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.
My adopted Mom’s favorite flower is the orchid. Both Dad and Mom enjoyed cats – even though sometimes the cats knocked over plants or books. So I thought those thoughts while creating a portrait of a friends cat. I’ve titled the finished painting “Wonders”. It joins the rest of my Odditerrarium series and is also 10 x 8 inches and made with ink and gouache.
Below are some sketchbook pages from this week. In difficult times I find that helps having a sketchbook routine.
When I first met my adopted Mom and Dad I asked “how do I know you’re for real?”. Mom’s response was “Watch what I say and do over time”. So during almost every visit with them I brought my sketchbook along and took notes. Sometimes these notes got illustrated during the visit. Often the notes were rewritten and illustrated more neatly shortly after the visit. As time has marched I have used these sketchbooks as source material for making my books and other creative projects. For example when I put together “Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” I referenced my sketchbooks and consulted Dad and he shared his original lecture notes.
Here’s a recent video of me reading a story from this book here – it’s still a favorite story all these years later!
My friend Sherri Kennedy has a great post here related to this topic of imaginations and “feeding” attitudes.
I also see a correlation to what Michael Graeme says in his blog here “Try to go deeper, into the sublime, and feel it.” We can choose what we focus on, we can fully experience our feelings (taking breaks as needed) and fully embrace whatever feeds our good wolves and let that in turn feed our creative souls.
Speaking of feeding things: I remember as a barely in my 20s young person visiting my adopted Mom and Dad. We would get to talking with books and papers strewn about, including my sketchbook and drawing tools, time would fly by and suddenly Mom would put a large plate amongst the books. On this plate would be an assortment of foods, many of which I hadn’t seen before: specialty cheeses, meats, crackers, fruits, vegetables and nuts. The first time that happened Mom explained “charcuterie plates” to me. From that time on during visits when such plates appeared she’d tell me “this is Gruyere cheese” or whatever the new-to-me cheese was, each visit was an ongoing education in life, literature and food. Needless to say all of our visits revolutionized my previous “processed cheese food slices” existence for the better!
Naturally I included Mom’s charcuterie instructions when I got around to reproducing my kitchen sketchbook, along with I hope a sense of the combination of drinks, foods and conversation about books.
Here’s one of my favorite photos of a younger me with Mom and Dad.
Here’s a photo showing how things often looked just before Mom would put a charcuterie plate down.
When I was looking through my photos for this blog I saw this one of Dad looking at one of my wee books.
I miss Dad and I miss Mom being healthy (last post)… I am beyond glad that they (and my 5 siblings) adopted me! I will always carry them on in my life and creativity. This, I think, is part of the idea of “working from life” perhaps even more than the act of looking at a real life object and drawing it.
And I find comfort in loving the colors outside my window and the light and shadows. May have to try painting the grey-blue, greens, browns with that salmon color…
And I get comforts in doing the work of my creative projects. Here’s my art studio dachshund supervisor helping me with the book design and layout for my Odditerrarium exhibit book.
In my last post I was working on my exhibit statement. I edited it this week…chiefly I remembered that I needed to say something in the statement about the art media I work with! Amazing how I could forget something so basic! Ha! Thank goodness for creating books and the editing processes!! Here’s the finished exhibit statement that I’ve sent to the Caplan Art Designs gallery.
A dear friend sent a surprise knowing that I love getting books by mail! Such fun to share a favorite author in common with a friend!
Mom’s self-care directions throughout my life often included advice to “remember to eat mindfully”. Indulgence in her opinion was welcome, necessary and to be done in moderate mindfulness. This week I made macaroni and cheese using onion, garlic with Gruyere and cheddar cheeses. The recipe is here.
I’m reading an autobiography “The Summer of a Dormouse” by John Mortimer. I love his fiction and his way of writing in general. This autobiography is adding to my good-wolves in that I can read about Mortimer going though difficult times in his personal life while simultaneously creating his pleasant fictional works. I’m reminded that it is possible – normal even – to be able to acknowledge difficulties and still create pleasant things.
I hope you’ll be able to feed your good wolves this week and create pleasant things too. See you next Monday.
I’ve been thinking this week about the role of curiosity in a creative life. So here’s a fun curiosity/creativity game I play with myself. To play you’ll need: any printed book with lots of visual images in it, 5 sticky post-it notes from a post-it note pad, a separate piece of paper and a pen or pencil.
