the eggplant technique of creativity

A Creative Life, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, food in art, graphic narrative, illustration, mental health, story, Sustainable creativity, visual story, visual thinking, words and pictures

“Feelings are guides not gods” is a phrase from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”, the new print version I’m currently working on. The concept is illustrated by this story:

EggplantSM

Here’s some text from the book related to the artwork: “Do you think that feelings keep you from doing things? More good news – they don’t! We’ve all done many things we didn’t feel like doing – such as going to school or work when we didn’t feel like it – which proves that: Feelings don’t keep us from doing things. Moreover, when you do that thing you feel scared to do, you are nourishing your courage…… Remember, you are responsible for your feelings not responsible to them.” (see the Eggplant story above)

Cultivating and maintaining a high level of Emotional Intelligence is essential to well-being (and creativity). Good mental health is about more than just the absence of mental illness – it is the presence of good coping skills, being able to self-regulate, to see feelings as a guide whether the feelings are your own or someone else’s. (Btw: there’s a good article about teaching Emotional Intelligence here.)

I’ve found Dr. Bob’s concept of “feelings are guides not gods” applies to creativity, and the creative life, as well. Whether or not I feel a particular way doesn’t have to affect whether or not I make my artwork. My feelings are not a “god” to be obeyed. If it’s time to work in the studio, however short or long the time-to-work I’ve allotted is, off I go to my creative work no matter how happy, sad or inspired I feel at the moment.

Where I use my feelings as a “guide” is when I’m out in the world on the lookout for possible art-topics. I keep my inner eye open for things that capture my curiosity and my imagination. Then I keep a list of those things and my feelings related to them in my sketchbooks for future art-making. My use of this “feelings as guide” technique has helped me create many helpful guidebooks, so to speak, for my own creative life.  I find it a sustainable creative practice.

All that aside I’d like to add that eggplant can, once in a while, be a very good vegetable – especially as eggplant parmesan.

the so-what art making technique

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art techniques, artistic inspirations, author illustrator, illustration, mental health, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking

Recently I’ve been super busy with fine-art exhibits and other illustration projects. But now I’m back to regular work on a new print version of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.  During my work on the pages about Dr. Bob’s S.W.I.F.T. finger therapy I remembered how valuable this concept is when I’m in the middle of an art project.

While a project is not a person all creative projects also have an ugly-duckling stage. A point in which they’re more “mess” than “masterpiece”. A point in which things are happening with the colors and shapes that may not be what I intended or hoped for.

I’ve found the S.W.I.F.T therapy helps me remember to calm down about the mess. If a creative person gets too angst-y about the in-progress project it stops the flow of creativity. Possibly leading to a creative block. Remembering to think of “So What If….” finger therapy helps me relax and to do nothing radical to the in-progress project during my don’t-like-it moment. It enables me to let go, and approach the project later with an open, playful, mind. Perhaps after lunch, perhaps the next day.

SWIFTtherapyremedySM2

Page from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” collected and illustrated by Clancy

If you’ve just joined my blog (and thank you for that!) here’s the last post about this project. The last post covers another mental-health technique that relates, in my mind anyway, to living the sustainable creative life.

I began learning these mental-health techniques and applying them to my creative life back in the 1990’s. I’m still creating new artwork daily. Still loving it. Something works.

Hope this book and these posts will help you too. All the best…

 

the art technique of attention

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artistic inspirations, books, drawing as thinking, ebook, fine art, illustration, mental health, story, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking, writing and illustrating

I’ve been very busy getting ready for a one-person fine art exhibit at Caplan Art Designs that will open in September. (So my social media activity has slacked off lately.) Around the edges of creating new fine artwork, framing, paperwork and so forth I’ve been working towards a new print edition of “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.

This story from the First Aid Kit has been a good reminder of an art technique I try to practice daily – even when I’m busy:

Attention

Even when I’m very busy I practice taking a moment within my day, wherever I am, in the here-and-now and pay attention to my 5 senses. I try to let go of any preconceived conceptions, to just expand my awareness. I also include, in this exercise, paying attention to my free-associations and my imagination during my 5-senses check-in moment. I’ll note my sensory experience and “watch”, like you’d watch television, the memories, thoughts and associations that cross my mind as a result of the sensory experience.  I’ll often make notes in my sketchbook.

