They came in a big box. My early copies of the new print version of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”! The official release of this book is November 1st – but you can click here for early access. I’ll be able to look at a print copy tonight while I brush my teeth – and that’s what I’d hoped for back when I started this project! But first – more happy dancing around the living room!
Here’s the cover for the new print version of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”. Keeping the hand-drawn look for the cover was important. Half of this book is filled with hand-drawn graphic-novel type stories. And the book originated in my sketchbook. So it seemed a no-brainer to keep the cover art “organic” looking. Here are both the front and back covers:
Yes, I did see this new print version as an opportunity to hand-write the entire book and considered it strongly. However from the outset of this project when we did the first printed editions small run, Dr. Bob Hoke wanted the book to be as easily accessible as possible – including constructing a book that would feel “simple” and even fun.
So as I designed this new print version I decided that typing the text of Dr. Bob’s lecture notes, rather than hand writing it would be more in keeping with Dr. Hoke’s methods. By typing I could also choose fonts and formats that would be easier for anyone, including dyslexics, to read. “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” is also small in size; 5.5 x 8.5 inches and only 56 pages long.
As I mentioned above, half the book is drawings… so I worked to make the cover art fit with the cartoon drawings inside the book.
“Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” will be officially released November 1st – but since you follow my blog you can get early access here: https://store.bookbaby.com/bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Dr-Bobs-Emotional-Repair-Program-First-Aid-Kit1
I’ve been thinking of how essential friendly conversations are – and remembering a story Dr. Bob Hoke* once told. It went like this.
Once upon a time there was a king who was very busy from morning until evening chairing meetings and making decisions. When the king went home in the evening he wanted perfect silence; he didn’t talk to his very beautiful queen or his servants and he didn’t allow them to talk either. A no-talking policy reigned whether he was home or not. His queen was very unhappy and his servants didn’t stay in his employ long – even though the king was very rich and the queen and servants didn’t lack any material thing.
Eventually he noticed that his poorly paid chief advisor had a very happy wife. The advisor also had servants who had been in his employ for decades despite the fact that the advisor couldn’t pay them as well as others might.
The king attributed his advisors success in these relationships to sheer luck. One day the king demanded that the advisor swap. The advisor’s wife and servants went to live with the king. The king’s queen and servants went to live with the advisor.
A year went by. And the king noticed that most of the advisor’s former servants had left the king’s employment (despite their higher wages) and the advisor’s wife was now sad all the time. The king was also aware that his queen now laughed most of the time and his former servants, now in the poorly paid employment of the advisor, had stayed the entire year.
The king called his advisor and demanded “How have you done this?”.
“Your highness, almost every night I spend time asking everyone how their day had gone. I ask them how their children are. I listen to their hopes and dreams. I ask them to tell me stories and jokes. I tell them stories and jokes. I tell them about my day, my hopes and dreams. Neighbors and friends often drop by to visit – whether I’m home or not – and we offer the visitors what little we have to eat or drink. We accept what they offer us. We also visit other people.” replied the advisor.
The king reversed the swap and though it took some time he eventually became a good conversationalist with his queen and current servants (who began to stay in his employ longer). Above the entrance to his home, to help him remember, the king had a sign painter paint this phrase: “To be a good conversationalist is to have a good life.”
That’s the end of the story as I recall it. As I was remembering the story I painted this:
*Dr. Bob Hoke is the psychiatrist for whom I compiled and illustrated “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” (link to that book here https://store.bookbaby.com//bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit )
The story in this post was not included in the First Aid Kit because both Dr. Bob and I thought the “wife swapping” story element would be distracting within the book – even though it is a way within this particular story to demonstrate the point about conversation.
And in this still life artwork I experimented – swapped you might say – using a color I don’t use often: turquoise instead of the color I was tempted to reach for first. I feel I’m broadening my color-conversation skills at least.
“Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable. And we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.” – Robert Henri (American painter).