To begin the game open the book to random pages, page through very rapidly – ONLY PAUSE WHENEVER AN IMAGE CATCHES YOUR EYE – put a sticky post-it note on that page. Then keep going, quickly, through the book until all 5 of your post-it notes have been placed. DO NOT READ ANY TEXT IN THE BOOK. This part of the game will only take one minute or two. You’re just reacting and post-it note flagging that “something caught my eye” in an image.
After all 5 of your post-it notes are placed look at each of your chosen 5 images, look only at the image itself NOT at any accompanying text. Add a letter (or number) to the post-it note on each image, write a corresponding letter on your sheet of paper. Then write very specifically what caught your eye in the image. This is usually a brief description of some ordinary visual element in the image like “ladies funny hats” or “dogs droopy ears”. It could be the colors or the odd shapes that are described. There are no wrong answers. This is just YOU being curious about your own native interests and creative voice.
After writing about all 5 of your noticed images get curious about them as a group. Is there a theme or a commonality between any of the 5 images? For example the ladies funny hats and the dogs ears could be grouped as “head gear”. Again, there are no wrong answers. Be as absurd and freely-associative as you like. This is just you playing and being curious about any themes that may be subconsciously on your mind today.
When that part of the game is done read any text about the 5 images you chose. Does the information in the text add to your interest, to your curiosity? Feel free to investigate further…
And that’s the game! I’ve found in playing this game often that my themes repeat, certain elements consistently catch my eye, and knowing what those are helps me work deliberately and playfully in my studio. I play this game often because my interests and what catches my eye changes.
The Odditerrarium series painting that I finished this week is titled “Curious”. Like the rest of my series (for upcoming exhibits via Caplan Art Designs) this one is 10 x 8 inches and made with ink and gouache on board.
Here’s a closer look.
Part of curiosity, imagination and the life of the mind is allowing oneself to mentally reach, to play, to accept the risks and thrills of uncertainty. As a metaphor for these thoughts, as you may know from past posts, I’ve been thinking of the ways cats reach up. Here’s two in-progress artist books that have cats reaching in them. (Probably these books will eventually go to Storyberries.com)
Recently I stumbled across an Instagram post by Columbia Gorge Book Arts and got curious. (Lettering and alphabets consistently catch my eye.) I followed their Instagram account and looked at their website. I found out they live in the same town I do! So I contacted them online.
Letterpress and Linotype work is in my own past work history so I enjoyed the trip down memory lane while viewing their photos of equipment but more importantly I loved discovering that Ben, at Columbia Gorge Book Arts, hand-carves from bamboo the individual letters used in letterpress hand presses! The letterforms are beautifully created and Ben has quite a variety of typefaces! Seeing Ben’s printed proof sheets inspired my thoughts towards future kids books and children’s room decor. So when I contacted Ben I asked if I could buy a few printed proof sheets of his various alphabets. He sent me some!!!
When you’re a child learning one’s alphabet letters also means learning to recognize a letter even if that letter is differently shaped or colored. Towards that thought (and to indulge creatively in a theme that I love) I’m starting a new project, The Ralphapet Projects, in which, over time, I’ll make art prints, cards, cups and eventually a story book using some of the beautiful lettering I get from Columbia Gorge Book Arts.
Here’s the first one. I selected one of the Columbia Gorge alphabet proofs and mounted it on one of my boards using archival glue. Then when the glue was dry I drew, in ink, a cat muralist reaching up to “paint” a letter.
Here’s the finished “Ralphapet Cat” that I did using gouache on a 7 x 5 inch board.
So you can see the array of my recent cat reaching thoughts.
I took photos of the Ralphapet Cat artwork with my big camera (a better camera than a phone camera) and then my studio supervisor cat, Hawkeye, helped me do the graphic design hocus pocus in order to make art prints.
I’ve been thinking lately of how important the ability to imagine is. What if “let’s pretend…” is one of the most useful skills to cultivate all of one’s life? Besides being lots of fun to do using your imagination is an essential mental health skill. I quote from this article “So when you choose to develop your imagination and your ability to focus and direct your imagination, you gain the ability to guide and shift and direct your emotions as well. And when you have the ability to direct your imagination and modulate your emotions, then you also have the ability to influence the neurochemicals in your brain and in your body, too. Like all things mental, this ability is learned, and, like all things learned, this ability is made proficient through repetition. You do not learn to read overnight. You learn to read through repetition. Repetition makes proficiency.”
