Dragon, the creativity cat and baby blankets

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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.

Here’s a look at my legal pad list that eventually became my book This Rabbit and here’s my portfolio page about that project including links to blog posts detailing my work process for that project.

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.

https://store.bookbaby.com/bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Dr-Bobs-Emotional-Repair-Program-First-Aid-Kit1

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!

https://www.blurb.com/b/9759759-favorites-so-far

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.

Bunnies books and blooms

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As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been sorting and winnowing my illustrations and poetry for a new children’s book.

By writing the poem lines on index cards and having the illustrations on paper I can physically spread them out and sort them. This is very much the editing and rewriting process that the books on writing talk about. I’m doing draft after draft after draft just like they recommend – my drafting is just in tangible form.

For example I put numbers on yellow post it notes which affix on the archival sleeves holding the artwork. That post it note number corresponds to the poem line written on an index card. My legal pad contains a handwritten record of sequences I’ve tried aka manuscript drafts.

The artwork and the index cards are laid out on a queen size bed in the number sequence I’d most recently tried. I read the poem out loud. Then I walk away after shutting the bedroom door so my cat won’t pounce on the artwork. Later, after lunch for example, I’ll go reread and view the artwork, perhaps make a change in the order of the art/poem by moving the art, the index card and the yellow post it notes. Then I’ll read the new order aloud. I’ll note the new numeric number order (draft!) on my legal pad. Then I’ll go do something else. Perhaps just before dinner I’ll repeat the above process before putting everything away for the evening. This short-burst working method allows space for my unconscious mind to work on my project.

As a result some of the illustrations didn’t stay in the queue. Some poem lines went into the bin. Some art and poem lines stayed but took their time to find their place. Eventually after more than a week of these daily sort/resort episodes gradually more of my sequences resonate with me.

As I sort the pictures and words I’m keeping my eye and ear open for what resonates. By resonate I mean that I keep returning the art and poem lines to a particular place or order that makes me smile, makes my heart sing. This resonance is found slowly, page spread by page spread. I just keep on sorting until all of the pages and the entire book sequence feels that heart-sing way, a feeling I call “taking root”.

After that “taking root” has happened then I read the poem aloud and show the artwork to my spouse. Further adjustments are made according to her suggestions. Then I live with any new sequence another day or so to double check how rooted it feels.

I think of this entire creative process as a lot like growing a garden from seed; you plant seeds, you water, you wait, you position the pot on a window sill to catch the sun, you water, wait…at times it feels like nothing is happening…then eventually you have a seedling big enough to safely transfer to another container.

I’m about to the point with this new book of transferring it to another container – meaning that I’m ready to photograph the artwork and begin the book layout design, the computer hocus pocus of it.

The probable title for my new book is “This Rabbit”. But we’ll see if that holds as I shift the book, idea-seed soil and all, to it’s new digital pot.

Speaking of seeds and gardens: here’s a new fabric pattern design with bunnies and blooms. I’m now waiting to see a proof fabric swatch before I approve it to be in my Spoonflower shop.

Last week there was winter weather in the Pacific Northwest and friends and family lost power which caused concerns. But they were brief concerns, quickly resolved, and everyone is fine. Whew.

Then the Texas snow, ice and severe cold storm happened and was not quickly resolved (still isn’t as of this writing). We used to live in Oklahoma and we still have friends in Oklahoma and friends and family living in Texas…so we worried. And made phone calls etc.

And as we worried about friends everywhere I made a greeting card design that couldn’t really be sent, due to the storms, to the people we worried about. But I made the card anyway – the act of making it helped.

https://www.zazzle.com/my_heart_is_with_you_note_card-256344942961836795

Worries distracted me some from my work on “This Rabbit” but not too much. My short-burst method of working accommodates such stuff-of-life.

Besides making the greeting card I puttered in my studio cleaning things. I came across some nice rice paper I’d forgotten I had so I stopped cleaning and made a small accordion book with the paper. It measures 6 inches tall by 2 inches wide when folded shut.

