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.
A fun creative exercise is to list the good things in my life. As the saying goes here’s “a few of my favorite things”. Items on my list are in bold type.
Painting. Basset Hounds. Flowers. I combined these favorites in a mixed media painting titled “The Goods Of This Life”. It’s 8 x 11 inches and was made using ink, color pencil, gouache and collage on board.
And yes, the orchids are a homage to my adopted Mom (mentioned last post).
Art supplies. I’ve been channeling my inner Julia Child and practicing talking while doing a drawing demonstration for NIL-TECH. In this video I’m sharing how I get my ideas and start a drawing using watercolor pencils.
The idea for this “Coffee Pup” drawing was inspired by the feeling of enjoying the first sip of good coffee. Coffee is another good thing.
Fountain pens and poetry and the awareness of caring… 3 more good things.
Family. That’s a really big good thing! A group of us got together to watch a great nephew’s university soccer game! We had such fun seeing each other and cheering for our nephew!
Friends are another really big good thing and cookouts … two more good things that I enjoy. Naturally I had put them in a poem in my artist book Patch La Belle.
Libraries. Oh my goodness libraries are such gifts! Both the public libraries and private libraries you assemble yourself at home are treasures!! We recently visited our local library for the first time since the pandemic began in early 2020. Since the pandemic started we’ve primarily checked out the ebooks. I certainly count ebooks among the good things in life but printed books… oh, it was such a treat to get print books during our recent visit!
One of these days I’ll write more about why libraries and books are so important in my creative life. But not in this post. In case you’re curious, however, about how books relate to my creative life I’ve begun keeping a public list of some of my favorite books that help me in my creativity here: https://bookshop.org/shop/clancy
I never know when a good thing will inspire art – which is why I keep lists in my sketchbook. If you haven’t already signed up to get my email newsletter in which I share my sketchbook pages please do! https://sueclancy.substack.com/
I hope your week contains many of the good things in your life…and that you’re able to notice them. 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.
My spouse’s sweet pepper plants are doing well in the heat! I stuffed the just picked peppers with cheese and roasted them with black beans, corn, zucchini and red onion. Tasted yummy!
The heat inspired me, as I’ve illustrated recently with a drawing demo, to stay in a cool place and finish reading a wonderful novel.
A Gentleman In Moscow by Towles was so good that when I finished reading I added it to my books-to-cheer-up-by shelf for rereading whenever I need a pick-me-up.
I got wonderful news from Storyberries this week – they’ve started a bookstore! (Here’s a direct link to some of my books https://www.bookstore.storyberries.com/product-tag/sue-clancy/ ) When I looked at the new store I discovered that of the 18 books by me on Storyberries 12 of my titles are spread between 3 categories: art books, poetry, ABC123!! What a fun surprise!!
When someone clicks on a bookstore link the viewer can sample the book, read about the book, click a button to read the book for free and now there’s an option to buy a print copy too! Below is a screenshot example of what it looks like, this is a screenshot and not operational, click this link if you want lights and action about my poetry book below.
Since we’re just having fun today here’s one of my illustrated poems from Patch La Belle so you can see how I’ve hand written all of the poem text for the book. I wrote with a felt tip pen. I went through lots of felt tip pens while working on this book. I already had a fountain pen so I was missing the ability to refill a pen but the fountain pen nib I had at the time of this project wasn’t bold enough. (This is how I knew what to request as a birthday gift! 😁 ) Anyway, here’s a poem.
This week the rest of my birthday present came in to our local pen and stationary store Oblation Papers and Press ! The extra fine nib fountain pen that I got the actual day of my birthday is now joined by a broad nib and a stub nib!
I love fountain pens for the ease of use that a good quality pen, like these TWSBI kind. They write and draw super smoothly have a built in converter which allows me to fill them with my preferred ink (Heart of Darkness by Noodlers Ink). Now there’s even fewer plastic bits of disposable felt tip pens to go into a land fill from my studio!
Right away I practiced writing an alphabet and drawing with each pen.
Here’s a single drawing I did with all 3 fountain pens. Yes, I totally see more handwritten illustrated poetry books in my future!
Over on my email newsletter A.M. Sketching I shared my favorite book about fountain pens and I’m sharing it here too just in case you’re curious.
To test how my new pens write over my gouache colors I wrote a poetic kind of phrase on a scrap of paper.
Then I painted an Earth in Space inspired by the “plaid” striations in my breakfast orange.
When the painting was dry I wrote my phrase as neatly as I could.