A new painting in my Odditerrarium series portraits (see last post) is titled “Pretending”. It’s 10 x 8 inches and made with gouache and ink on board. It is for an exhibit via Caplan Art Designs later this year.
A close up view…
I’ve also made progress on a new book for Storyberries that I had begun in my last post – the cat reaching thought I was telling you about got some color.
In thinking of how important imagination is I’ve also been thinking of the scope of it: imagination is first a personal skill, then it becomes something shared with friends, then it is something shared with the wider public – even intergenerationally – and that cycles back to us personally. And it does this cycle as long as we’re alive. Art and imagination are an ongoing conversation we have over time with ourselves, our friends and our community… and most importantly with life itself.
So I’m proud to see in this article that one of my art projects, the paintings in the photo behind Amy Russell, the executive director of the Curtis Children’s Justice Center is still on the walls there! That’s one of my public art projects that I’m most proud of doing. Keeping kids safe and developing good mental health coping skills are causes I care deeply about – and I think art can help with that. Long ago when I was a small child living in Oklahoma I was on the recieving end of child abuse in my biological family and had my own memorable encounters with police officers, social workers etc. The art on the walls in all of the buildings and the drawings on boxes of animal crackers helped me almost as much as the kind people who tried to help. Fast forward to today – the idea of having one place for a child to go for assistance is phenomenal and I’m glad and grateful for the existence of the Curtis Children’s Justice Center and I’m grateful for the kind people who help the children who need their services. I am deeply honored to have my artwork on their walls. https://www.columbian.com/news/2022/mar/26/childrens-justice-center-child-abuse-up-since-covid/
An art collector friend sent me these photos (below) of a art commission I had done for them over 10 years ago – it has been reframed and is in this gorgeous private place!!
I did this collage of handmade paper to tell a very personal and delightful story of a lovely family!
The pet portraits are some I have done of this same family’s pets over the years – they got reframed too and don’t they look nice?!
I just adore getting to love people throughout the years with my artwork!!
My artist heart is happy and full ❤ !! Thanks so much to my friend for sharing this with me!!!
Three kids are the apples of this art collectors eyes and I did these paintings to represent the specialness of each kid… the kids are all grown up now and still cherished! Since I’d posted the art collections (above) of my fine art earlier on my social media that are still loved all these years later… this art lover and I wanted to share these beloved apples!! So much love worthy of sharing!!! ❤❤❤
A friend gave us these flowers this week…
….I painted them in my sketchbook and posted my page on my social media…
…. another friend saw my sketchbook page online and asked me to make an art print of it. So I got out my big camera and did that! As you can see the colors and details show up even better now! You can see more about the print here.
My wife saw a unique mushroom in our yard and showed it to me. I looked carefully and photographed it and began a drawing in my sketchbook – then the next morning I finished it.
Then we got to visit some very special friends and a special cat and dog! Here I am being honored by the cat.
Here’s my wife being honored by the dog.
On the wall behind our friends is a collection of my artworks. Sharp eyes may recognize the cat and dog from our laps in some of the portraits on the wall.
One of our friends is the author and historian Pat Jollota – you can see some of her books here – she’s an amazing storyteller. If someday I can tell stories half as well as she does I’ll be proud.
I brought to our gathering some illustrations I’ve made and an idea for a holiday gift book. Together all of us imagined what my illustrated characters might be saying to each other. It was a fun party game that will become an actual book that I hope other people will have fun imagining with too.
My adopted Dad’s favorite quote is by Anatole France and I put it in my sketchbook along with a drawing this week. It was in keeping with my thoughts about “let’s pretend…”.
I hope your week is full of the kinds of imaginings and let’s pretend games that fill you with pleasure and happiness. 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?
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.
It’s barely been a week and Numpurrs on Storyberries.com has been read over 3000 times! Here’s one kind comment:
“Thank you, this is exactly what teachers are looking for, online opportunities during virtual teaching makes teachers lives so much easier. That was perfect timing! And a beautifully illustrated and written book! The weird thing is, I just did a cat drawing lesson for 1st grade. Now we can read the book and learn how to draw a cat!”
