I think a lot about thinking. So do cats I think. Here’s another painting in my Odditerrarium series for upcoming exhibit at Caplan Art Designs in October. My painting is titled “Cognition”. Sometimes it seems like brains are fish bowls with thoughts swimming about.
Besides forming a theory of mind as related to other living beings – I find it’s helpful in my creative life to keep notes, in a sketchbook/notebook, on things that happen in my life, things that catch my eye, my feelings, thoughts and responses to the world. My sketchbook/notebook becomes part of a collection of objects, photos, books, places etc that resonate with me in some way and yet may also be relatable to someone else. I think creativity is a way to connect with both ourselves and each other. To the elements of my ongoing collection I add my imagination…
… like in my current project for Nil-Tech I free-associated or imaginatively mixed a feeling experience in my life (of enjoying a coffee) with a real life cup from my kitchen and a photo of a dog. Almost everyone has has the experience of sinking into the relaxation of a pleasant beverage – almost like a hot tub – so it’s a safe bet that my feeling is relatable. A cup and a dog are common reference points too. Anyway, here’s a photo below and link to one of my videos on Nil-tech: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CitjpxIoBoO/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
My point here is that my system of getting creative ideas is a lot like cultivating a garden: carefully planting perennials, evergreens, planning to rotate annuals etc regular cultivation for ongoing use in cooking or decor. This helps me sustain my creativity over the long term. Also for sustainable creativity I find it helpful to keep an uncultivated wild patch or two, some experimental ground areas where anything goes and uncertainty reigns, where I’m in the classic “beginner mindset”, or in the spirit of a kid flopped on their belly coloring to their heart’s content with no thought of their scribbles being “good”. All of this in my mind when I say I’m re-wilding myself.
The term “re-wilding” typically refers to ecological conservation, a way of letting the land be naturally whatever it is as a way of restoring the ecosystem.
I really think we can do this with our minds too, we can re-wild ourselves and our own mental landscape, from time to time by allowing ourselves a more expansive diverse habitat of the mind, to sidestep our own habits, group-think, expectations and presumptions. To deliberately try a new methods or materials just to be playful. (Play, at any age, is necessary for good mental health.) As creative people re-wilding is a neccessary part of a creative life. Generally speaking re-wilding is allowing ourselves to play off-leash now and then so we can reconnect and restore ourselves.
I wrote over on A. M. Sketching about re-wilding ourselves and included this page from my published sketchbook “Another Sketchbook” as a reason why cultivating a mental life is helpful. For us creative types our mental lives are what we create with so the quality of our mental lives is also a precious piece of equipment.
My 3d block project mentioned in my last post is coming along.
Another fun project currently in progress is also using ordinary things as prompts. I’m doing illustrations for a cookbook by Chef Kim Mahan! More on that as I go.
The experimental “re-wilding” projects I’m working on are two different poetry book projects. Possibly for Storyberries experimental art books section! Here’s a peek at my two projects. Both are about the size of a credit card when closed but they open out to about 20 inches long. The patterned and colored papers you see will possibly be the book covers of one book. I’ll share more as I go along.
I hope your week is wild in the best ways. See you next Monday.
This week a box came from my sister that held a quilt our Mom was adamant that I have. Opening the box transported me instantly to my adopted Mom and Dad’s house. Love smells like old books, coffee, flowers, swimming pool chlorine, Mom’s soap and cleaning products, wine, champagne, cigars and cigarettes. Here’s what the quilt looks like.
As I wrote on my email newsletter I remember well over 25 years ago when this quilt was being created by both Mom and Dad. The quilt took some time to do so I saw it in several stages of production. During each visit Mom and Dad told stories and talked about ideas that relate to the quilt. Rather than completely repeating what I already shared – here’s the main story and…
…a related story…
…along with the truth as illustrated below that both the light and dark parts of ourselves are accepted – we may wish to be more careful about what parts of ourselves that we “pick up” or choose to feed. But no matter what we are accepted just the way we are. (Btw: These stories are are in this book)
There are other quilt related thoughts on my email newsletter A.M. Sketching but here’s a look at the frame and mat we chose at the Aurora Gallery. The just off white mat looks like fabric, woven texture and all. That was one thing I’d enjoyed about Mom, her use of textured fabrics around her house. The frame we chose is a teak wood which reminds both my spouse and I of Dad’s bookcases.