So you can see the page better…
…it worked fairly well! So, yes, I’ll definitely be doing more illustrated poetry!
The above mentioned novel by Towles is a hard act to follow but here’s what I’m reading and enjoying now. I’m thinking there may be some drawings of foxes and hedgehogs soon.
I also made some progress this week on a new painting for an upcoming fine art exhibit, there’s my current art exhibit to promote, there progress I could share on a new ABC123 category book (I have a category! Wahoo!! 🙌❤) but it’s early days in these projects and I’m tired of typing now.
I hope your week is sweetly filled with peppers, prose, poetry and pens just as you like them. See you next Monday.
For weeks I’ve been working on two poodle portraits. The details of their hair and eyes has been such fun! It’s also been delightful to imagine what each dog is thinking about! My wife and I have had the honor of knowing these poodles’ humans for a very long time – so it’s been a treat to get to love on our friends via these dog portraits!
Here they are on my easel. I worked on both paintings at the same time. I did a Reel of me in action working and another Reel that looks up close at the finished paintings. Both Reels can be found on my Instagram page.
I imagined each dog keenly watching their energetic humans and philosophically contemplating (from a dogs point of view) their humans divinity and mysteries. Naturally I titled one painting “Divine” and the other “Mysteries”. Both are 10 x 8 inches and created with ink and gouache on board. Eventually these portraits will be in an art exhibit via the Caplan Art Designs Gallery www.caplanartdesigns.com
Below are some closer photos so you can see the miniature art details! I’m particularly pleased with their eyes!
Since the pandemic began in 2020 we’d not set foot in one of our favorite brewpubs Mcmenamins on the Columbia river. So during a cold rainy walk by the river we decided to pop in and get a growler full of our favorite beer to take home. We’re not dining indoors yet and we’ve normalized mask wearing no matter what the numbers and rules may be.
While we were waiting for our growler to be filled I admired one of my favorite posters on the Mcmenamins wall. I enjoy the funky steampunk-ish vibe in this pub.
On our walk we saw a bald eagle big as you please just above the walk path!
Here’s some of the books we read with our beer after we got home: Old in Art School by Nell Painter, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman, The Summer of a Dormouse by John Mortimer.
The children’s writer Philip Pullman ranks number two on the lists of books often banned in the U.S. The other titles are from writers who are similarly considered “unorthodox”. Yep. Still reading banned books. Told you it was a “thing” for me.
As my regular readers know besides fine art and books I’m fond of cooking. Well, my friend Bernadette of New Classic Cooking, a food blog I follow, did a wonderful blog post about feeding the Ukrainian people during this time. It’s comforting to have practical ways we can help each other.
Here’s a favorite soup I made this week. It’s from a recipe in our “Favorites So Far” kitchen sketchbook and thanks to a suggestion by my friend Bernadette it’s also part of a postcard series – we enjoy sending these recipe cards to friends!
And speaking of soup…my experimental art book “A Scoop Of Letter Soup” is being served out by ladles full on Storyberries!
I’m excited about making some more of my unusual books for kids to read on Storyberries.com!!
And speaking of food for tummies, fare for minds, mental health, our interior lives and books… I’ve selected pages from my sketchbooks with my drawings and writings on the topic of our interior lives and made a book of them. You can see more about this book, Another Sketchbook, on my portfolio page.
Since books and beverages go together in my mind – and I also enjoy having soup out of a mug – I picked some of my favorite pages from Another Sketchbook and put them on a large mug here on my Zazzle shop.
Also on the topic of mental health I’m delighted to happy-dance with you about the news that a book I illustrated is now being carried by one of my local bookstores, Vintage Books! The book is titled “Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” and it’s one of my creations that I am most proud of having done. I even keep a copy of it in my bathroom so I can reread it often – it means that much to me! Anyway, Vintage Books will ship anywhere so they can be asked to send my book to you by mail. More about my book can be seen on the bookstore website here. Okay, let’s dance another happy jig around the couch then back to posting photos…🤗
Sometimes remembering that the Universe loves you just the way you are helps. At least I find it helpful in my creative life… as is knowing there are fairly direct practical tools for dealing with feelings during difficult times.
I hope your week is full of love that you can embrace with relish as food for your heart and mind – see you next week.
Imagination and poetry were on my mind this week. I’ve been thinking of our mental ecosystems and the landscape of our minds. So this week I did a portrait of a Shih Tzu this week for upcoming exhibits via Caplan Art Designs which I’ve titled “In Imagination”.