So this week quickly filled with additional efforts to help teachers and parents: I also made a poster, a calendar and then a 676 piece jigsaw puzzle too.
Here’s what the poster looks like. It’s big, 23 inches square, big enough to be seen in the backgrounds of online classes.
My copies of the printed book version of Numpurrs also arrived at my studio this week! So I photographed the book and created a portfolio webpage to hold all of my work on Numpurrs in one spot – to help the teachers find things easier – here’s that page https://sueclancy.com/portfolio/numpurrs/
Below are just a few of the photos of the printed book…you can see more on that portfolio page I just mentioned
I’m pleased with how the book turned out! Of course I can nitpick and find things I could have tweaked – that’s always the case with any creation. I think of art making as similar to cooking, you do your best to create a good meal then you say “good enough, let’s eat” and you go on to the next thing. Perhaps you make a note for yourself on that recipe as to what you’d do differently in the future – but you enjoy the meal as it is and you go on.
Speaking of going on: for years now I’ve been regularly jotting short poems in a small 3 x 5 inch book with my fountain pen. Now, as per discussions with the people at Storyberries, I’m working on illustrating some of the poems for a new book. As I wrote my last post I’d thought I’d do more on this new project this week than ended up happening – so more on these illustrated poems in coming posts.
Here’s a look at my little poetry sketchbook with some of the potential to-be-illustrated poems flagged with sticky notes.
I write with a fountain pen because they’re refillable. Fewer plastic bits of discarded pens to end up in the landfill this way. Besides a fountain pen – if you have a good quality one – can be super smooth to write with.
For those who say a nice pen and hand bound book would be “too precious to use” I reply “your thoughts are precious too”. Buy quality supplies and use them with joy. It’s just stuff on Earth here to be enjoyed. (And if you just can’t bear it then buy whatever supplies you will actually use and get your thoughts written down. But remember that you really deserve the best.)
Below is the dragon poem you can see my handwritten draft of in the photo of my book above and the handwritten poem and illustration I got done this week with ink and gouache on nice paper.
More of that kind of thing here next Monday – I hope. Thanks for reading. Have a good week.
There now! Despite all the odds (see last post) I finished “Numpurrs”! I’ve also sent it in to Storyberries for distribution. When I sent it in this last week Storyberries said “I just LOVE it Sue!!! It has come together so nicely !!!! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful work with us!!”
So I think it’s safe to say that they’re pleased! The book will be live on Storyberries.com very soon as they said they’ll “…schedule it for 9am Gold Coast time Australia on Monday morning.” Which works out to about 4 pm in Washington state, USA on Sunday. And I post these blog posts on Mondays but write them on Sunday morning’s… so, yes, I can have a bit of time zone confusion.
Time zone differences between where I live on the western US coast and the time where Storyberries is in Australia can confuse me even when I have help from the internet. My solution to working across continents and time zones is the same in publishing as it has been when I’ve done fine art exhibits outside of the U.S.A; get it all done early and everything into their hands as soon as humanly possible then let the people I’m working with sort the what-happens-when out at their end.
It helps that I work on the graphic design part of any book almost simultaneously with creating the fine art illustrations. This way by the time I finish creating the fine art illustrations I’ve almost finished the book design too.
The graphic design informs and affects my illustrations – in the number of illustrations needed, the size of them and so forth. But what I want to do in the first place with my illustrations/fine art at my easel (using ink and gouache on board) will also affect the graphic design.
This interdependence (and writing the poem is in there too) is related to the construction of my book idea in the first place in a which-comes-first chicken-or-egg kind of fashion. As a result of my working method the posting I do online nearly always slightly behind the action. My motto is create the thing first talk about it later.
Anyway, here’s a pic of me working on my laptop doing the book layout. I often do my computer work in the corner of my dining room near the cookbooks and am almost always cooking something on the stove. Taking breaks to stir something on the stove is so nice!
And here are the last poem lines in my book:
Twenty butters bread, risen with yeast
And it all sums up to a wonderful feast!
In the printed book my three panel “feast scene” will flow in sequence left to right and will line up side by side. But it worked pretty well in scroll ebook form too even tho it doesn’t line up at the edges. As I worked I had to think of both of these “flow” patterns when I was creating the images.
