Almost exclusively I used to do unique books as art objects that were displayed in art gallery exhibits. My one-of-a-kind books were then sold and that was that. Well, in 2020 after the pandemic began the galleries closed to the public and I began publishing my artist books in an on-demand way. My book is printed at the time it is ordered and mailed to the buyer. I did this so I could still share my visual stories and they could still be fairly unique i.e. not printed in large quantities. And as my portfolio page attests that’s the way I’ve now done twelve different artist book projects. As the galleries have adapted to the pandemic since March 2020 allowing the public to handle one-of-a-kind books, wisely I think, hasn’t come back into vogue.
When making a printed version of my original artist books I try as best I can to maintain the look of the original work. I do very little – or ideally absolutely no – digital manipulation of my content. At most some text is typed. I even prefer to handwrite as much as possible. It’s important to me that people – especially kids – get to have a wide variety of homemade or handmade comforts whether it’s dinners, cookies, fine art or books.
Anyway, in the case of my new “How the cow…” book I typed the about the book and the dedication page text. But those pages and the covers are the only typed text. (I’ve learned the hard way that having these pages typed rather than handwritten helps the book be found via a search.)
I also scanned the handmade pattern I used for the cow book slipcase and the found sheet music I used for the tiny notes book cover. I scanned my handwritten text summary for the cow story. I did digitally “erase” the page number marks on my handwritten text because those numbers did not apply to the printed book. Other than erasing the pages numbers the handwritten page is the same in the printed book as it is in the original.
With those very few digital documents in my 28 page book layout I created end papers of a sort to flank or wrap each story within the printed book. The original artist books are themselves covered with these patterns.
The scanned blue bubble pattern was the basis for the printed book cover.
As you can see the covers of both the original book and the printed version are similar.
The artwork in the cow story is just a bit smaller in the printed version than the original. But as you can see the colors are a very close match! Also the printed book is conventionally bound so I set up my layout like a comic book rather than in the folded concertina form of the original. I don’t yet know of any printer who prints and mails concertina style books. The two illustrations per page layout allowed me to fill the seven inch square printed pages. (In the photos below the original handmade book is at the top)
The “Tiny Notes” original artwork is reproduced at a much larger size in the printed book. The original book is 2.25 inches square. The printed book is 7 inches square. Again the colors printed are pretty close to what’s in the original!
So you can see the scales of the books in relation to a human. My spouse took these photos of me and the books…
The original concertina format cow book unfolds to four feet long. Almost as tall as me!
The original concertina tiny notes book is only 20 inches long unfolded.
You can see more of these book pages and details on my portfolio site. I’ve no idea if these original artist books will someday go to an art gallery even for display under glass.
For now I’m having fun making books intentionally for printing and mailing directly to people. It may sound odd to say this but this new way of sharing my books feels more personal and I feel like many more people are able to see and own my work this way.
This week my coloring book poem “How To Draw A Dragon” was read aloud on Kidz Stories And More !!! You can see it here https://youtu.be/EUVeDjqiz30 When we were discussing the creation of this video Kidz Stories and I decided to make my book pages so they could be downloaded for free so kids could color along with the video! The download is available here and the directions are also in the video link. I’m seeing this as possibly another fun new way to share my artist books!
Also this week someone shared this photo saying how happy they are with a portrait I painted of their cat and how it has been framed by the Aurora Gallery!! That makes me happy!!!!!
My spouse mentioned the current news about book banning and that one of the titles banned is “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein. We have that book in our dining room poetry collection. It’s a favorite! Hearing that news led to both of us looking up what other books we have on our shelves that are banned. It was a fun scavenger hunt of sorts! 🤣 Turns out we have a large number of banned titles throughout our book collection. Two shelves in our dining room alone yield 4 books/authors who have been banned… even as recently as 2022.
