Recently I was in a local coffee shop and a coffee cup was silhouetted beside a rainy window. Steam rising from the cup. Such a simple thing but I began thinking of how many stories begin with simple things and grow, cumulatively, until they become epics.
Like Pug dogs. So small yet so large in personality especially as they mature.
Here’s a painting I did that was inspired by these thoughts. I’ve titled it “Epic Tales of The Pug King”.
Epic Tales Of The Pug King – by Clancy – 16 x 20 – acrylic and gouache on board.
I wrote the story that’s ‘printed’ in the book depicted in the painting and hand-lettered it, with brush and acrylic, into place on the page-within-the-painting.
My wife came into my studio, saw my work-in-progress and said “What’s the rest of that story?”, saying that she wanted to turn the Pugs page for him and continue reading. Then she challenged me to write the rest of the story.
Right this minute I’m enjoying the visual pun – that the Pug’s epic story-poem, ahem, is really, really, short. Plus the setting and my character, the Pug dog, are not particularly grand as the word “epic” would imply.
And that’s in keeping with my feeling that the most important elements of this world are actually the mundane ones, the humble ones. Daily life and the qualities of it can have more impact on a person than the grandest once-in-a-lifetime vacation might.
I love this quote from Annie Dillard “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”
I’ve been thinking about how reading books is similar to playing dominos or sharing a meal with friends. In all of these activities we practice cooperating with others and peaceably bringing forth the world together.
Here’s a limerick poem I wrote and illustrated that playfully reflects my thoughts:
original poem and illustration titled “There Once Was A Tom Cat…” by Clancy
This poem and illustration somewhat relates to my nested-ideas concept that I’m working with for my upcoming fine art exhibit. And this poem (along with others) could become an artist book to accompany my exhibit but I’m still playing around and not sure where all of this is going. This is one of the things I like about being an artist; getting to practice being flexible, playing and letting things unfold as they will.
Kind of like reading a novel, playing a game or sharing a meal with friends allows us to practice “letting things unfold…”.
On a technical note: To create the above poem and illustration I used pen and ink and gouache on a greyish off white handmade paper. It looks sharp in real life, and the paper is a dream to work on, but the scan accented the grey color of the paper more than the naked eye perceives in person. The scan looks good enough, I’m not unhappy … however, note to self; use white paper for things that will be scanned and leave this lovely greyish handmade paper for fine art stuff that will be photographed and not scanned.
I’m still learning!
Here’s a new painting in my “reading and books in art” series. I confess that I love printed dictionaries, thesaurus’s and puzzle/game related books. In my art studio resource shelves I have 8 dictionaries, 3 thesaurus’s and 5 puzzle/game related books. Art idea gold-mines in my opinion. Naturally a Boston Terrier would consult one of these books…
“The Arf Thesaurus” by Clancy – 16 x 20 inches – acrylic and gouache on board —- image copyright 2019
The puzzle in the painting is actually work-able – at least somewhat – if you could get the Boston Terrier to move his arm. It was fun to imagine a puzzle related to sounds (words?) a dog makes.
If you look in the upper corner of this painting you’ll see that I’ve spoofed another painting that I did earlier.
“Good Morning” – by Clancy – 11 x 17 inches – acrylic and gouache on board – image copyright 2019
As I’ve worked toward this exhibit theme of reading and books in art I’ve become aware again of my love of words so I’ve also been experimenting with abecedarian poems, nonsense poems and made up words. This is in conjunction with thinking about constructing some artist books related to my upcoming reading and books themed art exhibit.
Still noodling about this concept of nesting-ideas-within-nested-ideas I’d mentioned in my last post. We’ll see where it goes.
And yes, I love it when I take the time to sit and work a crossword puzzle. I’m not up to The New York Times puzzle level yet. Someday perhaps. I’ve known two people who could do the Sunday NYT puzzle in ink. They impressed me enough with their level of education/smarts that I started on the bunny-slope level of crosswords. They inspired me reading more widely too. I like to think I’ve gotten a little better at puzzling since then.
Do you like crossword puzzles?
Last weekend I spent some time looking through my cookbook collection which sits on the shelves next to my poetry collection. Since I’ve been practicing both cooking and writing I look to my favorite “masters” in each genre for inspiration. It’s nice to have them all in one spot. Mollie Katzen, Aliza Green, Rick Bayless and Maryana Vollstedt are some of my favorite masters from the cooking world. Edward Gorey, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein are some favorites from the poetry world.
I spent the most “looking-for-a-recipe-to-cook” time with Vollstedt’s cookbook “The Big Book Of Soups And Stews” as it was a cold weekend. Plus a hearty stew puts me in a happy “comfort food feast” frame of mind. But the most “just admiring a cook book” time was spent with Katzen. However I did use one of Katzen’s salad recipes to go alongside a stew. I love the way Katzen hand lettered her recipes and illustrated them in her “Moosewood Cookbook”. My poetry time was divided between Edward Gorey and Edward Lear.
This concept of mashing up wildly different genres as inspiration to make something new? Well Austin Kleon has written wonderful creative thinking technique books about that – specifically Steal Like An Artist!
Anyway I combined my big pot of stew thoughts with the limerick poem form for this poem I wrote and illustrated below – which has been published now on They Draw & Cook.
I’m still practicing combining India ink and gouache – and doing text with a brush. I used a smaller size brush this time for the type – and all lower case letters. This brush-and-ink type style felt looser, more relaxed, than the type I did with a fountain pen for the birthday card – though both projects use a similar lower case. I like both methodologies and will probably use both techniques as they fit with the project at hand. But this brush style… I’m liking it and am finding my hand reaching for a brush more often.
What do you think?
Some time back I read an article in my local newspaper about teaching kids to snack healthy and to learn to trust their body’s cues about food. Since then I’ve been thinking of similarities between healthy snacking habits and developing a healthy creative life.
- Teach yourself how to recognize aesthetic cues/desires – and practice responding to them – over time. I think of aesthetic cues as mental indulge-ments; things like stories, poems, movies, music, art etc. that make you feel glad to be alive. Just like a kid has to learn how to try new foods and then practice recognizing what foods they enjoy eating. As we go through life our aesthetic preferences change – just like our food preferences do. So it’s helpful to continue to try new aesthetic/art snacks periodically – and practice trusting your own cues.
- Allow yourself to listen to your own aesthetic cues/voice without input from other people. This takes practice and no matter how experienced a person is one has to remember to return to listening to one’s own voice – rather like how sometimes a kid (or an adult) has to be reminded to pay attention to their plate and eat. (When my wife and I go to happy hour with our friends I have to remind myself to eat…I tend to focus on the conversation…)
- Give yourself permission to just practice. Practice-an-art-materials can be as simple as keeping a book of stories or poems handy for reading and a small book to write in. Think of it as adult playing. Some helpful mantras: “Nothing has to go right today”, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.” and “It’s okay to make mistakes and messes – it’s part of how we learn.”
- Set specific times to practice. These can be very short bursts of time. They can be event/circumstance based rather than clock based. i.e. I’ll practice reading/writing poems while the coffee/tea brews, the water boils or the oven pre-heats.
- Create a small place/drawer where your practice-an-art materials are kept handy. Perhaps a shelf where books related to your art snack indulge-ments are stored. Look for and collect objects, events, places that feed your creative-soul-heart-mind. Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive. Plan to indulge in these things in small ways – daily.
- Set a habit (I hate the word “rule”) for what time per month you’ll indulge yourself – for an aesthetic “meal”, something more than a short snack – with someone else’s artwork: i.e. go to local art-openings, poetry/story slams, indie film nights, music jam nights or a visit to an art museum.
Here’s what I indulged myself with this morning as an art snack while my breakfast bread toasted:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats is a new-favorite poem. It reminds me that we can – and do – create our own solace.
Some twins I’m lucky enough to know turned one year old today. So in collaboration with my wife, I wrote a poem and illustrated it for them. It was a good opportunity to practice art word combinations. And I think they’ll like it. Their parents and grandparents seemed to. Anyway here’s a picture of the birthday card:
I used a fountain pen to write the poem text this time. Last time I’d illustrated one of my poems I’d used brush and ink. For this birthday poem lower case letters were used. I like the lower case style. At least for this poem… The fountain pen was easier to control (and something I’m used to) and the neatness of the type and the softness of the lower case style are pleasing to me.
When I’d finished lettering the poem I then drew the illustration in brush and ink. After that dried I used gouache to give it color. That method too was an experiment in using ink and gouache in combination.
I am pleased with the resulting art word combination and will likely do that again; lower case letters and all.
What do you think of this lettering style?
I’ve decided recently to practice my poetry and short-short story writing by writing something, no matter how bad, every day. If there’s anything illustration worthy I’ll illustrate it. Out of all I’ve done thus far this seemed worthy:
poem and illustration by Clancy
Doing the poem text with a brush was new and different for me. It was looser and I think I like it. Typically I’ve used a dip-pen and been “tight” about it. I’ve also tended toward handwritten capital letters as you know from my illustrated recipes. It’s a text-style habit that harkens back to my years as a professional cartoonist and biological illustrator.
But for this poem when I used capital letters via ink-and-brush the text seemed too thick and shout-y. I’m now thinking I’ll experiment with all lower case writing. And a smaller brush. Or maybe a fountain pen rather than a dip-pen.
I’ll try a different hand-written style, and technique, if I happen to write another illustration worthy poem. We’ll see… I’ve got a lot of bad poetry to write between now and then I suspect.
What do you think about the all capital letters via brush style?
This weekend I caught up on the news – and this poem and illustration came to me:
The Little Brat
By Sue Clancy
Clueless Jack Horner
stood in a corner
eating a stolen pie
saying “Oh what a good boy am I!”
His classmates had cried.
His teacher had sighed.
But Jack, little Jack, didn’t ask “why?”
Instead he said “What a good boy am I!”
As he ate the pie…
As he stood in the corner…
Clueless: Jack Horner.
(Illustration, by Clancy, for the poem “The Little Brat” by Clancy.)
Delighted that my artist book “The Rabbit” has been published in its entirety in Issue 7 of Small Po[r]tions journal! You can see it directly here: https://smallportionsjournal.com/2017/02/10/sue-clancy-the-rabbit/
I think often about “artistic purpose” – and while, yes, I do get money for my work (I’m a professional, this is my full-time job) that’s not my only purpose for creating art. Today when I was thinking about this topic I had my tongue firmly planted in my cheek… and I did this poem and illustration.
Strummer – By Sue Clancy
Strummer played music for money,
Ribs, rolls, butter and honey
Or any other tasty dish
Like beef or lamb or fish
A scrambled egg would even do, if not too runny.
“Strummer” by Sue Clancy (brush and ink on handmade paper)