Even though I’m doing so much myself – which sounds like a lot of freedom – there are still constraints: page flow, number of pages allowed within the publication formats, where the blank pages must fall, printing product options, ebook construction and so forth. I see these constraints as the path, the way forward, the technical issues become part of my creative process.
When it came to creating the feast scene artwork in Numpurrs I consulted this book, Food and Feasting in Art by Silvia Malaguzzi
Many of these art historical images had the viewers eye moving left to right and or moving up and down. This served as a guide as I created my cat feast illustrations. (I love art history!)
Running into the graphic design publication constraints I mentioned earlier I only had 3 pages within which to fit my feast. When, in an early sketch, I fitted all 20 cats in – the cats were too small and the numbers couldn’t be easily read. Since the point of the book is to distinguish between cats and to recognize numbers I decided to make the cats and numbers bigger even tho it meant leaving out some cats.
Besides at almost every group photo I’ve ever participated in there were several people who declined to be in the picture. Perhaps we can pretend some of the cats in my artwork were similarly shy?
After sending everything in to Storyberries, and after being given the release schedule, I was asked to send in a new photo of all three of the feast panels as one image. There are design constraints and issues at their end too – and we’re in this project together. So I hustled (time zones remember…) and sent this photo in:
Since my book idea is about distinguishing between cats and numbers I also used 4 of my allotted pages to include the photos of real life cats that my friends had sent to me for use as reference to create my artwork. Like the feast scene artwork not every cat illustrated in the book is on the cat photo pages… again it was a case of if I fit in every photo the cats were too small to see well. And in some cases the photos my friends sent was fine for my art reference use but it wasn’t high enough resolution for a printed book. Since I’m doing both print and ebook forms I had to design for both to look the same. Perhaps it can add fun to also distinguish which cat is there and which isn’t and also to see some of the source material I worked with?
Here’s what the Numpurrs book cover looks like, and the dedication page where I thank my friends for all of their help.
This week has been less busy but weird with wildfires and bad air quality where I live in SW Washington. (More re in a sec.) Despite it all I still made progress on my Numpurrs book (see also my last post for more project details)
Here are the poem lines that go with the illustrations I managed to get done this week:
Sixteen puts flowers out on a whim
Seventeen pours saucers of milk labeled skim
Eighteen opens fish oil good for the fur
Nineteen is so happy she starts to purr
To think about art and creating a book for children this week, as wildfires raged, as we worry about the safety of family and friends has, at times, felt a bit frivolous. But it is also an act of hope. An act of resilience. An act of pushing back against the darkness…
One of my sources of comfort in times of difficulty is to walk among my bookshelves at home, selecting a random book, reading a page or so and putting it back on the shelf. I often hope to find encouraging, uplifting passages. As you might know from my artist book Another Sketchbook I’ve been adapting this comfort recently to include ebooks. Here’s something I read this week from Albert Camus
I think creating art is a way of maintaining hope. Sharing art is a small act of kindness. So I keep on. Besides, I find it helpful to spend time each day focusing on something that is pleasing, enjoyable, as doing this helps me exercise and maintain my inner muscles that give me strength to push back.
Things that are enjoyable are what we push for, what we want to maintain, what we want to have more of in life because it’s not enough to merely endure. Besides doing whatever it is that helps us endure we need to also remember what we’re enduring for. And when the enduring is done to remember to appreciate what we have.
Thinking beyond the thing to be endured and the endurance process itself takes practice. Enjoying things is a skill to be practiced – and one doesn’t have to wait for a perfect time/situation/condition in which to practice. That time is now.
As Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors said “I urge you to please notice when you’re happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” “
Anyway, here’s my cat sitting where he can look out on the smokey world. It’s pleasant to watch him watch the world. This photo was taken about noon on Sunday.
And here’s my dog covering his nose, burrowing into a towel, in an effort to get away from the smell of smoke. He’s so sensible – and cute!
Besides working on my art projects and pulling books randomly from my shelves, I’ve still been reading the books I mentioned in my last post.
Also I’ve added to my daily reading an ebook, “The Cat Who Said Cheese” by Lilian Jackson Braun. Walking around inside my house, for gentle exercise, is more fun with a cozy mystery in hand. And since one of the current topics in my head is cats…. this book is lightweight fun for me to burrow into while still being somewhat on topic.