Here’s one of the articles we read about banned books. Naturally we got online and ordered more banned books from our local independent bookstore. 😁 One of the banned books I tried to order was Maus by Art Spiegelman (here’s an article about that book) but all of my usual indy bookstores were sold out! But there were other banned books available which we happily bought.
I’ll leave some memes about book banning here just in case someone wants one.
I hope your week is similarly filled with subversive literary delights and some homemade comforts.
Unveiling an art exhibit during a pandemic full of unknowns has gotten me thinking about uncertainty in general. In the recent past of human history, at least as I read it, “uncertainty” about the weather, if a restaurant was open or not was more normal – in general things tended to be more uncertain, unplanned and unscripted. We didn’t have phones and the ability to search for information at our fingertips, no digital assistants or handheld calendars to organize our days, we couldn’t “know” in advance when a package was arriving much less know about a person. Things unfolded over time and that was mostly okay.
Garbage time isn’t weighted by the expectation that a moment will be special and memorable and perfect.
Garbage time just is.”
And I think we need garbage time with ourselves too. Times when however we feel, whatever we do or don’t do is just fine. Especially during a pandemic.
My new coloring book poem “How To Draw A Dragon” covers a bit of the “garbage time” territory, the dragon in my book wants everything to be just so while the rabbit wants to be playfully creative. The rabbit just wants to be.
Below are some photos of the printed version of “How To Draw A Dragon”. In my last post I mentioned working on a portfolio page about this new book – so I’ve begun that here. Storyberries said that they will likely have this book on their website the first week in September – but there is some uncertainty. Pandemic you know.
Speaking of uncertainty and time: my Odditorium exhibit at Caplan Art Designs is being done a bit differently – pandemic again – and who knows how it will go. While the opening is officially the first Thursday in September it won’t be the big party of times before. Masks are required to visit the Gallery and there will be appointments arranged at other times, art will be shipped or delivered in a safe way and this virtual page used as a catalog. For my artist talk videos like this will serve – the videos and the virtual page will both be used by the Gallery rather than the physical presence of either the artist -me – or a large group of the public on one evening. So really rather than a single night opening party every day is the opening! At least that’s the thought. But who knows… and it’s okay that it’s uncertain.
What I did know for certain was that all of the paintings needed to be framed before delivery to the Gallery. So I’ve spent most of my time last few weeks doing that. Below are a few pieces newly placed in frames.
Random unplanned unscripted associations were how I got the ideas for each artwork in my Odditorium series so a little more uncertainty about the exhibit itself isn’t really a problem. Of course I hope for sales – I almost can’t help hoping that – but I don’t have big expectations. My main hope is that people will just enjoy my artwork, that it will brighten their outlook at least a little, give them a sense of comfort and care as we all cope with this pandemic. The funny thing is that this hope of mine, that my work will lift spirits, is something that I may never know whether it worked. And that’s okay. A songbird doesn’t know when it’s music is enjoyed either.
Here’s me all masked up to deliver the artwork. The gallery owner didn’t wear a mask because we had to talk business and I’m deaf and lip read.
After our conversation I left my art in the Gallery in boxes. Not very long later the owner sent me this photo of the paintings hung on the wall!
From now on I won’t be physically at the Gallery at any point. The main things I’ll be doing are the videos and the virtual page plus I will be supporting the exhibit by talking about the inspiration for the artworks and the Odditorium book on social media.
This is all *very* different. In the before times (pre covid) I would physically go to an opening party. Lots of people would come. I would give a talk. I would talk to people all evening long and go home exhausted (and happy) with a hoarse voice from having talked almost nonstop for 4 hours.