What I “get” for my payment – when I pay attention – is the power to choose what to focus on when I’m at my art easel working.

This practice of paying attention to both sensory input and the content of my mind –  is a version of what Betty Edwards wrote about in her book “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” – in the section where she talks about chairs. How (and I’m paraphrasing) a drawing student first attempting to draw a chair will substitute their knowledge about chairs (4 legs, a square seat and back) and will draw a child-like symbol of a chair. One has to learn to see the shapes of the spaces around the chair as well as the shapes of the chair itself – what is actually seen (3 legs, a trapezoid shaped seat and back).

I find too often – especially when I’m busy – I’m substituting my “knowledge” about the world, my preconceptions, for what “is” in the world. So I find it helpful to practice seeing the shapes of spaces, so to speak, in my sensory experience of the world. And to see the shapes of spaces within my own mind.

Paying attention allows me to merge real-world phenomenon with my mental life and to choose to communicate, via art, in ways that are helpful, playful and fun.

Currently “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” only exists in e-book form. But as I said above, I’m working on that. This book has had such a profound impact on my own creative life that I want to have another print version around.

play and focus as a business of art model

A Creative Life, art techniques, artistic inspirations, business of art, Sustainable creativity

I got some new-to-me kinds of watercolors. Chinese watercolors to go along with my Sumi ink. So I had to play with them.  Here’s my test case below.

MeasureSpoonsPractice

Feels good to just play around with my art supplies – kind of like eating mac-n-cheese right out of the pan while wearing pajamas and watching a movie.

After I was finished it turns out that I like the yellow spoon drawing best because after attempting the green and the blue spoon drawings I learned that applying the sumi ink last makes for the boldest lines.

Yep. I highly recommend playing around with ones art supplies as a way to refresh and  sustain creativity.  I’ve not seen this important sustainable creativity business method discussed much in the business-of-art books. It oughta be…

My business-of-art model goes like this:

  1. Play around with my materials often. Both new materials and old ones. Experiment.  Make a mess.
  2. Focus on what I’m doing instead of how well I’m doing it. Focus on the fun.

Another way of describing my business-of-art model goes like this:

AHappyTail72

page from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit

Like happiness good artwork often happens while we’re doing something else.

designing a creative life 3 ways

A Creative Life, art techniques, artistic inspirations, creative thinking, drawing as thinking, mental health, sketchbook, Sustainable creativity, visual thinking

“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:

ShortBurstsCreativeTime72

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

AHappyTail72

page 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

cephalopods and the art of small things

A Creative Life, art techniques, artistic inspirations, creative thinking, mental health, small things, Sustainable creativity, visual story, visual thinking

Yesterday I read an article titled “Cephalopods Adapt By Editing Their Genes” and that reminded me of the value in periodically examining our own assumptions, our own stories, our own worldview and being willing to rearrange our own mental furniture.

Perhaps adapting or editing the stories you tell yourself is the human equivalent of editing genetic code as a cephalopod?

Reexamining stories, assumptions and the kinds of questions you ask are also keys to creative thinking.

I’ve noticed that the kinds of questions a person asks makes a difference in creative thinking. For example asking “How can I include at least one fresh vegetable in this meal?” elicits a more exciting creative response than the question “How can I eat more healthfully?”

Likewise asking the small question “What art medium/technique would be most fun to use to depict my favorite food?” provokes a more joyous creative response than the question “What fine art can I make on a universal theme?”

Most days I wake up thinking “what small thought can I think about or re-think about today?”

So today’s small things I’m thinking about are pictured here:

DSC_0010

By list:

“Cephalopods adapt by editing their genes” http://www.columbian.com/news/2017/apr/13/cephalopods-adapt-by-editing-their-genes/

“The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart

“Creative, Inc.” by Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Cho

A postcard of “Chaco Culture” a National Historical Park in New Mexico

My coffee cup and a glass marble.