The air quality outdoors here has been so bad that, wisely, all the places hosting my current fine art exhibit “Readings From The Heart” closed temporarily to the public. As of 8 PM Sunday night the Airnow.gov site has my location’s air quality as “beyond index” meaning it is worse than the number they use to indicate really-awful-very-bad-horrible-dangerous. My nose and chest would agree with that assessment. (An air particulate level of 300 to 500 is considered hazardous – ours Sunday eve was well over 500. Monday morning the number is 414… update: at 6pm Monday we are at 517. My local paper has this article. )
But I tend to think that inside a difficulty is an opportunity – a chance to think beyond an immediate crisis – so just as soon as one Gallery told me they were closing I made the ebook version of my artist book about the exhibit available as a free download on my shop page. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll find my free ebooks. You can also see all of my art in the current exhibits from the comfort of your phone here. And if this isn’t nice I don’t know what is!
Please find ways to keep hope alive, to keep enjoying something, to keep going forward somehow and be kind – I will do the same.
I didn’t think it possible to be even busier this week than last week but I was. Still there’s been progress on my new artist book for children called Numpurrs. On Storyberries.com I had done a counting book titled “The Crow and the Water Jug” so Storyberries wants another book from me related to numbers and math.
Here’s my progress: the finished poem lines that fit with my next 4 illustrations for Numpurrs
Twelve spoons out all of the treats
Thirteen plans who will sit in which seats
Fourteen carries dishes piled so high
Fifteen slices the roasted magpie
As I worked on these cat portraits, in snatches of time, I chose the cats-to-be-illustrated from photos of cats that my friends have shared. My friends also shared stories about their cats – and both the stories and photos inspired which cat to pair with which number and poem line.
Also informing my work on these cat portraits are the books I’ve been reading. More details below. But did you know that magpies relate to math? So does carrying … math fiction as a genre to explore is lots of fun!
Anyway I don’t expect that the parents reading my Numpurrs to their kids will see all the math related research I’m putting in – the research is just a way for me to learn and enjoy this topic as I create my book Numpurrs. It helps keep me on track and inspired even when I’m not working on a cat portrait.
Anyway, I made these cat paintings with ink and gouache on board. They’re small, 3.5 x 2.5 inches. Both the small size of each portrait and my art media enable me to work in short bursts as time allows. If these works were in any other size or media I can’t imagine how I would have shoehorned this project into this week. As it was having this project to do in this way inserted a nice bit of relaxation and fun!
The rest of what I have been so busy on would require lots of typing. Let it suffice to say that it’s very happy business (fine art commissions!) and that I enjoy it all very much!
Here in this blog my point is to show how I develop new projects and sustain my interest in them over a duration, despite a busy life. It’s a peek behind the scenes you can say in my creative life. So I’m trying to keep my writing here about the newest project under current development.
As I alluded to above here are some books that are helping me sustain my inspiration for this project. In addition to conversation with my friends about their cats I peek at one or the other of these books as I get a moment.
I’ve written about some of these books in my last posts but the book titles in the above photo are (from the top):
A Dictionary Of Color Combinations by Sanzo Wada – A link for this book in the bookstore Ampersand where I got my copy is here
I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume – this link has a wonderful review/discussion of this book. The article mentions that this book was originally written serially, in installments. In addition to making this book readable for the busy times of life I also see it as informative on how to construct a story to be serialized. Besides all that it’s just a fun romp inside a cat’s mind!
Imaginary Numbers by William Fruct – I found my copy this book years ago in one of my local bookstores. I looked online just now for it and the best source for more information about this title that I could find is here at ABE Books.
Werner’s Nomenclature Of Colors by P. Syme. – The bookstore where I got my copy no longer has this title but you can see a fun article about this book, along with photos of the pages here.
So now you know how my week went: working on many projects, reading bits in books, thinking, musing, playing and adding new art progress, small bit by small bit, to my Numpurrs while also living life.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I’ll post during the week on my Instagram page and sum up here next Monday.
I hope your week is peaceful, fun and filled with your own creativity.
P.S. I also include photos of my other projects on my Instagram pages and elsewhere on www.sueclancy.com