It’s not the same but this year I did 5 different videos on my YouTube channel of me talking about why I do what I do. Here’s a table of contents, so to speak, of the videos:
Besides wrapping burritos in foil and baking them as per the recipe above I had a craving for some roasted vegetables. So I made my bean, onion and cheese burritos and put them in some boat shaped ovenproof dishes. Then I covered the burritos with chopped zucchini, corn and bell peppers that I tossed in Penzey’s Northwoods Seasoning mix. A few slices of tomatoes and shredded cheese completed the dish. I covered the boats with aluminum foil and baked them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then I removed the foil and used the broil oven setting to toast the cheese. With hot pads on the table I served the boats directly from the oven. So yummy!!
My “garbage time” evening reading is: Ireland by Frank Delaney, The World Of Edward Gorey by Ross and Wilkin, Making Mischief by Gregory Maguire.
May we all have some good restorative “garbage time” this week. And some good food. See you next Monday.
If you got a post titled “Dragon postal whimsy” I accidentally hit a button. Here’s the real post about “How To Draw A Dragon“! After a week spent creating cover art and scanning 36 pages there’s now a coloring book poem that exists in the world!
This is the book description:
“How do you draw a grumpy dragon? This coloring book story poem written and illustrated by the artist sue clancy shows you how.
This whimsical poem is also about how creativity works, how our creative child selves and our analytical adult selves can work together.”
Below is a look at the original manuscript.
I used the computer to put the text on the front and back covers. I thought long and hard about handwriting it all but I learned when I did Patch La Belle that handwritten text on a cover isn’t “searchable” and could be harder for people to find. That searchable issue isn’t a big concern for me coming from the art world as I do where one-of-a-kind things are the norm. But after thinking a while I opted to type the cover text for “How To Draw A Dragon” even though I hand drew and hand colored everything else.
So here’s the cover becoming…
And here’s what the cover became.
I’m especially pleased that my book layout “thinking in page spreads” turned out so well! They line up in the middle when bound! In the first photo below you see my original art. Below that you see the printed book.
Since we’re still in a pandemic I have added a free printable pdf file for this book to my “shop” page where I have several of my free downloadable artist books. It’s on my to-do list to make a portfolio page for How To Draw A Dragon and have everything in one spot.
Storyberries will, eventually, also do a free ebook version of How To Draw A Dragon and have a link to the free printable pdf too. But that’s still in progress. I will update my still-to-be -made portfolio page and this blog when it’s been set up at Storyberries.
Since we are still in a pandemic the Gallery is doing all the prudent safety measures and I’m doing my part as best I can. Besides doing the virtual page about Odditorium I have done a series of videos on my YouTube channel about this exhibit as well as about why I do this work. I’ve made 5 videos in all but here’s the one about this exhibit. The Gallery will post my videos and share them with clients digitally thereby minimizing everyone’s exposure. I’m glad and grateful to work with a gallery that cares about the health of both their artists and their clients.
On still another topic: A friend recently enjoyed getting a card from me and called it “postal whimsy”. I like that phrase and asked for and was give permission to use it! So I’ve updated my Zazzle collection of odd greeting cards both with the “postal whimsy” phrase and some new card designs. I am getting serious about sending postal whimsy and helping cheer people. Below is one of my favorite cards…
This week was so busy that while I did make sure to eat meals of fruits, vegetables and whole grains – more often than not – I didn’t do any sketches or photos of the food. I just stuffed my quiche-hole and got to work.
Despite all of the busy-ness I still did drawings in my sketchbook in the mornings and my evening reading of books before bed. Makes for nice creative bookends, pun intended, to a day.
However busy your week is I hope it is bounded by pleasant things. See you next Monday? Or before then if I hit a wrong button again…
Had an oops during ink work this week on my coloring book poem “How to Draw A Dragon” here’s how I fixed it. Despite the mistake all of the hand written text as well as all of the illustrations have now been completely inked!
Here’s how: first I drew the whole book in pencil which sounds straightforward but it actually means draw, redraw each page multiple times. I do a complete draft in pencil and go through it again and again redoing elements so the story flows a certain way, to make sure setting and characters are consistent and to create the foreshadowing. This is very like a writer’s process of drafting and editing a novel. I lost count of how many drafts I’ve gone through.