I’ve been thinking of that quote today – and thinking of the people who have told me that they want to “be more creative” but aren’t sure how to start or what to draw. I’ve been thinking of how easy it is now for me to find subject matter. But it wasn’t always so.
As a young art student one of my first college assignments was to “do a 4 foot by 4-foot painting in acrylic of any subject matter but it cannot be abstract.” Well that was a stumper. What to paint? My professor went on to tell my class about how we needed to look around our own lives, our own experiences and find subject matter there.
That helped somewhat but still… what to make art about? My college life seemed boring and un-dramatic. How to identify subject matter I cared about?
I muddled through the school assignment and over the years got better at coming up with subject matter. It took even more time for me to figure out that a system of “short bursts of creativity” worked best for me but here’s what I’ve learned on my personal quest for the fountain of continually-interesting-to-me artistic subject matter:
A. Keep a daily sketchbook, 5 to 10 minutes of work at a time, in which I draw or write about anything that occurs during a day that “catches my attention”. No censorship. No “trying to make art”. Just make notes, doodles. Play. Note the fun stuff, the things I’m grateful for and things that make me laugh or feel curious.
B. After several weeks or months of sketchbook work I look back through my book and notice any reoccurring themes and I list them.
C. I select one of the themes and set a series of creative appointments with myself to do a “real drawing” of that theme using good art materials. The creative appointments are 10 to 20 minutes of work/play at a time. I purposefully keep these sessions short! Repeat the creative appointments (aka short bursts of creativity) until the drawing is finished.
Then I select that same theme – or a similar one from my sketchbook – and do another “real drawing” – trying to do an even better job of communicating my thought or feeling. Again, no censorship, no “trying to make great art” – just trying to draw as neatly as possible, to convey as clearly as possible what “caught my attention”.
I keep working in my sketchbook every day even when I have a creative appointment with myself. Both of these 10 minute activities go on behind the scenes of my very busy professional artist life – and this “short bursts” concept could work within anyone’s “too busy” life and add more ongoing creativity. (Also, this concept builds on my “designing habits” concept from an earlier blog post: https://sueclancy.com/2017/03/29/designing-habits-6-ways/ )
Here’s a visual-thinking-drawing I did that describes this in a different way:
For me it has turned out that creativity is a lot like happiness – it follows me wherever I go. Below is a cartoon I drew about happiness that explains this concept in yet another way – it’s from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
You can also see one of my published sketchbooks as an ebook here: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/coffee-table-book
“Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive” – an old saying that Dr. Bob Hoke reminded me of often. I’ve been thinking of that today – and thinking of how easy it is to form habits, how quickly these habits become the “air” we breath. This air becomes so normal that we soon think that things have “always been this way”.
As a professional artist my job depends on my “thought systems” – the quality of my ideas and how well I’m able to communicate them. I’ve modified Dr. Hoke’s saying above to “Stay close to anything that makes you want to be creative”. My imagination is formed – fed – by my life experiences so I try to be careful what of my life experience becomes “normal”. I do not, for example, keep mint candies in my house/studio as I know I have a hard time eating just one. Similarly I purposefully create art studio habits that help me to happily achieve my goals:
- Keep favorite art supplies on hand, things I want to pick up and use.
- Leave some of the favorite art supplies or an in-progress project out on a work surface that I’ll see when I first walk into my studio. That way I get right to work.
- Keep a strict work schedule -be ruthless- decide what needs to be done/can be done within a day/work period and do it. (And no, I’m not always perfect at this – it’s a goal) At the end of each work day I make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow. This list is broken into small achievable steps like “gesso boards” – that can be easily picked up/begun.
- Keep a list of quotes, photos (etc.) that stimulate my creativity/good habits – I post these encouraging items somewhere visible. It is best if it is something that makes me smile and want to do my best.
- Keep phones and other distracting items out of the studio for set periods of time. See number 3 above again. Rinse. Repeat.
- Keep a list of favorite people – think of them and make something each day with them in mind. Keep a list of favorite places, foods, music, movies, books – etc – and use them as a “guiding light” for creative efforts. (i.e. view them as a mentor, a source of encouragement, something that feeds my good wolf/your better angels, reminds me that it CAN be done.) Create habits of happiness – and happiness out of habits.