Storyberries said “Great! Can you do it as an Instagram Reel?” And I replied “A Reel? I’ll have to Google whatever that is…” So I Googled and found this article as well as others. I also talked more with Storyberries about Reels because they’ve been doing Reels longer than I have.
Turns out that doing a Reel was fairly easy to figure out. I still have more to learn but I did turn the above YouTube video into a Reel on Instagram
Additionally for promoting “How The Cow…” I submitted it to Apple Books as an ebook and was accepted! This brings the total number of books by me on Apple to 15! I’m proud of that! If you scroll down this page you can see more of my books.
As you know from my last post I’ve been thinking of poetry as a rhythmic visual sequence. So I played with a short sequence of drawings and published it as poem on a coffee mug. To me the sentiment in my poem fit the trying-to-get-started morning need for caffine. I also used these drawings as test content for making another Instagram Reel. Im trying to practice this because suddenly I’m seeing the very short videos as another way to share my visual content… and I can imagine doing more collaboration with Storyberries this way too!
Speaking of very short poems: a whole lot of progress happened on my newest experimental art poem…
I finished painting the content and the cover art. Then I cut out the cover art and glued it onto the outside of the 2 inch square concertina book.
Here’s an early peek at the finished original artist book. As I mentioned in my last post I don’t want to show too much of the punchline before Storyberries has a chance to distribute it. They’ve tentatively scheduled it for release Mar 12 so slowly over this next week I’ll post more in public on social media. But for my dear blog followers here’s an advance look at the original artwork.
Here I am, with canine supervisory assistance, setting up the digital files for sending to Storyberries.
And here’s what’s on my laptop screen.
My thinking is about the mechanism of ebook flow on Storyberries and fitting a visual poem rhythm to that. The ebooks on Storyberries flow up and down so my question is can I do poetic rhythms, repetitions and surprises in a way that takes advantage of that? Can a viewers eye “read” an implied connection between the up/down pages? It’s fun to experiment and play with what a poem and a book can be!
Here’s a peek at the ebook version. I’m thinking the viewers will make the transition between the pages just fine… what do you think?
While “A Scoop Of Letter Soup” seems really simple there was a lot of thinking and planning behind it, possibly more planning than I’ve done for my more complicated works. I think of “A Scoop…” as a little treat rather like how a baker puts a lot of time and effort into making something yummy that’s eaten in a moment.
This week I also cut, folded, trimmed and glued handmade paper into what I call “book blanks” concertina books that are ready for my content. I have some more plans for future artist books and this is part of getting ready for book content production.
Sometimes I have bought blank concertina books from an art supply store but generally I find it more satisfying to make my own. I can choose my own paper for the book and make it a size and length needed for the projects I have in mind.
Below is a photo of my evening reading list. Three of the four books pictured talk about the playful, generous nature of poetry and books in general and ways language itself can be a form of loving and caring. I’m enjoying thinking of how poetry and stories can be useful mental landscape construction tools for creating pleasant mind-scapes.
And Good Omens by Terry Pratchett is just plain fun to read.
I hope your mind is your preferred landscape and that it is especially beautiful this week. See you next Monday.
And because I thought it was a fun visual pun I put my traveling hedgehog on a travel mug. No one but me requested this mug. 🤣 I certainly don’t have any travel plans but a cup that’ll keep my coffee hot even when I get distracted in my studio might be nice. At any rate designing the mug was fun so I did it.
Here are some sketchbook pages that have happened lately.
It’s a big book so I prop it on a throw pillow when reading. The book has many enchanting illustrations by the artist Edmund Dulac who painted in the style of Persian miniature paintings.
Consequently I’ve suddenly become aware that my entire fine arts college education focused on paintings larger than 24 inches. Much of my artistic output till now has been on physically larger scale too. Oh sure, I’ve done smaller illustrated hand bound books but fine art paintings, in my mind, were always big. Well, during the pandemic I have done paintings in much smaller sizes and have quite enjoyed sending 25 paintings to a Gallery in one box the size of a thick hardback novel. But in my mind this was a temporary adjustment due to the pandemic.
Now, however, I’m reading in the Annotated Arabian Nights about “the tradition of miniature painting” and have begun reading further about that approach to fine art. Wow!! A whole part of art history that’s new to me!! I’m thinking I’ll learn more about this history and the miniature art techniques and work smaller on purpose now – pandemic notwithstanding.
So you can see the cover of this wildly wonderful book…👇 I love the shiny gold on the cover and the print quality of the artwork inside…
January 1st 2022 I was looking through my sketchbooks and decided the page below is the mantra for now.