Still photos don’t do it justice so I made a video which you can see here here https://youtu.be/12uYkPo0d8M

One of the many people we worried about is named Beverly. Last year during the pandemic on my birthday Beverly called to wish me a happy day and as a present she talked me through her grilled cheese sandwich method. I’d taken notes on a scrap of paper during our call last year and saved the paper folded and slipped into the pocket of my kitchen sketchbook. This week, in solidarity with Beverly, I made the yummy sandwiches and transferred the notes into my sketchbook.

And here’s the sandwich. My half of the sandwich anyway…the sourdough bread slices we have are large so spouse and I split one sandwich.

At various points during any day I find that coffee and books are comforting. So are homemade oatmeal cookies. Here are cookies resting on cloth napkins made from my fabric pattern with a coffee and books motif. It’s the small comforts that add up. Especially when worried about friends…

As of this writing it seems that most of our Oklahoma and Texas friends and family are more or less fine physically. Whew. Now we wait to hear how the horrific price gouging in Texas will affect them…

Once again I am struck by the difference in response to disasters between regions of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest the utilities are regulated and public. It is generally presumed that people are what matters. In the midwest and south there’s less regulation and more privitization. It is generally presumed that private companies’ profits are very, very important.

I’ve been thinking all week of how the kind of government one has can affect one’s daily life for good or ill. So we worry about friends and family in unregulated privatized Texas. (There’s a well written article here in The New York Times about all this.)

Anyway, hopefully we’ll all have a quieter week. I’ll keep working on my projects much like a seed works at growing no matter what else happens – being creative helps me cope with stuff. It also helps to share my work with you. Thank you so much for looking at my pictures, reading my words and for your kind comments. Catch up with you next Monday.

Hare be books dragons and comforts

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In my last post I wrote about my children’s books. Here are 4 of my books for those over age 18:

Dogs by Sue Clancy

Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit

Another Sketchbook

Favorites So Far

All 4 of these books are from my sketchbook keeping practice. All are about ways to take care of ourselves and others. The 2 book that are most obviously from my sketchbooks, and are also about finding comfort during difficult times, say “sketchbook” on the cover.

From the Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit I learned that when in a difficult situation (like a pandemic) that’s beyond your control a strategy for dealing with it is to recognize the reality and the feelings – “I don’t like it” – but refrain from getting stuck there. Acknowledge what’s going on but then go on to find something you can enjoy despite the situation. In my sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” I tried to practice this.

For example the above sketchbook page says “eventually things will get better, in the meantime here are some drawings.”

That pretty well sums it up my way of coping.

More of the coping skills I practiced in a sketchbook format – and in the kitchen – were cooking related. Having a book of reliably good favorite dishes has been a solace.

A pot of soup cooking on the stove, good hot beverages and fun books to read really do restore my psyche. I find it helpful to remember this and deliberately revel in it.

So this week I started my Home Hare Care series again. This series celebrates the comforts of home. I had begun this series back in March 2020 during the first official lockdown. Now that my home state of Washington has sensibly begun another lockdown… it’s Home Hare Care season again.

So instead of the slaying dragons mode of response to feelings and difficulties I’m actively choosing a kinder more gentle way of responding.

It’s an “I see you” recognition of the dragon and then using calming techniques to soothe one’s self and peacefully cohabitate with the dragon.

The concept is really an Inuit one – a variation on it anyway. There’s an article here that describes the concept well titled “How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger

So I drew a dragon, gave it a book to read and made a fabric pattern on my Spoonflower shop. Nice dragon, calm dragon, comfy cozy dragon, rest on this fluffy soft pillow dragon…😁

Since hot beverages feature on my list of soothing comforts it seems sensible to create a series of mugs. I’m calling it my Odd Mugs collection on my Zazzle store. I pretended the sides of mugs were sketchbook pages and reproduced some pages from Another Sketchbook.

