progress. The text was written by Judy Sullens. Please notice that I used my ant research in this project too! Ha! Here’s the first illustration:
Here’s my studio supervisor dachshund supervising the paintings in progress. They need to be finished by the time you read this post so my supervisor is helping to keep me focused. Says the dog “Hey, where are you going..?”
Here’s a look at the two paintings on my easel now that they’re finished except for the varnishing, framing and delivering. Due Tuesday!
Storyberries contacted me about their release date for the ebook version of my Odditerrarium. Here’s a Reel about Odditerrarium on Storyberries that I did to help explain the visual story puzzle aspect of my Odditerrarium project.
When I was a kid I loved looking at coffee table books with paintings in them. Now I’m enjoying making books for children that contain my fine art because the little kid I once was would have absolutely loved a book like Odditerrarium!
Anyway, this week has been very busy but even so I still played in my sketchbook most mornings (you can see what I sketched via my Substack sketchbook emails here) and each evening I read books. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
And here’s the evening shift supervisor cat who makes sure we have whipped cream on our hot chocolate, maintain a regular reading program and still get to bed at a decent hour. Says the cat “Hey, you with the thumbs, quit poking about on the phone and get back to lap making and book reading.”
I hope your week is pleasant. See you next Monday.
In our neighborhood we joke that western Washington is built on a giant anthill. Each spring we all battle ants outside our houses before they can invade indoors. The first hint is a mound of dirt where there wasn’t one before. Like this one on the edge of our patio.
I lifted the bricks and put the ant bait directly on the fascinating ant farm-tunnel construction then covered the bait with the bricks again and swept away the dirt on the brick edges. Of course I had a good look at the way the ants collected and organized the dirt before I did my acts of destruction.
When ants are found indoors I use a solution of vinegar and Dawn dishwashing soap to clean the area where ants were seen. The non-poison solution is in a spray bottle and it quite effectively kills and deters ants. Between the outdoor/indoor methods the ant activity is usually successfully managed.
After doing some ant battle outdoors I came inside, looked at my bookshelves and realized how many anthologies I have: collections of poetry, short stories, essays… In one set of bookshelves alone I counted over 25 anthologies. There are still more on other shelves. I have an anthology infestation and I’m keeping it!!
For the first time I saw that there’s an “ant” in the word anthology – so I grabbed a dictionary, a scrap of paper and made a list… and with that list I have begun a new children’s book for Storyberries. I’m using a collage of letterpress letters from Columbia Gorge Book Arts and drawing ants in ink. Both my handwritten list and the beginning of the new book are in the photo below.
In case you have trouble reading my handwriting here’s the list…
Anthology: [a gathering] collections, often varied authors, of a similar literary form or topic or time period (in my last post I listed a few anthologies about the Beat Generation)
Ant farms: [a gathering and a structure] a colony of ants constructing a dwelling
Holo: a word element meaning whole or entire
Alphabet: [a structure] a set of letters to be arranged in a customary order. A structure of language
Hology: [a relationship] – a general relationship between reality and it’s content
Besides musing about words my wife and I went for a walk in the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge with our binoculars. I saw the purple blue grey colors of a great blue heron up close! I didn’t realize the extent of the purplish tints to the heron feathers. We saw lots of other wildlife too – including smiling friendly humans!
During our walk I kept thinking of a work of fiction I had read long ago that had a musician character who sang “Oh I’ll cry when the wetlands are dry”. The wetlands were a character in the story too as I recalled.
I also vaguely recalled some phrases about birds and wetlands from Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. But these were fleeting snatches of phrases half-remembered like wild birds glimpsed in the pond reeds.
When we were home I rummaged in my books for where the “Oh, I’ll cry when the wetlands are dry” phrase originated. Turns out it came from “With A Tangled Skein” by Piers Anthony. I had an enjoyable hunt for wetlands in this title too…
The half-remembered phrases from Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver: “I am hardly an ornithologist nevertheless I live among the birds…” (from Leavings by Berry) and “The labor of writing poems, of working with thought and emotion (or is it the wings?) of language, is strange to nature, for we are first of all creatures of motion.” (from Upstream by Mary Oliver)
But since I live in Washington state I went looking for some wetlands related poetry from local writers. Here’s what I found from Salish Magazine a publication located in Washington state https://salishmagazine.org/issue-9-art-poetry/
In the mornings I was still thinking about the herons and the ants so they’re in my sketchbook pages. And it’s been fun sharing my sketchbook pages via email on my new Substack https://sueclancy.substack.com/
Speaking of slurping… I made a yummy fettuccine recipe using spinach and green herbs from our garden: garlic chives, green onion and basil. Here’s the recipe:
This is the challenge for me – remembering to promote the project I finished and is currently in public like Odditerrarium. Often I finish something and I’m on to the next project right away … like my “Ant Hology” book now in progress! So, more on that book next week.