While we were at the Aurora Gallery I realized my current exhibit was still there. This photo is what I could see just by turning my head from where the quilt was spread out. It felt like Mom and Dad got to visit my exhibit. Yes, I teared up at the thought and no one at the Gallery minded.
Both Mom and Dad were unbelievably supportive of my artwork. My art was displayed constantly in their house. So it feels extremely proper that their artwork will soon be displayed prominently in our house! According to the Gallery it will take about 2 weeks until the frame is ready. We already have a place of honor for it in our living room.
Over 15 years ago, during my Abstract art phase, Mom asked me to make a piece for a particular place in their house. Spirals, dots and piano keys were my visual interrelated motifs, each element feeding other elements… I titled it “Food For Thought”. It was about storytelling, the arts and feeding our minds and hearts. My mixed media painting was a response to the quilt and the quilt related stories.
Here’s “Food For Thought” as it was displayed in Mom and Dad’s house many years ago.
All of the above has me thinking of the importance of stories more generally. I’m painfully aware that book writers, illustrators, publishers, educators and librarians are currently under attack – and that books are being removed from public access. I’m feeling an urgency to support local bookstores and the general awareness of books that encourage creative people. So I’ve begun keeping a few publicly available book lists here on Bookshop.org – online book sales there benefit independent bookstores and a small benefit to affiliated people who keep book lists. We create the world together. I learned that too from Mom Penny and Dad.
Ursula K. LeGuin, an author Mom, Dad and I enjoyed together, says it extremely well.
This is why I value the idea of democracy and a nonviolent society. Democracy is the ideal of creating a civilization rooted in free thinking, in equality, in equal access to ideas, to a society based on rule of law, to fact based evidence, transparency, and the right to explore ideas without having to tiptoe on eggshells in fear of some authority figures displeasure, without fear of violence from those who disagree. To create society based on the stories we tell ourselves and each other rather than via the whims of a strongman, or fists or other weapons. Stories can be dangerous enough… part of growing up (or of good therapy) is to learn to distinguish helpful stories from the unhelpful ones. To learn this valuable lesson one needs access to a wide array of thoughts. As this article says “….if we lose our librarians, we lose a core element of our democracy.”
Anyway, all of this was swirling in my head along with my memories of Mom and Dad, storytellers both, and I cried. After I subsided a bit my spouse gently asked if a visit to a bookstore would feel good. I said yes so off we went to Broadway Books. When we entered the store a clerk asked if she could help. I asked for some hopepunk books, books with gentleness and kindness in them. Quickly a book of essays by Ross Gay was handed to me followed by 3 fiction titles. Here’s a selfie of me waiting in the fiction section while the clerk looked up another title. She was so kind!
After a good browse we were at the counter paying for our books. Since we’d gotten so many books they gave us a thick cloth bag to hold them all. I teared up suddenly remembering how Mom made thick reusable cloth bags long before they were normal in stores. Mom even made cloth bags with drawstrings for use when wrapping presents rather than using paper. Whenever we had our lunch meetings at restaurants Dad would bring his Mom-made cloth bag with books in it and I would bring my Mom-made cloth bag with my sketchbook and other books… So there I was standing at the Broadway Books checkout counter with tears running down into my mask. Again no one minded. Everyone was so kind! I waited until we were outside to take my mask off to wipe my eyes and blow my nose.
Here’s the stack of books we came home with.
So I think we chose well. As both Mom and Dad often said “Stories, for better or worse, inform how we relate to our own emotions and experiences”.
In a prior post I wrote about sharing the correlation I see between art and mental health. Writing and drawing your thoughts and feelings can help you check in with yourself. It’s a way of caring about and listening to your innermost self. Beyond any therapeutic benefits a habit of writing and drawing is also intelligence at play. Play is essential to mental health and not valued nearly enough… but I digress. Reading books and viewing the art others have made serves both of the therapy and play purposes too. Telling and showing more of my own work, my own intelligence at play, in my sketchbook is one way I can think of to share this correlation I see. That’s part of why I’ve begun A.M. Sketching anyway. (Btw this week there was a featured bug…😆)
Longtime readers of this blog know how I like easily portable sets of art supplies. Well, this preference has dovetailed with my above mentioned thoughts about mental health and having a regular sketching, writing and reading habit. Towards this notion I’ve found a company that makes sets of good quality art supplies and maintains an online series of tutorials about drawing. I am now in the process of affiliation so that whenever I share some art techniques (and add to the online drawing tutorial library) someone can easily access the supplies if they want to. http://shop.nil-tech.com/?ref=DmLN4hDZ
I remember teaching art, in pre-pandemic days, and sourcing the art supplies was always an issue. Even for adult classes the list of supplies to buy often overwhelmed students. So it’s nice to make it easier for someone to get the supplies they need to start a sketching habit by having everything available in one portable zippered case.