And to put the concept in this blog post yet another way: Here is a page from my book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit

TheGemstone72

 

 

designing habits 6 ways

A Creative Life, artistic inspirations, mental health, Sustainable creativity

“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:

  1. Keep favorite art supplies on hand, things I want to pick up and use.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Keep phones and other distracting items out of the studio for set periods of time. See number 3 above again. Rinse. Repeat.
  6. 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

TheSnake

the art of practice and a story inside

A Creative Life, animals in art, art techniques, artist book, artistic inspirations, books, dog portrait, Dogs in Art, ebook, fine art, words and pictures

“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).

Schultz72

Shultz by Clancy – ink on handmade paper

Gustav72

Gustav by Clancy – ink on handmade paper

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

 

 

of dogs, tequila and recipes

A Creative Life, animals in art, art gallery, artist book, artistic inspirations, books, dog portrait, Dogs in Art, fine art, food for thought, sketchbook

If you have ever enjoyed a margarita – or as I’ve recently discovered – a Mexican coffee remember to thank a bat. The lesser long nosed bat, yes the night flying critter, is very important to the pollination of plants that produce tequila. This bat’s health affects human culture and humans affect the bat. Fortunately the lesser long nosed bat has been removed from the endangered species list recently because lots of humans returned the bat’s favors and helped the bat’s habitat etc.

All of this goes to my on-going thesis that we humans are interconnected with the world. It only seems like human culture is separate from the natural world. Just like sometimes it feels like we are alone as individuals. But the way I figure it even when I’m physically alone in a room there are thousands of humans with me; several people made my furniture, some made my window blinds, others make the inks, brushes and all the art supplies I use. The books that fill my studio and home were written, edited, published and distributed by lots of humans. And I’m grateful to them.

Then I back up a notch and there are mammals, insects, plants as well as water, air and sunlight that also contributed to the materials all the humans used to make everything in my life. And I’m even more grateful.

Which brings me to the dogs. For me dogs represent a “joy at being alive” and dogs are very much a part of our human world. For me they are a direct link to the natural world – they are our “interpreters”, our therapy guide dogs, that help us remember our humanity. You know, enjoy your food, sleep well, be sociable, be kind, go for walks and play like you mean it.

I also enjoy the diversity of the dog-world. The smallest dog and the biggest dog, the hairy dog and the smooth-coated dog are all able to co-exist peaceably (most of the time) in the same dog park. Good examples for the humans I think.

It takes all of us – every being – to create our world. Sort of like a drink recipe, leave out one item and you don’t have the same drink. As Dr. Bob Hoke often quoted “We bring forth the world together”

So for many of the above reasons I depict dogs doing human culture-like things such as having a Mexican coffee.

walter72

Walter by Clancy – ink on handmade paper

And here is one of the best Mexican coffee recipe’s I’ve found so far.

mexicancoffee72

I never knew there were so many coffee-drinks until I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Lately I’ve been “collecting” such drinks in my sketchbook (like the above recipe) as well as many different shapes of mugs and cups. All of this research is ending up in my fine artwork… I’ll share more about this in another post.

Do you have a favorite dog? Or favorite coffee drink?

In the meantime you can see more of my dog portrait artwork in my new book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy or at one of my art galleries: Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com  For more of the “Dr. Bob Hoke” I spoke of earlier see also my artist book Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit

 

9 ways to make more art and why

A Creative Life, art techniques, artistic inspirations

My response to difficult times, whether personal or in the wider culture, has been to make more art. This is a concept I’ve adapted from my past work on Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit  – a book I did some time ago in which Dr. Bob says “The best response is living well” and also “Feelings are guides not gods”.  These concepts have stood me in good stead and helped me to make more art.

Creative people tend to “feed good wolves” to use their imaginations and think of what is possible, needed, hopeful, helpful, necessary – this is kindness, this is ‘living well’, and it is most needed during difficult times. The issue is that sometimes during the difficult times when the creative persons activity is needed most they don’t ‘feel like’ creating.  So the question becomes how to do it anyway.

I define “creators” broadly as any one who writes, sings, acts, draws, films – any technique or medium that uses a human mind and heart to (re)imagine the world. Creativity can be done by anyone – you don’t have to be a professional artist or have fancy equipment.  That said in my list below I’ll refer to fine art making as that’s what I know best but please know that this list applies to any artistic endeavor at any skill level.