Before beginning this book I knew it would be a 32 page manuscript so I made sure I had at least 84 sheets of the same kind and size of drawing paper. (Now after finishing the inking I have perhaps 8 useable sheets of blank paper left – if that gives you an idea.)
After the images were more or less set in pencil I penciled in the poem text. The poem text is spaced rhythmically to rhyme, so to speak, with the illustrations. The words and the images dovetail tightly together. This requires more drafting to get the pacing right. Then after I had a complete manuscript in pencil I partially inked each of the illustrations and adjusted the word spacing of the poem on each page in pencil.
Before starting to ink the poem text I read through it looking for grammar and spelling. I asked my spouse to look critically with fresh eyes. Then I inked the text with an ink brush pen.
Even with all that drafting and all the editing and proofreading, even with a fresh set of eyes looking, there’s a mistake! Do you spot it below?
Yes, I misspelled “oops”! Of all the things to misspell!! 🤦♀️ Oh well! When I ink words like this I’m really focused on drawing the shapes of the letters and the spaces on the page rather than writing a word. So mistakes often happen. But 95% of being an artist is knowing how to fix mistakes! The remaining 5% is being willing to keep going!
So to fix my oops on the word “oops” I got another piece of the same paper and drew a couple of “O’s” while holding the new paper next to my mistake so I can draw it the proper size. Then I cut out the newly drawn letter as close as possible not leaving much white paper showing around the letter.
Then I paint opaque white gouache on the ink mistake as smoothly as possible.
I let that white gouache dry completely. If there’s any bump in the dry gouache I use a tiny bit of fine grit sandpaper to smooth it.
I lightly apply archival paper glue to the back of the cut out letter and affix it to the whited out mistake area. I use tweezers to place the glue-y letter.
Now it’s fixed! When I scan these pages for publication I will look closely at this area on the digital file to make sure it looks like a seamless repair. Other than possibly on that “oops” the digital scans of these pages will *not* be digitally manipulated. What you’ll see in the published book will be what I made by hand.
After all the inking is done and dry I erase all the pencil marks on the manuscript.
Foreshadowing happens on every page. There are even indications about time: at first the dragons coffee is very hot and steaming but on subsequent pages there’s less steam. These pages below are possibly the pages with the heaviest foreshadowing. Each of the “art examples” presage or refer to something in the rest of the book.
The foreshadowing is complex. Matching the characters and scenery from one page to another is complex. Matching the edges of the pages together is complex. Getting the rhythm of the poem to flow (rhyme?) with the images … it’s hard to even describe how convoluted and complex (that word again) this project is…
And then there’s that it’s a coloring book. All that I have to tell the story with is a single ink line. That line has got to be right. I can’t cover over it with other sketchy lines like I do when I draw in my sketchbook or cover a line with paint as I do when I draw lines as a foundation for a painting. The single lines I draw for this project must be clear or it ceases to be a coloring book.
This coloring book poem has been one of my most complex books and yet it is so deceptively simple to look at and read. It reminds me of one of the iceberg memes about success in that the visible part of a project is the smallest element of it and the huge part is unseen.
Anyway, also this week I worked towards the continuation of my Odditorium exhibit. The Caplan Art Designs Gallery will exhibit the Odditorium works from earlier this summer as well 7 new paintings in this series. One of the new paintings is below. It was inspired by a friends photo of her ranunculous flowers. From the flowers I thought of a rhinoceros and a dress…
Yes, my household surrealism continues…
As I wrote in my last post I hoped this week to try some of my new butterfly palette paints so I did try them in my sketchbook!!
It will be fun to try doing a painting with them next!
This week we got a few cards in the mail and added them to our mantel. I realize that I really love sending and getting cards in the mail. I’ve loved it even more so since the pandemic. Since unfortunately covid is surging again I’ve been thinking I want to make more cards.