By the way when I say “a sketching habit” I include both words and images. Writing and drawing are both powerful tools for thinking and living well.
I wrote in my last post about my upcoming art exhibit at the Aurora Gallery. Here’s another video look at some of my artist books that will be in that upcoming exhibit. https://youtu.be/_VqH-Jw9wbg The featured book “Stories we could live inside…or not” relates to the mental health theme… here are some still photos but please see the video.
Besides fine art and artist books there are also limited edition greeting cards… the art, books and cards all relate to each other… anyway here’s a photo of the box of 90 pieces of art. Many of the artworks are the size of an open hand or smaller. It was nice to just carry one 11 x 11 x 14 inch sized box into the Gallery! I’m telling you I’m totally sold on the miniature art genre!
You can see a bit of what’s in the box on my portfolio page here. Needless to say I’m tired. I’m also reading a very good book. So I’ll get back to reading it now.
I hope you have a good book to read too and that your week is as pleasant as possible. See you next Monday.
I’ve been thinking this week about the role of curiosity in a creative life. So here’s a fun curiosity/creativity game I play with myself. To play you’ll need: any printed book with lots of visual images in it, 5 sticky post-it notes from a post-it note pad, a separate piece of paper and a pen or pencil.
To begin the game open the book to random pages, page through very rapidly – ONLY PAUSE WHENEVER AN IMAGE CATCHES YOUR EYE – put a sticky post-it note on that page. Then keep going, quickly, through the book until all 5 of your post-it notes have been placed. DO NOT READ ANY TEXT IN THE BOOK. This part of the game will only take one minute or two. You’re just reacting and post-it note flagging that “something caught my eye” in an image.
After all 5 of your post-it notes are placed look at each of your chosen 5 images, look only at the image itself NOT at any accompanying text. Add a letter (or number) to the post-it note on each image, write a corresponding letter on your sheet of paper. Then write very specifically what caught your eye in the image. This is usually a brief description of some ordinary visual element in the image like “ladies funny hats” or “dogs droopy ears”. It could be the colors or the odd shapes that are described. There are no wrong answers. This is just YOU being curious about your own native interests and creative voice.
After writing about all 5 of your noticed images get curious about them as a group. Is there a theme or a commonality between any of the 5 images? For example the ladies funny hats and the dogs ears could be grouped as “head gear”. Again, there are no wrong answers. Be as absurd and freely-associative as you like. This is just you playing and being curious about any themes that may be subconsciously on your mind today.
When that part of the game is done read any text about the 5 images you chose. Does the information in the text add to your interest, to your curiosity? Feel free to investigate further…
And that’s the game! I’ve found in playing this game often that my themes repeat, certain elements consistently catch my eye, and knowing what those are helps me work deliberately and playfully in my studio. I play this game often because my interests and what catches my eye changes.
The Odditerrarium series painting that I finished this week is titled “Curious”. Like the rest of my series (for upcoming exhibits via Caplan Art Designs) this one is 10 x 8 inches and made with ink and gouache on board.
Here’s a closer look.
Part of curiosity, imagination and the life of the mind is allowing oneself to mentally reach, to play, to accept the risks and thrills of uncertainty. As a metaphor for these thoughts, as you may know from past posts, I’ve been thinking of the ways cats reach up. Here’s two in-progress artist books that have cats reaching in them. (Probably these books will eventually go to Storyberries.com)
Recently I stumbled across an Instagram post by Columbia Gorge Book Arts and got curious. (Lettering and alphabets consistently catch my eye.) I followed their Instagram account and looked at their website. I found out they live in the same town I do! So I contacted them online.