I hope your week is pleasant. See you next Monday.
More work this week towards an upcoming art exhibit I’m calling “Odditerrarium”. I’ll tell more about my creative process on this exhibit here and in subsequent posts. Odditerrarium will be an exhibit via Caplan Art Designs later this year.
This week I finished a dog portrait I’ve titled “Secret Knowledge”. It’s 10 x 8 inches and made with ink and gouache on board.
Here’s a closer look at this dog’s thoughts – according to the dog’s human this dog likes walks and is passionately interested in moles, chipmunks, mice and frogs.
Elsewhere in this blog (here) I’ve written about the similarities I see between the creative process of writing and the creative process of fine art. Like a writer might begin creating a novel by noting a story idea nugget in a notebook I began this Odditerrarium series with the nugget “what if we could see what our dogs and cats thoughts?” – just this nugget of a thesis and little else. But I began there and with exploration of that notion came the notions of thought bubbles and terrariums… and I began drafting in my sketchbook. Here’s some examples.
After a number of sketchbook drafts I began a few full size paintings – generally I do at least 5 paintings before I declare that I’m working on a series or give the series a working title. This is like a writer deciding to write a few chapters to see if their idea has merit – by creating an overview or even a rough draft of the whole work.
I think of my one person art exhibits as books you can walk around inside. And each painting is a “chapter” within the book. Each chapter/painting begins with it’s own notion, an outline or rough indication of what could be. Things at this point are usually vague. For “Secret Knowledge” thanks to my friend (the excellent author Liz Gauffreau) I had a photo of the dog I wanted to portray and the dogs thoughts also thanks to our conversation. Then I spent time thinking and making sketchbook notes. Then I drew on a board. As you can see I work on several paintings at the same time – this too is like a writer writing though the gaps in one chapter by writing on a different segment within the work.
When I have a rough drawing on board I begin what I call “chunking” trying to get a bit of color on every area in the artwork. The colors don’t have to be perfect – it’s a rough indicator subject to adjustment based on other colors. I don’t worry about details at this stage just rough shapes of color and contrast. Like how a writer writes a whole story imperfectly, all in a rush with “detail to come” notes sprinkled throughout the tale.
In the photo below I’m in the chunking process. I know I want a blue background for the portrait of the white dog but at this point I’m not sure of the precise shade of blue. The other colors within that portrait will help me determine that. Like when a writer decides a character’s course of action based on another character’s choices.
When the chunking is more or less done I begin bit by bit to fill in and flesh out areas. Here’s an example- I’m sure you can see the transition happening from chunky to smoother.
The photo at the beginning of this post is of the finished portrait which I titled “Secret Knowledge”… the blue I ultimately chose is of early morning or late evening sky: a time for walks and a time when small mammals might be more active… something of which this dog certainly has knowledge! 😉
For my art exhibit Odditerrarium I’m thinking about mental lives and encounters with the minds of other humans and other beings in this world. Here’s a few of my favorite sketchbook pages on this topic. To help me keep on task, so to speak, for my Odditerrarium series I will continue to read, write and sketch on this topic of self awareness and encounters with other minds.
In psychology this called a developing a theory of mind …and this link explains it well and I quote “Forging a strong theory of mind plays an important role in our social worlds as we work to understand how people think, to predict their behavior, to engage in social relationships, and to solve interpersonal conflicts… Forming a theory of mind is critical in our ability to understand ourselves and others. This ability to understand mental states allows people to introspect and consider their own thoughts and mental states. Such self-awareness is important in the formation of a strong sense of self. Our social functioning also hinges on having a theory of mind. By being able to think about what other people are thinking, we can better understand others and predict what they might do next.”
Anyway, when paintings on the easel need to dry a bit I’ve been playing with my poetry sketchbook.