About the time I’d had that thought I heard from Bernadette who had recently blogged on New Classic Recipes my recipe for Magic Beans along with the story of how I got the recipe. Bernadette wrote suggesting that I create some recipe cards. I thought this was a great idea and merged the recipe card notion with the idea of sending postcards. You can see all of the recipe postcards I’ve made so far here. I’m thinking these will be fun to send to friends and family.
As far as food this week goes I ate so much when family was here (last post) that this week has had small salads and bowls of cereal as the feature meals. So never mind about food I cooked this week because it didn’t happen. Oh well.
Nevertheless major progress happened on “How To Draw A Dragon” – a whole manuscript completely inked! Yippee! Next up…scanning the pages and book design! See you next Monday?
This week we had a fully vaccinated family gathering planned. So these pages of my “How To Draw A Dragon” were the only ones nearly finished this week.
Also just before the family visit the Aurora Gallery wanted more of my books and signed green dragon bookplates so delivery arrangements were quickly made. (Details about these books on my portfolio page.)
And then family came! It was very good to see them all! At one point we had a mini family reunion of 10 people! Especially after hardly seeing them during 2020 it was a treat to get to visit in person! I was grateful we were all fully vaccinated. Still I worried about everyone’s health and safety. But everyone was careful of everyone else. (So proud of my caring loving family!) We spent almost the entire week outside on our patio and in our yard. When we were inside to sleep we had all of the windows open and fans running. I was grateful too for nice weather with the high temperatures in the low 80’s and low temperatures in the 60’s.
My morning sketchbook work more or less continued while I made and served breakfast. More on that later.
My brother-in-law Jim had a career in the military in electronics and was a Master Sargent in the Air Force before he retired. He noticed the first day of the visit that I was drawing and asked to see what I was doing. I showed him my drawing of a hedgehog sitting in a measuring spoon. I explained that I was combining the thought of how one weighs and considers books in a bookstore with the way one measures things in a kitchen. He grinned and said “That makes a lot of sense!”
After dinner the evening we had the most people at the reunion I drew sketches of our family members and shared them. The entire family seemed to enjoy seeing my drawings and I had fun loving everyone that way! After that evening during the rest of the week Jim and I regularly talked about my sketchbook work.
Over the next days I shared that my thoughts for these sketches pictured below were about drinks and my feelings about the drinks. That made sense to him too! It made me feel good that my art could be so easily understood by someone who self described as “knowing nothing about art”.
We also talked of colors and color mixing. We looked at the shirts other family members were wearing and talked of how colors are mixed with black or with white or other colors. I talked of what paint colors I’d use to mix the colors of various family members clothing. He talked of the importance of colors in electrical wiring or as identity marks on planes and military clothing.
I showed him the book about colors I’d shared here in my last post.
At some point I took a moment and called my local art supply store Artists and Craftsmen and ordered all the butterfly colors from this page below. Won’t it be fun to make butterfly colored worlds?
Within a day my order was delivered by mail!
I checked to make sure all of the colors I wanted were here. They were! Artist and Craftsman really did a great job filling my very specific color order!
During another spare moment I labled my new palette and each new paint tube with the color number listed in the book. During other spare moments I squeezed out paints into the palette well corresponding with the numbers and put the tube I’d just used into a small drawer on my supply shelf.
In another snatched moment of time I labled my drawer of the new paints the “butterfly drawer”.
Another moment included a quick sketch of a butterfly on sticky lable paper which I stuck on my new palette.
Such labels help me – in the midst of work – to be able to grab the proper palette and paints without having to stop to re-read or re-research my original source book.
I think Master Sargent Jim enjoyed seeing my organization skills. His wife enjoyed looking at the colors. We had lots of fun conversations and many of those were about art and creativity.
I will swear again that being creative is a normal facet of being alive and that labeling only certain activities “creative” is merely a cultural convention. What military man hasn’t creatively rigged something when necessary? What mother hasn’t done the same? Being creative simply means being a fully alive aware and thinking human.