Letterpress and Linotype work is in my own past work history so I enjoyed the trip down memory lane while viewing their photos of equipment but more importantly I loved discovering that Ben, at Columbia Gorge Book Arts, hand-carves from bamboo the individual letters used in letterpress hand presses! The letterforms are beautifully created and Ben has quite a variety of typefaces! Seeing Ben’s printed proof sheets inspired my thoughts towards future kids books and children’s room decor. So when I contacted Ben I asked if I could buy a few printed proof sheets of his various alphabets. He sent me some!!!
When you’re a child learning one’s alphabet letters also means learning to recognize a letter even if that letter is differently shaped or colored. Towards that thought (and to indulge creatively in a theme that I love) I’m starting a new project, The Ralphapet Projects, in which, over time, I’ll make art prints, cards, cups and eventually a story book using some of the beautiful lettering I get from Columbia Gorge Book Arts.
Here’s the first one. I selected one of the Columbia Gorge alphabet proofs and mounted it on one of my boards using archival glue. Then when the glue was dry I drew, in ink, a cat muralist reaching up to “paint” a letter.
Here’s the finished “Ralphapet Cat” that I did using gouache on a 7 x 5 inch board.
So you can see the array of my recent cat reaching thoughts.
I took photos of the Ralphapet Cat artwork with my big camera (a better camera than a phone camera) and then my studio supervisor cat, Hawkeye, helped me do the graphic design hocus pocus in order to make art prints.
I’ve been thinking lately of how important the ability to imagine is. What if “let’s pretend…” is one of the most useful skills to cultivate all of one’s life? Besides being lots of fun to do using your imagination is an essential mental health skill. I quote from this article “So when you choose to develop your imagination and your ability to focus and direct your imagination, you gain the ability to guide and shift and direct your emotions as well. And when you have the ability to direct your imagination and modulate your emotions, then you also have the ability to influence the neurochemicals in your brain and in your body, too. Like all things mental, this ability is learned, and, like all things learned, this ability is made proficient through repetition. You do not learn to read overnight. You learn to read through repetition. Repetition makes proficiency.”
A new painting in my Odditerrarium series portraits (see last post) is titled “Pretending”. It’s 10 x 8 inches and made with gouache and ink on board. It is for an exhibit via Caplan Art Designs later this year.
A close up view…
I’ve also made progress on a new book for Storyberries that I had begun in my last post – the cat reaching thought I was telling you about got some color.
In thinking of how important imagination is I’ve also been thinking of the scope of it: imagination is first a personal skill, then it becomes something shared with friends, then it is something shared with the wider public – even intergenerationally – and that cycles back to us personally. And it does this cycle as long as we’re alive. Art and imagination are an ongoing conversation we have over time with ourselves, our friends and our community… and most importantly with life itself.
So I’m proud to see in this article that one of my art projects, the paintings in the photo behind Amy Russell, the executive director of the Curtis Children’s Justice Center is still on the walls there! That’s one of my public art projects that I’m most proud of doing. Keeping kids safe and developing good mental health coping skills are causes I care deeply about – and I think art can help with that. Long ago when I was a small child living in Oklahoma I was on the recieving end of child abuse in my biological family and had my own memorable encounters with police officers, social workers etc. The art on the walls in all of the buildings and the drawings on boxes of animal crackers helped me almost as much as the kind people who tried to help. Fast forward to today – the idea of having one place for a child to go for assistance is phenomenal and I’m glad and grateful for the existence of the Curtis Children’s Justice Center and I’m grateful for the kind people who help the children who need their services. I am deeply honored to have my artwork on their walls. https://www.columbian.com/news/2022/mar/26/childrens-justice-center-child-abuse-up-since-covid/
An art collector friend sent me these photos (below) of a art commission I had done for them over 10 years ago – it has been reframed and is in this gorgeous private place!!
I did this collage of handmade paper to tell a very personal and delightful story of a lovely family!
The pet portraits are some I have done of this same family’s pets over the years – they got reframed too and don’t they look nice?!
I just adore getting to love people throughout the years with my artwork!!
My artist heart is happy and full ❤ !! Thanks so much to my friend for sharing this with me!!!
Three kids are the apples of this art collectors eyes and I did these paintings to represent the specialness of each kid… the kids are all grown up now and still cherished! Since I’d posted the art collections (above) of my fine art earlier on my social media that are still loved all these years later… this art lover and I wanted to share these beloved apples!! So much love worthy of sharing!!! ❤❤❤
A friend gave us these flowers this week…
….I painted them in my sketchbook and posted my page on my social media…
…. another friend saw my sketchbook page online and asked me to make an art print of it. So I got out my big camera and did that! As you can see the colors and details show up even better now! You can see more about the print here.
