I got my Covid19 booster shot and thought of the relationship between individuals and community. That brought jigsaw puzzles to mind. Quite a number of people were getting vaccinated the same time I was and it got me to thinking of how each one of us fit into the local community in some interlocking way.
After getting the poke I had to stay for 30 minutes to make sure I wasn’t going to have a reaction. Since I was thinking about puzzles I got online and shared some jigsaw puzzles I’ve designed that are on my Zazzle shop.
Then, after sharing the puzzles, I kept thinking about the mechanism of human perceptions. When working on a jigsaw one shifts back and forth between looking at the colors and patterns on the puzzle pieces to looking at the shapes of the pieces themselves. Somewhat similarly we – well, most of us – shift back and forth between seeing ourselves as an individual person and seeing ourselves as part of a much larger community.
That got me thinking about optical illusions and the ways design, specifically the design of narratives, the design of governments, can dovetail with our perception mechanisms and our behavior choices in a which comes first the chicken or the egg sense.
I sat in the medical center waiting area trying to remember – without using Google – the name of the guy who did the pioneering work on the perception of figure-ground relationships. I tried to remember the name of the optical illusion that illustrated this figure-ground discovery and the name of what the switch of perception in a figure-ground relationship is called.
I felt fine when I got home. My arm was hardly sore. I did feel a bit tired and decided on a day of indulgence. That means spending most of the day reading! My spouse documented the occasion – see below. The next day I was tired and had a slight headache. While I did do some work I mostly read books the next day too.
Despite both my spouse and I getting our booster shots and being busy rearranging furniture and stuff for workmen to make house repairs I did manage to get some illustrations done for my in progress childrens book project “The Professional Dog”. Here are three together.
Below are closer views of each of these illustrations along with the text line I plan to use in the book.
I did not have time to do one of my Creativity Chats this week. Also, since one of the home repairs is happening in the kitchen – there are no creative approaches to food that could be discussed or depicted here with glee. (I’m so looking forward to having my kitchen back!)
As I wrote in my last post my 8 inch cube shaped holiday box project for an upcoming exhibit at the Caplan Art Designs gallery is finished except for the final coats of varnish and we’re still waiting for Gallery permission to post publicly about it. Below is my art studio supervisor dachshund waiting very patiently. Mostly.
In addition to jigsaw puzzles and the figure-ground relationship shift of mind I’ve been thinking of how I use that mental shift method with words and images to stimulate my creativity.
For example when I began my holiday box project I listed, in longhand on my legal pad, over 20 items that are square or cube shaped. After making that list I worked in my sketchbook playing with images related to these words. (I’ve posted some of these in a past blog post) Below is a photo of part of my handwritten list – and I trust it doesn’t give too much away. 😁
I’ve also been thinking of figure-ground type shifting we do in other ways: inner life/social life, old/young, self/family, indoors/outdoors, leisure/work, mind/body, survive/thrive… I could go on listing these kinds of interrelated mental shifts but this is enough.
Anyway, of that list of shifts physical and mental health are important to me for both living-well reasons and to my creativity. Also important to me is the topic of doing a really good job of growing old (there’s a wonderful essay by Bertrand Russell here).
The main reason I create my artwork is because it makes me smile. I post publicly because it may give a friend a smile. And my friend Liz Gaffreau recently posted this which in turn made me smile. That’s why we’re here, I think, to love people and to be loved. That may sound somewhat purposeless – but this purposeless loving is the very attitude that leads to being creative, to playing well with oneself and with others.
This blog and my Creativity Chats on my YouTube channel are more of my small efforts to playfully encourage creativity in both myself and others – it’s one of my ways to participate in a creative community. I want the poets, the novelists, the painters, the quilters, the creatives of all kinds to be as well – physically and mentally – as possible. I want this because it is by play, by stories and beauty, that we all will get through difficult times. Mere physical survival is not enough. If I can encourage a poet or novelist to keep writing then perhaps their words will also help someone else keep going. Other writers work certainly helps me keep going. Each effort of creativity is a butterfly effect of sorts.
So, yes, my work feels urgent to me. It’s the shape and color of my jigsaw piece.
Please take good care of yourself this week. 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.
I’m practicing household surrealism as I work towards fine art exhibits later this year. Ordinary objects and plants are sources of inspiration.
Here’s a few sketchbook pages in which I’m playfully combining hats and plants.
Below are some primrose flowers a friend gave us. They sat on my table and I drew them and photographed them.
The flowers eventually became part of a hat in an acrylic painting I’ve titled “Of Sense”.
In my new series of artworks for exhibits at Burnt Bridge Cellars and Caplan Art Designs I’m using a bit of collage. The collage elements come from my old falling apart copy of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”.
I replaced that old Austen book with a newer intact copy. I’m enjoying my Austen collection. Just like a writer constructs a bibliography for a book being written I tend to have a bibliography behind my fine art exhibits. Jane Austen’s prominent in this year’s art bibliography … I plan to talk more about that in coming posts.
My sketchbooks also reveal what’s on my mind – and I’ll post pages from them too. My sketchbook pages in this post have quotes about dealing with emotions. Jane Austen’s work is about emotions and the social comedy of dealing with ones own emotions or reading the emotions of other people. So I’ve been thinking about that…
My most recent published sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” is a prequel to my current sketchbook and fine art series. You can see it here. Spoiler alert: it’s lots of drawings about books and cultivating one’s mental life.
It’s nothing new for me to be as fully my odd self as possible – in fact I’m doing this as I work towards my new fine art exhibits – but I saw this image below on Austin Kleon‘s Instagram – and I thought heck yes. So I’m going to continue to be odd with household things for a while as I contemplate emotional health and Jane Austen out loud – so to speak.
If you haven’t seen Austin Kleon’s books, blog or newsletter it’s worth a look.
My recent children’s book “This Rabbit” has been read over 11 thousand times on Storyberries.com as of this writing! Wow! Thank you! 🤗 And yes, I plan to make more kids books … as one of my followers you’ll be the first to know. But for a while there’ll be odd household surrealism from me in this space and I hope you enjoy it.
See you next Monday? Stay weird and know that you’re loved by the universe.
“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:
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.