Anyway, I also got to practice making brunch for 6 people! I learned how to bake bacon and sausage in the oven on parchment paper. When the meat was almost done I put English Muffins on another parchment covered sheet pan in the oven to toast them. Then all that was left was to make the scrambled eggs in my cast iron skillet. I managed to draw a little and have all of the food hot at the same time to serve breakfast buffet style! A good time was had by all I think! Wahoo!
I hope this week to do more on my Dragon book and to get to spread the new colors around on something using a brush or two! 😁
I hope your week is a creatively arranged buffet style selection of love, color and happiness! See you next Monday.
Being creative is like cooking – you get one meal cooked and cleaned up then it’s time for another meal. It’s the slog – long live the slog! Hooray for the slog! Okay so the word slog can have a negative connotation… I also call it a a good working rhythm! There’s a wonderful article about slogs aka work, talent and audacity from The Painters Keys. [Spoiler: it’s not the talent so much as the willingness to see it through]
Here’s some of my more finished than unfinished Dragon pages. I still have to ink all of the poem text and fill in certain visual elements on many of the pages but the entire book has been penciled!! Feels like an accomplishment… which I celebrated (more on that later in this post)! Anyway here are some of the mostly inked pages!!
If you recognize some of the pages, well that’s because I go through the book penciling. Then I go through the book inking this bit then I go through the book inking that bit then I go through the book….
See what I wrote earlier about slogging. Writers most obviously slog – you hear about novelists working on a draft of a novel for years, decades even. You hear about it taking years to rewrite and edit a novel. The same is true of my visual artistic life too. But the public doesn’t often hear about the slogs of a visual artist. I’ve written in the past about the similarities I see between art and writing – what I write here today is of a piece with that idea. Anyway, I find that it helps to celebrate small milestones of creative projects.
I penciled the entire How To Draw A Dragon book!! Yippee! So I celebrated by having margaritas with my spouse on our backyard patio. I also did a small painting in color. I’ve been thinking of of color as I have been working on “How to Draw A Dragon” a black and white line drawn book for other people to color. Indulging in both an adult drink and some gouache paints was decadent!!
And while I was painting the light outside changed but I kept painting.
While this looks like a complete painting done during the duration of a drink – and it is – but it is also only one piece of my much larger Odditorium exhibit. You might say this is like novelist writing one decent short paragraph during the time it takes to drink a margarita. A paragraph is not a novel. One painting is not an exhibit.
On another day this week my spouse snapped a photo of me drawing in my morning sketchbook. Below the photo you can see what I was sketching.
The next morning I got one of my small art boards and re-sketched my thought. This is what I love about keeping a sketchbook – I can explore thoughts messily in my sketchbook then later pick the thought I really like and re-explore and repeat with variations. I can try it in different sizes, art mediums and colors. This way there’s no pressure to get it right the first time. And I get to play with a group of fun thoughts as long as I like. Some might call it “flitting about” but I call it normal creativity. (See also my last post) Can you see how similar the visual art creative process is to the writers process of rewriting? Below I basically “rewrite” my thought.
I’m thinking this artwork will be fun on a mug for a gardener to use. There I go again dedicating a gift for someone – whether they ever see it or not. I mentioned doing this gift making / dedications in my last post. This mug and a card with the same artwork are on my Zazzle shop now.
I’ve even thought about color when eating this week – inspired by a recipe in my kitchen sketchbook Favorites So Far.
Below is one of the books I’ve been reading in the evenings before bed titled Nature’s Palette. My spouse gave it to me for my birthday earlier! Do you notice that some botanical and zoological drawings look sortof coloring book-like? Well in part that’s because long ago books were illustrated using etchings which were often colored by hand before being bound into a book. And from my past experience as a biological illustrator often both black line drawings and color drawings are needed for the same plant – so color is filled in (so to speak) after one has an accurate line drawing. Is it really any surprise that I’ve been thinking of color and coloring books lately?