See you here next Monday? In the meantime please take care of yourself and keep reading, cooking, drawing and doing whatever you do that’s soothing.

Illustrated shorts and other comforts

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It’s election time in the U.S. This year is particularly full of hopes and fears. So I’m focusing on comforts as a topic for my art projects. I’m thinking of the importance of the ability to provide self care, self comfort and to comfort others. To feel ones feelings and to continue on without getting stuck in the feelings.

Here’s a book I illustrated some time ago that I’ve continually found helpful in life – and in my creative life.

Dr Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit – illustrated and collected by Sue Clancy
https://store.bookbaby.com/bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Dr-Bobs-Emotional-Repair-Program-First-Aid-Kit1

In the Dr Bob book there’s discussion of a self-care technique that I find most relevant to my creative life: keeping a list of things that I enjoy thinking about and, when worrying, to deliberately switch my thoughts to one of the things I enjoy thinking about. I’ve found that it’s helpful if at least one of the enjoyed thought topics on my list has gear. Gear; stuff I can buy, look at, use or touch in the real world.

Anyway here’s some items from my personal list of things I enjoy thinking about (in no particular order): fine art, art techniques, art supplies, reading, books, writing techniques, pens, papers, cooking, cooking techniques, food of all kinds, plants, wild animals, house pets, coffee, tea, mugs, cups, coffee urns, tea pots, jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, fabrics, fabric designs, lap blankets….

There are many more items on my list but you get the idea and I got tired of typing.

This strange year, 2020, with its pandemic and, in the U.S., weird political scene, I’ve thought a lot about those topics. As a result I’ve been branching out creatively.

Creating original fine art and one-of-a-kind handmade books for galleries, libraries, public organizations and clients homes and offices has long been my main focus. Well, the pandemic has caused me to adapt my thinking and find ways to put my artwork and books out in the world in ways that people could get them via mail order (or downloads) while at home rather than having to leave home and go to a particular place to see my work.

I still happily work with all of my art galleries and they have adapted to the pandemic as well, delivering and shipping art to clients, doing virtual tours etc. My new work simply augments what work I’ve already been doing with them. For instance people have sought, from my galleries, the original artwork for my books.

Primarily, creating print on demand books and objects has been a way for me to practice my own self care.

Anyway, the result has been the creation of real-life books, fabrics and objects that have been comforting to me as I’ve made them. I’ve been told by other people that they have been comforted by my work too. I have even heard that my work has been given as gifts and the comforts have been spread! I can’t describe adequately how happy that’s made me!

So I’ve been increasingly focused on creating original fine art which leads to creating my artist books on Blurb and also to creating theme related objects on my Zazzle and Spoonflower shops. Then on my portfolio page on my website I’m grouping them together.

For example on my Numpurrs portfolio page you can see images of the original fine art (and the art gallery handling it), my artist book for children titled Numpurrs. Besides info about the printed book there’s a related poster, calendar, jigsaw puzzle and mug. Here below is the Numpurrs mug – wouldn’t it be fun to have Alphabet soup out of this mug?

Numpurrs mug by Sue Clancy
https://www.zazzle.com/numpurrs_mug-168791615464778032

I’ve also created a new page on my website called “illustrated shorts“. The page has short examples of my thinking of fabric, note cards and coffee mugs as gallery wall spaces, so to speak.

For example here are a few of my illustrated short thoughts about love:

This is a page in my sketchbook
This was a redo of my sketchbook page on “good paper”
This is an “odd mug” I created with my design
https://www.zazzle.com/i_love_you_mug-168999488696149637

It’s fun, and comforting, for me to think about self care and to create art, books and objects that could be accessible for other people to use for their own self care or to be given to others. So I’m likely to continue such thoughts during the coming weeks as we all prepare for “non-normal” holidays.

Check in again next Monday? In the meantime, please take care of yourself.