Come to think of it all of my sketchbooks are 3.5 x 5.5 inches small… so why am I surprised about miniature art being a “real thing”?! Plus the 40 original artworks for my book The Professional Dog are all 3.5 x 2.5 inches in size!
I guess I’ve been a miniaturist for a while now and didn’t realize it! 🤣
Lots to share: The Professional Dog is out in print and as an ebook on Storyberries! In a bit I’m sharing my creative process for my holiday box project. But first, because people tell me they’re enjoying it, I am continuing to feature 3 dogs from The Professional Dog per week so here’s this weeks…
The text in the book, which is also the title of the original artwork, is below each of this weeks featured dogs.
I wanted to share somehow that my original artwork for The Professional Dog is smaller than the finished book. So I did a video look at all of the original artwork for The Professional Dog. Each original dog portrait is 2.5 x 3.5 inches and was made by hand using ink and gouache on board. The finished print book is 6 x 9 inches and as faithfully as possible reproduces the colors and details in the original artwork. I did this because the reproductions do enlarge the details in the artwork. Below is a photo showing a bit of what I’m saying … perhaps you can see both the small original art and the book reproductions?
You could say that Thanksgiving was a nicely quiet event considering it was just my spouse and I and a giant veggie lasagna. But it really felt like we’d hosted a come-and-go party all day as we were in contact with friends and family via text, social media and the voice phone! It was such a fun day and we both went to bed tired-happy feeling like we’d been talking and partying nonstop! We joked that we could get used to partying like this – there was a lot less to clean up afterwards! Lol!
After the holiday I delivered all of the original art for The Professional Dog to the Aurora Gallery. This project was a big one that encompassed multiple months of intense work and it all – all 40 dog portraits – fit into a 5 x 7 x 4 inch box! (Another benefit of making the original art small in size)
Here’s the box of original artwork sitting atop the signed books wrapped in paper for protection during transfer to the Aurora Gallery.
Even though everything is done now including the portfolio page for The Professional Dog I will still be posting the dog portraits in sequence over the next weeks. People have told me that they’re enjoying them.
The Thanksgiving event held by the Caplan Art Designs Gallery also began the day after Thanksgiving. Below is another attempt to include a video in this blog. This video was made by the Gallery and is shared by permission. In case I’ve not gotten the video embedded in this post like I think I do – the video camera pans around a nice large room filled with art by the Caplan Art Designs Gallery artists. You see some of my larger works right at the start. Many of my works are small and not captured in the video. My last post included images of my artworks in this event. Over the weekend the Gallery posted more videos on the Gallery’s Instagram and Facebook pages that showed more of the event! There were many sales of my artwork and of the other Gallery artists work!
And now for the full details about the holiday box project! Back in very early September the Caplan Art Gallery gave certain artists an 8 inch cube to paint in our style. These boxes are to be in a special holiday exhibit opening the first Thursday in December.
Immediately when I got my box and over the next 4 days, I began the process of putting 3 coats of gesso on it even though I didn’t know what I would create.
While the gesso dried over that first week I brainstormed in both my sketchbook and on my legal pad. First I listed over 20 things that I could think of that are square or cube shaped. Then in my sketchbook I played visually with the various items listed to see what might be fun, how I might approach it. During this time my spouse and I had a dear friend come over to our outdoor patio to visit and have dinner. I told her what I was brainstorming and she liked the idea of dice.
At that time I was still in the middle of creating the dog portraits for The Professional Dog so it felt natural to think of dog shelters and dice, the chances for pet adoption, the many names for dogs … so in my brainstorming with my friend and my spouse we thought “what are the odds you’d find 21 dogs named Chance”?
My sketchbook became focused on dice-dot portraits of dogs.
I also rummaged about the house and found some game dice I could use as a model.
Using a ruler I calculated the size of the dots in relation to the size of the cube and I made measurement marks on the gesso using a watercolor pencil. The watercolor pencil marks will blend in and dissolve when I paint over the marks with acrylic paints.
Since the cube is a sculpture and will likely be handled by humans or sat upon by cats I decided from the start to work in acrylic as that’s a permanent waterproof media. I also planned to (and did) varnish it so the dice could be protected and easily cleaned.
I painted a different dog portrait on each dot on my dice using black and white acrylics mixed to form a range of greys. And yes, some of the dog breed research and practice I was already doing for The Professional Dog was applied to this project too.
