Chapter 3: Readings From The Heart

A Creative Life, Alphapets, Alphapets Too, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, Books In Art, creative thinking, drawing as thinking, ebook, fine art, food in art, illustrated poem, illustrated recipe, life of the mind, mental health, pet portraits, printed books, public art, reading in art, sketchbook, story, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking, words and pictures, writing, writing and illustrating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a picture of me working in a sketchbook

Clancy at work in a sketchbook

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

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

on seeing story stuff

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Beauty and wisdom are all around us if we’re attuned to look for them. Like a mystery story detective looking for clues we train our eyes to “see” what is there. This is partially a function of he way our brains work. We see what we expect to see. How broad or narrow that expectation is affects what we will see. It’s all too easy to “see” only to-do lists and drudgery in daily life.  It’s too easy to “see” beauty only in dramatic once-in-a-lifetime vacation places. Yet our view can be broadened so we can see beauty in the fruit at the local market – and find wisdom on our coffee cup.

I see my job as an artist as a practice of seeing beauty in ordinary places and things; of telling the stories of the beauty and the wisdom I find. To help others to see the beauty too.

Beauty and wisdom can be too easily ignored, lost and forgotten – and when that happens life can seem dull and drudgery filled.  This is why we need to constantly train our eyes and minds to look around our mundane lives and see the beauty, the wisdom. It takes repeated practice. It takes detective work.

Dr. Bob Hoke (the psychiatrist I illustrated a book for) had a phrase for this phenomenon of the mind “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. And sometimes the teacher has been there all along waiting patiently for the student to become ready, to notice and remember to notice again the next day.”

Here are some beautiful ordinary things I remembered to see – and what I thought about them:

LifesABowlOfCherriesStemsPitsAndAll72

“Life’s a bowl of cherries, stems pits and all” – by Clancy – 8 x 10 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits and All – At the farmer’s market during Rainier Cherry season I saw a father teaching his very young son how to pull a stem off, chew the cherry, extract the pit and put the stim and pit into a cup. it reminded me of how we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to cope with the pits, how to focus on and remember to enjoy the good things.

CoffeeCity72

“Coffee City” – by Clancy – 5 x 7 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Coffee City – I’ve been thinking of how much our lives are reflected in the objects we own, save, give away or dispose of – and the many mundane moments out of which a life is made. Perhaps choosing carefully what we focus on, choosing what encourages our “better angels”, choosing what becomes mundane is what makes for a good life.  These thoughts began when I was having coffee in one of my downtown coffee shops, staring at the highly polished surface of the ceramic coffee cup which reflected the surrounding city-scape. It was an ordinary moment that elevated my spirit. So I made this painting in order to remember.

You can see more art examples from this exhibit in my recent posts here and here.

More info about my upcoming art opening is available on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/2217205128523609/

True confessions: since the opening party is tomorrow night I am having a bit of the “will anyone come?” jitters. No matter that I’ve been having one person exhibits for many years, many times a year, or that all events have for the most part been well attended – even knowing all of that as opening night nears I get a little nervous. (“Will anyone else see….?”)  The exhibits matter to me. They’re risky on many levels. That’s part of the exhilarating fun of living the artistic life.

So, yes, I can see the beauty in my nervousness.

Mostly.