My wife saw a unique mushroom in our yard and showed it to me. I looked carefully and photographed it and began a drawing in my sketchbook – then the next morning I finished it.
Then we got to visit some very special friends and a special cat and dog! Here I am being honored by the cat.
Here’s my wife being honored by the dog.
On the wall behind our friends is a collection of my artworks. Sharp eyes may recognize the cat and dog from our laps in some of the portraits on the wall.
One of our friends is the author and historian Pat Jollota – you can see some of her books here – she’s an amazing storyteller. If someday I can tell stories half as well as she does I’ll be proud.
I brought to our gathering some illustrations I’ve made and an idea for a holiday gift book. Together all of us imagined what my illustrated characters might be saying to each other. It was a fun party game that will become an actual book that I hope other people will have fun imagining with too.
My adopted Dad’s favorite quote is by Anatole France and I put it in my sketchbook along with a drawing this week. It was in keeping with my thoughts about “let’s pretend…”.
I hope your week is full of the kinds of imaginings and let’s pretend games that fill you with pleasure and happiness. See you next Monday.
This week was … there. Reading Marcus Aurelius helped. So did the oranges, the coffee, the leaves in the yard, the books and art. Talking with my spouse helped too. I kept returning to this quote from Marcus Aurelius so I did this gouache and ink painting. Then I added it to my “for encouragement” art print series on my Society 6 shop.
Here are a few of my sketchbook pages that formed part of my self-care this week.
In my last post I wrote about “discovering” miniature art by way of reading The Annotated Arabian Nights. While reading more about some of the artists and artwork illustrating the Arabian Nights I learned of the uses of magnifying glasses when creating art details within the miniatures. “Well duh! Wouldn’t that be helpful?” I thought.
So when a nice surprise from Storyberries came I used the windfall to get some anti fatigue mat flooring for when I’m standing at my easel and moving about my work area. It has the added benefit of protecting the wood floor! And….
…I got a magnifying glass that clamps on my easel!
Since feelings and dealing well with emotions has been on my mind I used that topic for the first of my Creativity Chats for 2022.
Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/KvCfOgtOaMY I talk about dealing with feelings and sustaining a creative project over time. Even during difficult times.
Books are some of the “good shit” that I inhale. And in stressful times I’ve found it can be hard to “let things get through” even beloved books. All I know to do is to keep reading and trust the process.
Anyway The Annotated Arabian Nights is “getting through to me” more than I’d have guessed. In addition to the miniature art concept I’ve also learned that there’s a genre of writing called “mirrors for princes”. I’ve no idea what, if anything, I’ll do with this awareness. I’m mostly just vividly aware that I sat up and took notice when I learned this.
In looking at online sources for information about miniature art I learned about a book by Joan Cornish Willies titled “Miniature Painting”. It was touted in multiple online sources as a go-to book resource. I contacted an independent bookstore and got a copy mailed to me which I read cover to cover the day it arrived.
According to Joan Cornish Willies I wouldn’t at all be considered a “true” miniature artist because I tend to use multiple media in just about everything I do; a bit of ink, gouache, watercolor, color pencil and collage to name a few of my art mediums. Plus, according to Willies, my typical subject matter isn’t considered within the realm of “traditional” subjects for miniatures. Oh well.
Fortunately I’ve read other sources and know that Joan Cornish Willies’s thoughts aren’t the only ones about miniature art and it’s definitions.
Despite the “no true Scotsman…” rhetoric and traditionalist tones in this book by Willies I found several of the technical painting directions of interest and possibly applicable to what I create. The rest of the book I take with a grain of salt or perhaps a large sack of salt. Anyway I’ve no intention, at this time, to participate in the formal miniature art society’s – as suggested by Willies – they sound entirely too rigid and puritanical for my tastes.
In the process of reading on this topic I’ve realized what I like about the idea of miniature art is the focus on storytelling, the intimacy and the connection with bookmaking and publishing. I love all of the intricate artistic details that can be achieved by the various methods of working “in the little”. Most of all I relish the way the details created in the smaller sizes are able to be reproduced in print (or online) so clearly! I had already noticed this with my own fine art and book publishing work (see my portfolio). Larger paintings often lose clarity and charm when they’re reproduced at smaller sizes… like in books. So I’m keen to do better at fine detail in smaller sized artwork with an eye toward more publishing.
That’s specifically what has amazed me about the artwork in The Annotated Arabian Nights so many of the illustrations are reproduced at the actual size – or very near it – to the artist’s original artwork! And the artistic details are glorious!
Consequently I’m thinking up a new artist book or two as well as a new fine art series – and deliberately planning smaller sizes now!
Onward into the fog as they say. See you next Monday?
And because I thought it was a fun visual pun I put my traveling hedgehog on a travel mug. No one but me requested this mug. 🤣 I certainly don’t have any travel plans but a cup that’ll keep my coffee hot even when I get distracted in my studio might be nice. At any rate designing the mug was fun so I did it.
Here are some sketchbook pages that have happened lately.
It’s a big book so I prop it on a throw pillow when reading. The book has many enchanting illustrations by the artist Edmund Dulac who painted in the style of Persian miniature paintings.
Consequently I’ve suddenly become aware that my entire fine arts college education focused on paintings larger than 24 inches. Much of my artistic output till now has been on physically larger scale too. Oh sure, I’ve done smaller illustrated hand bound books but fine art paintings, in my mind, were always big. Well, during the pandemic I have done paintings in much smaller sizes and have quite enjoyed sending 25 paintings to a Gallery in one box the size of a thick hardback novel. But in my mind this was a temporary adjustment due to the pandemic.
Now, however, I’m reading in the Annotated Arabian Nights about “the tradition of miniature painting” and have begun reading further about that approach to fine art. Wow!! A whole part of art history that’s new to me!! I’m thinking I’ll learn more about this history and the miniature art techniques and work smaller on purpose now – pandemic notwithstanding.
So you can see the cover of this wildly wonderful book…👇 I love the shiny gold on the cover and the print quality of the artwork inside…
January 1st 2022 I was looking through my sketchbooks and decided the page below is the mantra for now.
Come to think of it all of my sketchbooks are 3.5 x 5.5 inches small… so why am I surprised about miniature art being a “real thing”?! Plus the 40 original artworks for my book The Professional Dog are all 3.5 x 2.5 inches in size!
I guess I’ve been a miniaturist for a while now and didn’t realize it! 🤣
I’m steadily progressing on my children’s book “The Professional Dog”. Here are three art pieces together so you can see how the colors flow from one piece to the next. This project will be both a book an art exhibit. So each piece needs to both work with the others and stand alone. My last post tells more about this project.
Below are closer looks at each of these pieces. The text for the book is below the art.
Progress is also happening at an even more rapid pace on my holiday box project for the Caplan Art Designs Gallery. I’ve been in touch with the Gallery, sharing photos of my progress privately with them and it’s been agreed that I won’t post much publicly yet about this project. It wouldn’t be good to get too far ahead in posting… the art isn’t due at the Gallery till November and the exhibit is later still… so we don’t want to give too many clues too early.
It’s hard to keep my excitement to myself but I can do this. Right? Right?
I trust it won’t be too much of a spoiler to say that doing dog paintings in black and white is helpful when I’m also doing a series of dog portraits in color. Nothing like painting in black, white and shades of grey to sharpen my observation skills. Very carefully I made sure that both of my main projects are dog related. This way the project concepts strengthen each other. Kind of like how doing similar but different physical exercises strengthen muscles better that just doing one kind of exercise.
Anyway, here’s a few sketchbook pages related to this holiday box project that we’re very carefully not talking about too much yet. Mums the word. Shhhh…
I heard this week from someone who got one of my fabricdesigns so they could sew nice things for a teacher in their life!! This makes my heart happy that my reading, literacy, fabricpattern on Spoonflower made someone smile!
Anyway, speaking of taking care… it’s soup weather here in the Pacific Northwest! So I got out one of our favorite cookbooks “The Big Book Of Soups and Stews” by Vollstedt and made the recipe for chicken noodle soup. I used precooked chicken as a shortcut but otherwise followed the recipe. It’s so yummy and really feels kind to the soul.
Speaking of kindness – I saw this in my local newspaper and took a photo so I could save it and share it. It feels important to me. Crucial even.