After painting each dice-dot with a dog using black and white acrylics I painted the body of the dice with white acrylic. Every bit of the gesso got covered! Below you can see the entire dice in 3d plus each dice face separately so you can enlarge it and see the portraits.
I hope you had a yummy and fun Thanksgiving too. I look forward to catching up with some of my fellow bloggers and hearing about your creative projects but some of my days this week might resemble this…
… even if it does I hope you have a delightful week! See you next Monday.
I got my Covid19 booster shot and thought of the relationship between individuals and community. That brought jigsaw puzzles to mind. Quite a number of people were getting vaccinated the same time I was and it got me to thinking of how each one of us fit into the local community in some interlocking way.
After getting the poke I had to stay for 30 minutes to make sure I wasn’t going to have a reaction. Since I was thinking about puzzles I got online and shared some jigsaw puzzles I’ve designed that are on my Zazzle shop.
Then, after sharing the puzzles, I kept thinking about the mechanism of human perceptions. When working on a jigsaw one shifts back and forth between looking at the colors and patterns on the puzzle pieces to looking at the shapes of the pieces themselves. Somewhat similarly we – well, most of us – shift back and forth between seeing ourselves as an individual person and seeing ourselves as part of a much larger community.
That got me thinking about optical illusions and the ways design, specifically the design of narratives, the design of governments, can dovetail with our perception mechanisms and our behavior choices in a which comes first the chicken or the egg sense.
I sat in the medical center waiting area trying to remember – without using Google – the name of the guy who did the pioneering work on the perception of figure-ground relationships. I tried to remember the name of the optical illusion that illustrated this figure-ground discovery and the name of what the switch of perception in a figure-ground relationship is called.
I felt fine when I got home. My arm was hardly sore. I did feel a bit tired and decided on a day of indulgence. That means spending most of the day reading! My spouse documented the occasion – see below. The next day I was tired and had a slight headache. While I did do some work I mostly read books the next day too.
Despite both my spouse and I getting our booster shots and being busy rearranging furniture and stuff for workmen to make house repairs I did manage to get some illustrations done for my in progress childrens book project “The Professional Dog”. Here are three together.
Below are closer views of each of these illustrations along with the text line I plan to use in the book.
I did not have time to do one of my Creativity Chats this week. Also, since one of the home repairs is happening in the kitchen – there are no creative approaches to food that could be discussed or depicted here with glee. (I’m so looking forward to having my kitchen back!)
As I wrote in my last post my 8 inch cube shaped holiday box project for an upcoming exhibit at the Caplan Art Designs gallery is finished except for the final coats of varnish and we’re still waiting for Gallery permission to post publicly about it. Below is my art studio supervisor dachshund waiting very patiently. Mostly.
In addition to jigsaw puzzles and the figure-ground relationship shift of mind I’ve been thinking of how I use that mental shift method with words and images to stimulate my creativity.
For example when I began my holiday box project I listed, in longhand on my legal pad, over 20 items that are square or cube shaped. After making that list I worked in my sketchbook playing with images related to these words. (I’ve posted some of these in a past blog post) Below is a photo of part of my handwritten list – and I trust it doesn’t give too much away. 😁
I’ve also been thinking of figure-ground type shifting we do in other ways: inner life/social life, old/young, self/family, indoors/outdoors, leisure/work, mind/body, survive/thrive… I could go on listing these kinds of interrelated mental shifts but this is enough.
Anyway, of that list of shifts physical and mental health are important to me for both living-well reasons and to my creativity. Also important to me is the topic of doing a really good job of growing old (there’s a wonderful essay by Bertrand Russell here).
The main reason I create my artwork is because it makes me smile. I post publicly because it may give a friend a smile. And my friend Liz Gaffreau recently posted this which in turn made me smile. That’s why we’re here, I think, to love people and to be loved. That may sound somewhat purposeless – but this purposeless loving is the very attitude that leads to being creative, to playing well with oneself and with others.
This blog and my Creativity Chats on my YouTube channel are more of my small efforts to playfully encourage creativity in both myself and others – it’s one of my ways to participate in a creative community. I want the poets, the novelists, the painters, the quilters, the creatives of all kinds to be as well – physically and mentally – as possible. I want this because it is by play, by stories and beauty, that we all will get through difficult times. Mere physical survival is not enough. If I can encourage a poet or novelist to keep writing then perhaps their words will also help someone else keep going. Other writers work certainly helps me keep going. Each effort of creativity is a butterfly effect of sorts.
So, yes, my work feels urgent to me. It’s the shape and color of my jigsaw piece.
Please take good care of yourself this week. 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.