9 ways to make more art

  1. Find a regular time daily or weekly – whether 15 or 30 minutes at first – when you’re awake and alert and set it aside as a ‘creative appointment’ with your self and your art supplies. Set it in your schedule/to-do list. This way it’s an appointment not an activity subject to how you feel at a given time. (Obviously if you’re throwing up then please stay in bed so as to not get sick on the art supplies.)
  2. Stick to this appointed time for 2 weeks. Evaluate. If that time period seems to not work. Set a different one. Stick to that new time for 2 weeks. Do this 2 week trial period until you find a time/day that works for you. The same with the length of the appointment; start off with a short time like 10 minutes – keep testing until you have set a duration that feels playful. Be religious about doing this testing. Once you find the best time/day that works for you then successfully meet your creative appointment with your self for 45 consecutive days minimum. (after that it’ll become  a habit)
  3. During your ‘creative appointment’ step away from the phone, social media and any other “in boxes”. Don’t answer the doorbell. Take the dog out for a potty break before you start your appointment. Tell your spouse, kids that you’ll be having 15 minutes (or 30) of uninterrupted creative time. (Remember to say please and thank you to them.)
  4. Have your art/creative supplies at the ready. This can be an entire room set aside for the purpose of creativity. It can be a corner of one room. It can be a box or tray of supplies kept in a drawer or cupboard to be pulled out during your appointment. It can even be as simple as a single sketchbook and a few pens kept in one spot. But whatever arrangement works – keep it well stocked!  You don’t want to run out of your favorite ink pen in the middle of a ‘creative appointment’!  Re-stock during non-appointment times. At the end of each ‘creative appointment’ re-sharpen your pencils or put your color pens back in their box etc. Make sure everything is ready for use at the next appointment time.
  5. Keep a set of creative prompts handy to get you started. (One of the ones I like “The Tricksters Hat” by Nick Bantock.) Look at art blogs, how-to books for prompts.  As a ‘creative appointment’ exercise one thing I do is sit and list as fast, as I can, 10 or 20 topics that interest me or are on my mind at that moment. From such a list I often get ideas for artwork projects.  I also enjoy using a set of “Story Cubes” (yes, the kids dice game) as creative prompts. Don’t be afraid of the genres – explore any of them related to your creative prompt/topic!  Whatever kind of creative prompts appeal to you  collect them outside of your ‘creative appointment’ time and have them accessible (like your supplies) when your appointment starts.
  6. You do not have to complete anything during your appointment. You can continue to work on the same project from one appointment to the next. You do not have to make a “masterpiece”. You can make a mess!  If after a few minutes you’re not having fun feel free to start something else creative!  All you have to do is something of a creative nature for the entire 15 minutes (or whatever duration of time feels fun and natural to you) of your appointment time. As Dr. Bob said “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first”
  7. When trying a new medium or a new subject in earnest set aside a block of time longer than your typical creative appointment so as to really get into the spirit of your new medium or subject. After that you can continue work on your project in short bursts during a regular ‘creative appointment’.
  8. Gather data from the world. Visit art galleries, museums, other artist studios, listen to another artist talk about their work or read a book about an artist or art medium – and take notes, write your responses, your thoughts about what you see. Note what you like and why you like it. Ask yourself questions.  Or if you’re interested in a certain topic – investigate that (for example; I’m interested in dogs so sometimes I go to dog parks). Find and pursue whatever your interests are that make you glad to be alive. Surround yourself with things that remind you of them.  This type of ‘data collection’ can count as a ‘creative appointment’ activity.
  9. Keep a list of what you’ve created – no matter how small or silly you feel your creation was write it down in a log book. Keeping a log book of your creative activity (whatever you did during each ‘creative appointment’) is a weirdly effective incentive to keep creating!

I’ve posted this page from Dr. Bob’s Emotional First Aid Kit before – but it’s my favorite page and is a “prompt” that I put in the front of each one of my new sketchbooks.

TwoWolves72

page from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit