In our neighborhood we joke that western Washington is built on a giant anthill. Each spring we all battle ants outside our houses before they can invade indoors. The first hint is a mound of dirt where there wasn’t one before. Like this one on the edge of our patio.
I lifted the bricks and put the ant bait directly on the fascinating ant farm-tunnel construction then covered the bait with the bricks again and swept away the dirt on the brick edges. Of course I had a good look at the way the ants collected and organized the dirt before I did my acts of destruction.
When ants are found indoors I use a solution of vinegar and Dawn dishwashing soap to clean the area where ants were seen. The non-poison solution is in a spray bottle and it quite effectively kills and deters ants. Between the outdoor/indoor methods the ant activity is usually successfully managed.
After doing some ant battle outdoors I came inside, looked at my bookshelves and realized how many anthologies I have: collections of poetry, short stories, essays… In one set of bookshelves alone I counted over 25 anthologies. There are still more on other shelves. I have an anthology infestation and I’m keeping it!!
For the first time I saw that there’s an “ant” in the word anthology – so I grabbed a dictionary, a scrap of paper and made a list… and with that list I have begun a new children’s book for Storyberries. I’m using a collage of letterpress letters from Columbia Gorge Book Arts and drawing ants in ink. Both my handwritten list and the beginning of the new book are in the photo below.
In case you have trouble reading my handwriting here’s the list…
Anthology: [a gathering] collections, often varied authors, of a similar literary form or topic or time period (in my last post I listed a few anthologies about the Beat Generation)
Ant farms: [a gathering and a structure] a colony of ants constructing a dwelling
Holo: a word element meaning whole or entire
Alphabet: [a structure] a set of letters to be arranged in a customary order. A structure of language
Hology: [a relationship] – a general relationship between reality and it’s content
Besides musing about words my wife and I went for a walk in the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge with our binoculars. I saw the purple blue grey colors of a great blue heron up close! I didn’t realize the extent of the purplish tints to the heron feathers. We saw lots of other wildlife too – including smiling friendly humans!
During our walk I kept thinking of a work of fiction I had read long ago that had a musician character who sang “Oh I’ll cry when the wetlands are dry”. The wetlands were a character in the story too as I recalled.
I also vaguely recalled some phrases about birds and wetlands from Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry. But these were fleeting snatches of phrases half-remembered like wild birds glimpsed in the pond reeds.
When we were home I rummaged in my books for where the “Oh, I’ll cry when the wetlands are dry” phrase originated. Turns out it came from “With A Tangled Skein” by Piers Anthony. I had an enjoyable hunt for wetlands in this title too…
The half-remembered phrases from Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver: “I am hardly an ornithologist nevertheless I live among the birds…” (from Leavings by Berry) and “The labor of writing poems, of working with thought and emotion (or is it the wings?) of language, is strange to nature, for we are first of all creatures of motion.” (from Upstream by Mary Oliver)
But since I live in Washington state I went looking for some wetlands related poetry from local writers. Here’s what I found from Salish Magazine a publication located in Washington state https://salishmagazine.org/issue-9-art-poetry/
In the mornings I was still thinking about the herons and the ants so they’re in my sketchbook pages. And it’s been fun sharing my sketchbook pages via email on my new Substack https://sueclancy.substack.com/
Speaking of slurping… I made a yummy fettuccine recipe using spinach and green herbs from our garden: garlic chives, green onion and basil. Here’s the recipe:
This is the challenge for me – remembering to promote the project I finished and is currently in public like Odditerrarium. Often I finish something and I’m on to the next project right away … like my “Ant Hology” book now in progress! So, more on that book next week.
I hope your week is pleasant. See you next Monday.
All week I’ve been collecting photos of dogs from my friends and writing and rewriting the text for my newest childrens book project to be titled “The Professional Dog”.
I’ve been thinking of the 19th century parlor game called The Minister’s Cat and have been updating that game idea with a variety of professions and dogs. All of this is so I can play with my adult friends and together we can entertain some kids.
The way I’ve played The Minister’s Cat (in pre-pandemic times) is like this: a group of people in a circle start a clapping rhythm. One person starts with the letter A saying “The Minister’s Cat is an agile cat”. Then without skipping the beat the next person can either follow with another A word description like “The Minister’s Cat is an adventurous cat”. Or they can follow with a B word like “The Minister’s Cat is a brave cat”. And so forth the game goes through the alphabet in a clapping rhythm. If someone loses the rhythm or stumbles on an adjective then they’re out. In our adult games the penalty for being “out” was refilling everyone’s beverages.
Below are some scribbles of text on my legal pad. I’ve decided (I think) that there will be some letter repetitions just like there would be in an in-person game.
Below are some of the dog photos friends sent this week! There’s an Artist, a Dean, a Chef, a Guidance Counselor, a Lender and a Judge.
In my experience projects in this kind of messy stage of becoming are best left within my peripheral mental vision, so to speak, till they firm up.
As a result I did a good bit on my winter greeting cards project I spoke of in my last post. Below is another card notion – paper dolls on a postcard! I’m thinking it will be fun to mail this card to some kids I know.
I’m still waiting on the thingamajig that will hold my phone while I do videos. Insert a cartoon image of Charlie Brown waiting by the mailbox here. While I wait on the thingamajig to be shipped I’ve been making notes on stuff I want to share about creativity and living a creative life. Fun thoughts to think!
But what did come in the mail this week were the books I’d ordered from my local independent bookstore Vintage Books! I’ve read the top two books in an ebook format and wanted print copies they were so good! Besides both books speak to my interest in living a creative life.
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.