Inside my poetry book is a notion of a new experimental art book for Storyberries. In the photo you see my notions in my book and on the right side I’m beginning to work on my notions in a tiny concertina format book.
A cat reaching is my main notion that’s getting played with in two different ways in this photo for two different books.
I’ll keep you posted on whatever happens with these newbies.
The Aurora Gallery contacted me wanting more of my cards and books so I took those to them this week!
It did my artist heart good to see my things displayed by the Gallery so well and to know that my work is appreciated! The Aurora Gallery ships my art, cards and books anywhere and my signed green dragon book plates are available on request.
This week in kitchen creativity I made spinach enchiladas inspired by “Mrs Rasmussen’s Book Of One Armed Cookery” by Mary Lasswell. I used both arms to cook with and didn’t have a beer. I’d probably get demerits for that from Mrs Rasmussen as I can imagine her saying “What?! No beer?!” but the chili onion gravy was divinely scrumptious over spinach enchiladas and beans and rice!
I say I was “inspired by” Mrs Rasmussen’s recipe because I ruthlessly adapted this recipe as I was only cooking for two people and as you can see below Mrs R was cooking for the entire tricounty area. Plus I don’t use lard…
To make my chili onion gravy I used my good gravy recipe but instead of sausage I used a small can of roasted chilies and some chopped white onion.
In one serving size oven safe boats I made one spinach enchilada for each of us and surrounded the enchilada with beans, rice then ladled the gravy over it all and topped it with cheese. Turned out so good!! I did have gravy leftover which I used for another meal.
My evening reading loosely related to the topic of encounters with and awareness of other minds is the last book in the trilogy “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman and Pullman’s nonfiction book “Daemon Voices” about stories and storytelling.
Hope your week is a good one! See you next Monday?
This week war began and for a second being an artist felt frivolous. But in difficult times we need art more than ever. We need things and people that feed our spirits and remind us of why we’re glad to be alive. We need hope. That’s how we fight for democracy and win.
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began I listened to the news and searched my bookshelves for a title I had gotten in 2003 not long after 9/11 and when war began in Iraq. My thoughts then, like now, turned to the role of artists during times of war. “Artists in Times of War” by Howard Zinn was very relevant in 2003 and still is even though the current event details are different.
Spoiler: artists are carriers of democracy. To quote from page 108 they are “profoundly democratic”. Democratic is defined as upholding, however imperfectly, the ideas of rule of law, of equality before the law, equality in access to resources, equality of representation in government and the human right of self determination. The Arts are a living language of a people, a dramatization of what they feel, what they need, what their hopes are … The Arts help people become self aware. Self-awareness helps people make choices and become active participants in their own lives and communities. That’s what makes living artists so dangerous in the viewpoint of authoritarians.
And perhaps equally important is the fact that artists help us, no matter how high flying the political rhetoric, to remember that the kids will still need to be entertained and educated, that adults will still need kindness, that dinner will still be wanted. Art, poetry and writing of all kinds can help us remember that the statistics a politician quotes represent actual people.
Speaking of dinner: a dear friend came over to visit for an evening and to ask me to sign some copies of two of my book titles that she plans to give as gifts! It was so good to see her!
We had a free ranging conversation about life, books, movies and my friend indulged me as I showed her my art projects in progress and outloud we played with what “could be”. This is an extremely exciting and valuable sort of conversation! Bouncing ideas around in loose “what if…” and “what about…” ways helps me in my creative process! It was so unbelievably good to get my friends input! Sharing artwork in its fragile beginning stages is risky and I’m so lucky to have trustworthy creative-playing friendships.
I made a new batch of potato soup (recipe last post) and when it was ready the three of us ate soup out of large mugs while sitting informally in the living room where it was warm and comfy.
I delighted in having fabric cocktail napkins with my Professional Dog portraits on them and enjoyed our friends chuckles when she saw the napkins!
Whenever I feel unsettled about world events besides talking with my spouse and trusted friends I deliberately tune in to awe. Meaning that I purposefully do some small thing that delights me, sparks my curiosity or causes me to notice something and say “wow!”. A good article I read this week on the topic of awe and why it’s important is here. An aspect of tuning in to the feeling of awe is to cultivate time to play in unstructured ways, to make time to wander, to ponder.