Flannery O’Connor once said “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”
For me it comes down to doing my best to be aware of what I pick up and spend time on – and choosing carefully. Below is a cartoon I drew that puts this concept in another way – it’s from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first” – Dr. Bob Hoke. That quote is one of many from my book Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit that I’ve found helpful in my life as a professional artist. [a link to that book is here: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit]
When I begin any commissioned portrait of someone’s special dog (or cat) I make a series of practice sketches of that breed before I attempt a likeness of the special dog. Yes, I’ve been doing these portraits for years but I still find it helpful to start with the basic characteristics of the breed. Then I can look at someone’s special dog and see what makes that dog unique.
I’m currently working on a commissioned portrait that has a schnauzer in it. Here are a couple of practice schnauzers (not pictured are about 5 other practice pieces).
All of this talk of “practice” has reminded me of a story Dr. Bob told that is not in the above mentioned book. That story went like this:
Once there was an Emperor who had a pet rooster. He decided he wanted a portrait of his beloved rooster to be painted by the best artist in his land. One of the artists was invited to the palace and was asked to make the portrait. The artist agreed, saying that he would need 3 months in order to do it. Then he would return to the palace and paint the portrait in front of the Emperor. The Emperor was pleased. The artist went back to his studio and worked hard every day for 3 months. Then he returned to the palace, as agreed, with his art materials. The Emperor had his pet rooster brought before the artist. The artist watched the rooster for a while and began to paint. In about 3 minutes the painting was finished. The Emperor was thrilled with the portrait and asked for the artist’s fee. The artist named what sounded like a large sum. “What?!” bellowed the Emperor “That only took you 3 minutes to create! Why do you want so much money? Are you trying to swindle me?” The artist requested that the Emperor travel to his studio by way of a reply. Reluctantly the Emperor did so. When they arrived and the artist flung open the doors of his studio the Emperor saw thousands of rooster drawings. The artist described his work history and extensive training and while the Emperor marveled at all of the rooster portraits the artist added “The portrait of your rooster has actually taken me a lifetime to paint.” The Emperor happily paid the artist’s fee.
You can see more of my dog practice work in my newest book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy
“So much is wrong with the world and here you are doing artwork of cute dogs and the occasional cats. Aren’t you denying reality, denying the power of protest art?”
No, I am on purpose living well as a direct action against the bullies, abusive people and authoritarians. If I were to get upset and stay angry and fearful each time I read a news article, for example, I would be handing my personal happiness to the very mean people I’m upset about.
So I persist at finding small joys every day, doing small kindnesses, creating laughter and yes, cute whimsical dogs. It’s my protest, my declaration of sovereignty, my present to the better angels of my own and other people’s natures. It’s my way to feed the good wolves.
My persistence at happiness doesn’t mean I don’t read and make myself aware of what’s going on in the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t donate money or in other ways help any cause I think is also opposing bullies and authoritarian fundamentalists. I do!
It’s just that I refrain as best I can from giving the mean people my inner self, letting my upset at them/ their actions dominate my entire mind and life. I’m not waiting until there are no more mean people in any positions of power (etc.) before I’m able to enjoy something! I’m going to enjoy something today, right now. I’m also going to learn something, I’m going to play, experiment, and laugh. I’m going to try something new. I’m going to smile and talk to people. I’m going to do my best to be kind and loving. I’m going to live well!
By doing this I deny those mean people what they want most; my cerebral compliance. When I enjoy something they, the bullies, have not set the tone of my mind or my day – I have! The bully may have authority over my body (i.e. be an abusive parent, a president, or a state that denies my human rights) but they do not have control over my mind!
One of the many good-mental-health techniques that I’ve practiced is to keep a list of things I enjoy thinking about or doing – so that whenever I do get down-in-the-dumps or despondent about how some bully seems to be winning I can deliberately turn my mind towards something I enjoy. In this way I’m taking direct and immediate action.