One of the other ways I’ve been gentle with myself this week is knocking off work a wee bit earlier so I can spend more time reading. I finished the George Saunders title I was reading in my last post. Saunders talked about and included stories from Chekhov which I enjoyed. So I’m reading more of Chekhov’s work.
I’m also reading “A Perry Mason Casebook” by Erle Stanley Gardner. Talk about two almost polar opposite kinds of writers! Chekhov’s characters, generally speaking, consider the feelings of other characters – the stories seem emotion driven. Gardner’s characters, generally, don’t consider or respond much to the emotion of other characters – these stories seem situation driven.
My response to each book is so very different that it almost seems unfair to compare them at all. They were written in such different era’s. Chekhov wrote in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Gardner wrote in the 1950’s. But reading both books at the same time is a fun mental contrast – rather like the experience of contrasts that I remember from visiting the state fair; enjoying the quiet exhibits of quilts, animals, jams and jellies alongside noisy rides, carnival games, street performers and aerial acrobats.
Anyway, my spouse and I got a nice syrah wine from Burnt Bridge Cellars and had a glass of wine with our books in the evenings. Such fun!
Here’s hoping your week will give you many opportunities to be gentle and tender with yourself and the people in your life. 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.
One of the gifts of travel is the awareness that things don’t have to be what you’re used to in order to be enjoyable.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 I’ve been looking at household things with the eye of a traveler. I’m practicing being okay with things as they are, seeing them in new ways and enjoying them – like how I would enjoy things on a trip. Along the way it occurred to me that domestic arrangements are one place in life where things can be more or less to our preferences. Home is a place of fairly reliable comforts. There’s a gift of comfort in that.
The sketchbook I began this, ahem, journey in has been published as Another Sketchbook. I decided at first to view household things as if they were public monuments, things we might travel to see. Then I decided that was too distant…the people too small and far away. Then I decided I didn’t want to draw people after all because animals feel more comforting. Anyway, here are a few pages from Another Sketchbook…I’m hoping you can see how I got to my present Odditorium art series via this trail.
Here below is the book cover and a link where you can look through the entire book.
Of course after publishing Another Sketchbook I’ve kept on keeping a sketchbook. I post these new pages now and then on my social media. Here’s a few pages from my new sketchbook that are relevant to the painting you’ll see in this post.
While musing about the crows I often see in my yard I thought of how the kitchen gadgets I have are so useful. And I love herbs and spices – especially those from Penzeys. So I took a photo of the kitchen tools and spices I was about to use at that moment.
Then as the days progressed I began a new acrylic painting full of my thoughts about my ongoing efforts to dance and appeal, so to speak, to the various gods of good-food cooking. My spouse snapped this photo of me working.
As I worked I tried a new-to-me color scheme that includes magenta, an orange-red, a light pink, grass green, a grey-blue and a creamy yellow. The crows aren’t really black there’s a lot of dark purple and deep blues to their feathers. The color nuance shows more when you see the painting with a human eye. I have another camera that shows more of the color range that I use when taking pictures of the art for publication. Anyway, I’ve titled this new painting Domestic Comforts
Another thing I keep thinking about is the different speed of time at home. When traveling in the past I have tended to be very rushed and scheduled. But at home and in my art studio, which is in my house, I tend to be scheduled but usually much less rushed. In fact for quite some time – even before the pandemic – I have intentionally tried to maintain the habit of a steady but relaxed pace in my studio and home. Sustainability of energy is my focus. No, I don’t do this perfectly it’s an ongoing goal. During the pandemic this goal has strengthened as I’ve realized this habit also maintains a critical space for long-form thinking.
Long form thinking is a term usually applied to reading and literacy. It’s a discussion of cultivating the ability to pay attention. There’s an article by James Patterson here and another related article here on the long form thinking as it relates to literacy.
I think of the term long form thinking as applying more generally to creative efforts that stretch over a longer span of time. The actual work may be done in fits and starts or in short bursts of actual hands on time but a thought is held in mind, come what may, over an extended time period. Long-form thinking, in my opinion, allows for a sustained leisurely attitude towards time for art, for reading and writing. Creativity requires time to meander and travel in ones mind – even while cooking dinner or mowing the lawn one plays with the thought topics currently being considered.