I hope your week is full of color and delights for your senses. 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.
A work rhythm has been fairly firmly established. I wrote about that in my last post. My days now have a regularity that goes like this:
Breakfast time contains sketchbook drawings with or without characters from my currently in progress childrens book “How To Draw A Dragon”
Perhaps after eating breakfast I spend a few minutes more reading a poem or working the crossword puzzle with my spouse (we take turns doing 5 or 6 clues) while we finish our coffee. (The poem in the photo below is by Robert Service)
Then I pour another cup of coffee and carry it to the studio. There I look at the work I did last and my project schedule/guide that I described in my last post. I sip my coffee and settle in to work.
By now I’ve done about 10 of the 32 pages but even those, as you can probably see in the photos below, aren’t really finished. Some elements like the text will be the last to be inked and only after all 32 pages have been mostly finished. Similarly I will edit and ink all of the elements of foreshadowing for my poem story after all 32 pages are mostly inked.
As I work I am thinking of the pages both as page spreads and as individual pages.
These pages below have been quickly photographed where they are on my easel for sharing my progress with you here. My set up for photos for book reproductions is another thing entirely- and I’m not at that point yet.
The sharp eyed will probably notice that some changes have been made to my story setting and to my poem text since my last post.
Basically I’m in the early stages of this book project and everything is in flux and there aren’t “for public” images for this project yet.
And my books. I talk about one of the 9 books in my portfolio. Or I talk about one of my 10 books on Storyberries. Or I post a photo of my cat or dog. Or I post nothing at all. Especially as I settle into a project working rhythm I find I’m online less and less. That said I do enjoy finding your kind comments when I check in! And I thank you in advance for them.
Lunch, however, is rarely missed. This week the easiest meals were bean and grain bowls like this photo below and here’s the recipe scheme from my Favorites So Far kitchen sketchbook.
After lunch I head back to the studio for more work on my How To Draw A Dragon book. Generally speaking I get 2 pages finished per day. If I’m lucky I’ll get a start on a 3rd page. But my focus is on maintaining a work rhythm not in a quota of pages. If I have to totally redo a page and thus only get one page done in a day that’s fine! I just keep going! It’s a dance between discipline and the spaciousness of pleasurable play as talked about in this article.
I did take the time this week to go with my spouse to visit a new independent bookstore in our town Birdhouse Books! This was my book haul.
Short stories, poems and short essays give me an intellectual boost without requiring an investment of time like a long novel does. But sometimes a long novel is just the thing to accompany a long creative project. It just depends.
What’s not in question is the fact that time to sit and read each evening is essential to helping me maintain a steady working rhythm.
Hope your week has some good rhythms too! See you next Monday.
My crocodile became a dragon as I’ve been working on a new childrens book. I’ve been alternating work in both my poetry sketchbook, the orange book on the left, and my black visual sketchbook on the right.
Below is a look at my handwritten poem text in my poetry sketchbook.
I also have a 3 ring binder in which I have collected sketches and drafts of the poem text. Initially I was calling my poem “How to paint a crocodile”. My idea was to do a coloring activity book featuring a human child and a realistic crocodile. But the humanness didn’t feel right to me. And the crocodile felt too, well, reptilian.
So in my black sketchbook I tried a few more cartoon-like crocodile drawings. I’ve done many sketches and am only showing a few here in order to keep this post brief. Also not pictured are my sketches of various animals along my way to a decision to make the human child character into a rabbit.
The crocodile kept feeling too sinister in my sketches. So I dropped, temporarily, the coloring book concept and just painted who might be the main adult-like logical no-nonsense left-brain character to play opposite my rabbit right-brain creative playful child-like rabbit. The “adult” character it turns out is a dragon.