On a recent wandering meandering car drive we saw snowfall and large trees. That’s a guaranteed “wow” from me – I love the large evergreens any time of the year.
The feelings of awe, the feelings curiosity and the feelings of an aha moment are part of why I object so strongly to book banning (see a recent post). The attempts to control the mental resources available to others is a form of abuse. Banning preempts the victims ability to be self-aware and to be able use, as democracy offers, however imperfectly, the right of self determination. The restrictions of a person’s access to books and other mental resources is as serious as someone restricting a person’s access to food, water or healthcare.
During times of unrest I think taking the time to ponder is crucial because an artist is so much more than a reaction to or a mirror of society. If an artist is going to take action rather than simply knee jerk react to current events it takes time to think things through.
Here’s a paraphrased quote that I wrote on a card and thumbtacked to my studio wall.
Progress is happening on a new experimental art book for Storyberries! It’s a wordless visual poem about letter soup with only 10 panels plus front and back covers. 12 images total. Ink, acrylic and gouache are my art methods on another 2 inch square concertina zig zag folded book. I focused as I mentioned last post on rhythm, repetition and surprise. It will be a challenge to talk about this poem on this blog and on my social media without giving the poem’s punchline away immediately before Storyberries has a chance to distribute it but I’ll do my best.
In the photo below I’ve laid in the extreme dark and light areas to establish the contrast as well as to focus on the visual rhythm. I’m thinking of how the ebooks on Storyberries flow up and down so I’m designing my content to flow with that book motion. Will it work? I don’t know. 🤷♀️ Yes, my new poem is for a category on Storyberries called “experimental” for a reason! 🤣
The sortof weird thing is that I’ve not completely finished promoting “How The Cow Went Over The Moon” yet. So there might be some promotion overlap. Oh well. People read more than one book at a time anyway right?
A few evenings this week I took a break from reading “The Annotated Arabian Nights” to read “Suds in Your Eye” by Mary Lasswell. This book was published in 1942 when World War II began. What I’ve enjoyed about this book, besides seeing an artistic response to the wartime events of the 1942 era, is that no single person is the “hero” or center of the story. The story centers around how a group of people work together as a community. The concept of working together is also what drives the story plot. And “good food, great friends and cold beer” could be the books motto. This is such a good book to cheer up by! I’d list this book as an early example of the hopepunk genre (mentioned last post). And the illustrations are darling!
Besides the visit from a great friend this week my wife and I talked by phone with my adopted mom and big sister! Mom said she’s proud of me and that I’m to “Keep making art”! Big sister agreed! So I wrote the exact quote of Mom’s on a card and thumbtacked it to my studio wall just above the light switch for the room. That way I will always remember!
I hope your week contains many connections with your support system so that you feel encouraged to do all the good you can in this world.
I painted an unauthorized portrait of a playful cat that I’ve met courtesy of a dear friend. This portrait is titled “Wholly Bent” and is 10 x 8 inches. This is me just playing and working towards future art exhibits.
Here’s a closer view of “Wholly Bent” it is 10 x 8 inches, ink, gouache and collage on board.
As you may remember I’ve been reading “The Annotated Arabian Nights” by Horta and Seale most evenings. I’ve been struck by how much the book talks about being true to yourself – accepting that you’re “bent” in your own ways- while also being an ethical contributing member of a community. So I’ve been pondering ethics in my sketchbook.
The above photo shows my spouse’s homemade blueberry lemon scones. Seriously yummy… but I digress.
These thoughts reminded me of an eon ago when I asked my adopted mom how to know when someone is “for real” i.e. ethical, honest, kind. Her response was “watch what someone says and does over time.” In my art journal I recorded a conversation we had on that same topic years after I’d asked the question originally.
In my last post I showed a hint of an art print project I’m working towards that I can’t talk much about yet… but a sneak peek is here (the grid of 6). Now I’ll wait to see what happens.
My last post also talked of book banning, a topic I’m following… well, on the attempts to ban books (and a thrilling subtext) there’s this article which reminded me of the skills I learned to use when dealing with people in Oklahoma who were in my face wanting to ban my artwork (see a prior post for details). This page below from Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit gives details about the skills.
Speaking of coping skills: some students in Missouri are suing the school board because of the book bans. (Article here.) Sometimes standing up for your right to read anything you want is neccessary. As said in the article “The lawsuit alleges that the district’s decision to remove books was based on the “dislike of the ideas or opinions contained in the books by policymakers, school officials, community members, or a combination of those.” Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the district’s removal of books violated the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights “by restricting their access to ideas and information for an improper purpose.”
I’m proud of and inspired by the students and their efforts to maintain a wide intellectual world. Restricting access to ideas and information can have serious negative consequences for both individuals and society. The larger our intellectual world the better we’re able to cope with whatever comes in life and then, having coped personally we’re then able to help our community cope – and the people in our community are better able to help us…
Also the more expansive our mental life is the more fun rabbit holes there are to explore that can also help one personally as well as one’s society.
Anyway, here’s a post from Austin Kleon that reflects my feelings about the importance of taking time to read widely and pursue the rabbit holes of your own making.
On a related topic I also read this article about how our attention span is not a product to be bought or sold. Our attention isn’t solely a vein of data to be extracted by a corporation. Our attention isn’t something to be controlled or abused at the will of someone else’s religious or political ideology. Our attention is a precious gift that deserves to be treated respectfully. And it’s up to us to protect, preserve and defend our attention as well as to carefully curate and cultivate it.
Having wide access to ideas and thoughts – lots of books – is how we learn over time what is worthy of our attention. Our attention span is ours to exercise and explore throughout life. What we get for our payment when we “pay” attention is the power to choose.
I find that having a wide range of books to read helps me stimulate and cultivate my own ability to pay attention where it nurtures my creativity the most. My sketchbook is where I practice noticing/tracking (accounting?) where I pay attention and how helpful it is or isn’t. It’s where I play with ideas and cook up my own “good wolf food”. It’s where I live and work with the questions. It’s where I “stick around and find out”. 🤣
As a creative person I want to be respectful of my readers/viewers time. So I enjoy creating “short” things: art, stories or poems that can be understood in a glance yet there’s more to be seen if a reader chooses to take the time to look. (My Monday blog is possibly the longest form I work in… 🤣)
Speaking of sketchbooks and reading: I feel a sense of urgency to create more books for children that are “artsy” and perhaps a little “different” from the usual kids books. So I’ve been reading about poetry in two books: “Writing incredibly short plays poems stories” by James H Norton and Francis Gretton and “The Intimate art of writing poetry” by Ottone M. Riccio. And I’ve been brainstorming in my poetry sketchbook (the orange book in the foreground) some visual poem ideas for my new “experimental art book” category on Storyberries.
Both books about poetry cover techniques to keep things short. I’m translating in my mind the advice in the books regarding writing words into what may also work when I’m making visual images. As you see in the above photo of my poetry sketchbook I’m thinking that the poetic concepts of rhythm, rhyme, repetition and surprise can work within images too. But we’ll see how it goes… more in upcoming posts.
Dinner recently was a favorite potato soup recipe from a favorite cookbook. Even in the solitary pandemic days I love reading about community being formed around shared soup.
When there’s a yellow sticky note on a page in one of the cookbooks in our collection … that’s a reliably good recipe! Add a star and the phrase “Judy likes” and you’ll know it’s a real good one. Then there’s the penciled in variations and now you know this recipe is a great one! It has consistently proven itself over time!
We had mugs of soup with a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich split between us. Yum!
For fun I’ve added James Thurber to my evening reading. He too talks about ethics and community while also being whimsical.
Thanks to a friend on Twitter I’ve just learned about a genre called “Hopepunk” – here’s one of the articles I read about hopepunk that defines the genre and has examples (book list!) of literary works within it. To quote from the article “…Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness, and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act. An act of rebellion… Hopepunk is a reaction to our times, an insistence that a hollow world built of hatred and financial ambition is NOT the norm. It is stories of resistance, stories that celebrate friendship and truth and the things that make us human.”
I have more to learn but I’m feeling like I’ve found another genre that possibly fits me and my work well! Discovering the “hopepunk” genre feels exciting like my discovery of the “miniature art” and “gift book” genres! With my creativity I do want to share whimsy and hope while also being thoughtful and real.
Yes, I’m finding it good to know more about the ways I’m wholly bent and to be able to find books and people bent in ways I enjoy.
Thank you for honoring me with some of your attention. I hope you have a playful week of more or less your own design, a week bent in all the ways you find fun. See you next Monday?