Long-form thinking purposefully includes time for making homemade cookies or any other bits of meandering fun. This week I tried a cinnamon sugar cookie recipe. I cut this recipe in half, dumped all the ingredients in my Cuisinart (kitchen gadget!) blended the dough and otherwise followed the recipe directions.
The cookies turned out very yummy!! As hinted above taking the time to read books is an essential part of my creative process – with or without hot from the oven cookies and hot chocolate. Here’s one of the books I’m reading…
My art is a part of my life and vice versa. Creativity is a continuous thing I’m committed to doing within and amongst all of the various domestic concerns and that’s-life stuff.
In fact I view the public aspect of my creative life of making artist books and art exhibits as like the game of musical chairs. I do steady continuous studio work then about a month before the fine art exhibit goes up the music stops. As in the hands on action of creating paintings temporarily stops, and I start framing, photographing, publishing everything I finished up to that point.
It is exciting as I frame and publish the artwork to both see and feel my Odditorium series coming together. The work that I began last year will be exhibited this year in June and July at Burnt Bridge Cellars and when my work is on their walls that will add to my ongoing Odditorium thoughts. Then there’s another exhibit at the Caplan Art Designs Gallery in September. After delivering art to Burnt Bridge Cellars later this month the music (active painting) starts again – specifically the thoughts I have when seeing my works hung together will inspire more work in the series. Then I will begin making the new art in this Odditorium series with an eye towards the next exhibit. Some of the art at Burnt Bridge Cellars along with the freshly made new art will go to Caplan Art Designs when the music stops again at the end of August. This is the way my exhibits grow and travel.
So yes I like long-form thinking. I like projects that stretch over a years time. This allows me to explore a topic from several angles as well as to change my approach as I’ve described in this post. It’s risky as I don’t know at the beginning where my thoughts will go. Plus I do all of the hands on work in short bursts of time each day so I “live in” small slices of my thoughts. My sketchbook is the way I both develop the exhibit idea and keep track of my thoughts – but still the uncertainty is there. I’ve just learned to ride with it.
My long-form working process is like reading a long novel – when you have a few minutes you read a paragraph or a page or two a day. When you begin reading you’ve no idea where the book is going. But if you keep reading a bit per day pretty soon you’ve read the whole book and you know the book conclusion. Same goes with creating an art exhibit.
There’s an excellent article here about the counterculture of commitment. It describes well what I’m talking about. I see this concept of long-form thinking (aka commitment) as similar to the idea of slow food/ home cooked food but about the subject of creativity. Inherent in this notion is the acceptance that things can develop slowly over time and that slowness allows for uncertainty and changes of mind.
I have a quote by Christopher Morley thumbtacked to my art studio wall. The quote applies, in my view anyway, to ones sense of time and space too.
It’s okay maybe even good to be a little odd. It’s not a goal to have domestic life or travel or art projects or life in general be perfect. The goal is to have the coping skills to deal well with imperfections when they happen. To be able to do the domestic dances and appeal well enough to the gods (metaphorically) of home cooking. Or to the gods of plumbing or whatever the household issues may be. To be relaxed and calm enough that one’s able to see the solutions, comforts and enjoyments near to hand. This is my approach to art projects too. Slow but steady, to have the coping skills to fix artistic mistakes, to adjust, to try something new.
Since this month began – besides framing the artwork a bit per day – I’ve been creating an exhibit catalog, a coffee table picture book of my exhibit. Last year during the worst of the pandemic it seemed to please fans of my artwork that they were able to get a printed book or an ebook of my entire art exhibit. So that’s why I’m doing a book this year too.
Additionally I’m doing a few greeting cards and coffee mugs with my art from this series. Both the cards and mugs are in keeping with the root idea of my Odditorium series – taking an uncommon view of ordinary household things and surreally creating souvenirs of pleasant moments. Here below is an example of a note card with the artwork I wrote about in my last post.
Yes, the temptation to stress, to worry, to rush is there, especially as the day nears to deliver all of the artwork. But I remember those pre-pandemic travels when I rushed mightily because the day the trip ended was coming nearer and I didn’t want to miss anything … what I remember now of those trips isn’t the scenery or the food but the stress and rush. So I try to remain calm now and go slowly as I continue towards the exhibit. And I rest knowing my thinking-work will continue …
Thanks for reading! I hope you have many enjoyable domestic comforts this week – and if you try the cookies I hope you like them. See you next Monday?