So I went with the dragon! In subsequent sketches I resumed my coloring book notion. The working title for my coloring book poem now is “How to draw a dragon”. I’m using the word ‘draw’ in the sense of ‘attract’ in addition to the usual sense of drawing with a pencil. Below are a few sketchbook drawings of the dragon in which I aim for busy adult postures – grumpy perhaps but not sinister.
Besides rewriting my poem in my poetry sketchbook I have also rewritten my poem on scraps of paper which are kept in my binder. There are -tons – more rewrites and sketches than I’ve shared in this post. Here I’m sharing just enough, I hope, to give you a sense of my working process. When I felt my poem was settled, more or less, I wrote it on a stiff paper so it could stand on my easel as I work. You can see it below.
When I spoke in a my last post of “having my crocodile project all over my studio” the photo below perhaps gives you a sense of what I mean. In this photo the papers on my easel look blank but there are pencil drawings on them. There’s also a blizzard of drawings in ink on tracing paper.
Multiple drawings on tracing paper enable me to draw a character similarly but holding or doing different things as the character goes through my story. Below you can propably see what I mean.
Yes, I know there are computer programs that would enable me to copy and paste character elements from one page to another. I have used such programs in the past. But I find it more satisfying to do original hand made drawings for every element within a book. I fancy myself as like a chef who prides herself on using local ingredients and cutting them up fresh when a dish is requested. A chef’s hand made dish is better, I think, than a frozen box meal reheated. But I digress.
Below is a “scene” or a stage set upon which my characters will act. I’ve made a master template in ink on tracing paper which I will use for reference – and for story foreshadowing – throughout my poem book.
Below is a look at some of the rabbit character sketches on tracing paper.
Below is a look at a few of my dragon character sketches. I feel I’ve finally found a balance between a grumpy adult appearance while not being too sinister.
Here’s a closer look at the Rabbit character.
As I build these pages I will do my story foreshadowing using many visual elements. So even after I get the entire book drawn the visual foreshadowing will still need to be carefully edited. But first I’ll get the entire book roughed in. Lots of work to do.
To help get me to my studio work more quickly in the mornings most of the evenings I’ve been making overnight oats. Into lidded mason jars I put some raw uncooked old fashioned oat meal, some milk to cover the oats, maple syrup, fruit like raspberries or blueberries (or both) and yogurt. Then I add a bit more milk as needed, put the lids on and put the jars in my refrigerator. In the mornings I don’t have to think of what’s for breakfast or spend time cooking. I can get right to my sketchbook work!
Also this week I delivered the artist books that the Aurora Gallery had requested along with some signed bookplates! You can see more about each of these books on my portfolio page.
My plan is to work steadily on my Dragon, a bit of work almost every day, until it’s finished. Some days only a short burst of work will happen but other days I’ll have more time to spend.
So along with my tracing paper templates I’ve made a strategy, a loose agenda/schedule, of items to be done on this project which I’ll use as a guide to enable me to pick up wherever I left off even if I only have 10 minutes of time to work. I’ll use the same guide if I have hours of time. Such a project schedule is a guideline – a suggested working rhythm – it is not a god to be worshipped or slavishly obeyed. My guide is a way for me to keep this project in small manageable chunks. Keeping it small helps me to maintain momentum and to keep it fun. (There’s even a business article here about the kind of strategy I’m talking about.)
I have already spent months working on this poem and have only just this week outlined, and otherwise prepared, 32 pages to draw, ink and hand letter over the coming weeks. In other words I am just now ready to begin in earnest. Forming a good steady working rhythm now is crucial. So is focusing on the fun.
Some sort of strategy – I like to call it “planning the mundane” – some consideration for keeping long haul projects like this manageable, not overwhelming, is important. But it’s the fun that is the lynchpin of what keeps a creative project sustainable. So I consider having fun the most serious aspect of living a creative life.
Hope your creative week is sustainably fun too! 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.