By creating artwork that is whimsical, beautiful or even cute I am giving people an art exhibit, a book, a blog post or an item of art apparel that I hope can, if only for a moment, lift their spirits and enable them to take direct action too – by enjoying something.
As I learned from Dr. Bob Hoke (and which is further discussed in the book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”) the best response to adversity of any kind is to go on and live well. https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
Here are a few of my dogs currently on exhibit at Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com – and also in my book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy
When I was a little kid I remember once telling my Grandmother “I’m bored.” She asked me to look for and find the smallest object in the house and bring it to her. After some time I found a safety-pin about 1/2 inch long and about 1/4 inch wide. She said “I’ll bet you can do better than that.” So off I went again searching. I came back with a needle. It was a bit longer than the safety-pin but much skinnier. Which led to a philosophical discussion of what constituted “small”.
I was not bored any more that day!
Fast forward a hundred years or so and I was working with psychiatrist Dr. Bob Hoke who wanted to publish a book that could be available for his patients. The question was how to “keep the young adults from getting bored” as many of them were not great readers of prose in general and certainly not of books about how to develop and maintain good mental health.
Dr. Bob was a story-teller and holding peoples attention in person was no problem for him. It was in writing where he thought he got “too didactic”. We hit upon the idea of doing a book in a primarily graphic-novel comic format. (That idea became “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” – more info is on my artist book webpage https://sueclancy.com/artist-books/)
As a result of my work with Dr. Bob on that book (and other projects) I began to focus much more on the “small details” within my fine art work as one way of communicating a story, developing a character and, yes, keeping a viewers visual interest.
So as I’ve been working towards my new book – the one that I’m thinking of calling “Dogs” – I’ve been thinking about which dogs I’ve drawn in ink that include small details, surprising details and even hidden subtle details.
About a year ago I began working towards my upcoming October exhibit at Caplan Art Designs. From a book I’d created years ago with Dr. Bob Hoke titled “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” (aka The First Aid Kit) I selected a ‘living well’ aspect to explore via fine art. Then I spent the next year making art.
The aspect I’d selected from The First Aid Kit was: (and I’m paraphrasing) “happiness is not about getting what you want from the external world – it’s how you interpret the things you perceive in the external world”. (You can see some sample pages from The First Aid Kit here: https://sueclancy.com/artist-books/ – and you can see links for getting either an ebook copy or a print copy of it there too. )
So fast forwarding to now: a year’s worth of artwork has been created and/or selected by the gallery and I’m working on the paperwork for my exhibit. The gallery likes to have an “exhibit statement” i.e. they want me to create some text based handle by which people visiting my exhibit could have a framework, a context, for understanding my work. I came up with this:
By Sue Clancy
(exhibit statement for exhibit at The Daily in the Pearl October 2016 via Caplan Art Designs)
I read somewhere that “Happiness is a skill to be practiced like the violin” and I asked myself “How do I practice happiness?” Then after attending a friend’s mother’s 90th birthday party I began thinking about how our lives are made up of patterns; patterns in nature, patterns in culture, as well as our own mental patterns or habits of mind. So I began to collect, from my daily life, “pleasant patterns” of happiness and have recreated those moments for you.
My one-of-a-kind artist books have been included in several library special collections (most recently at the UCLA Fine Arts library – thanks to the 23 Sandy Gallery) – well, I’ve newly been included in the Washington State Indie Book Collection! This means that two of my artist books that I’ve created in eBook form can now be accessed by the general public via libraries that subscribe to something called the Biblioboard! https://www.biblioboard.com/
The two of my books that have been made available for libraries are: “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” and “Coffee Table Book”
Both of these books are talked about at the top of the artist book page on my website – with links for more info etc.
Anyway, now that this possibility of library love exists for me as a book artist I’ve created a postcard about one of my books (Hint: the book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” is my fave…) so I will have a card I can give away just in case I happen to meet a friendly librarian or two in the urban wilds.
Here’s the card: