Flickr, Inspiration, & Envy

I love to look at Flickr and tumblr. My contacts there are wonderfully talented, and if I knew them well enough, I’d never stop telling them how their artwork is a constant source of inspiration for me. I learn from them and their art, and I’m grateful.

Most of the time.

I say that because, while I’m usually inspired, sometimes I’m just plain jealous:

“Ooohhh, look at those paint layers! I wish I could create something so subtle.”

“Now, why didn’t I think of that color combination?”

“Sigh. It will be years before I can draw that well… ”

Have you ever wondered if social media was invented just so you’d know how much better everyone else is? Have you ever logged off Facebook because you just couldn’t take seeing yet another photo of someone else’s beautiful kids in a stunning vacation setting?

You know what I mean.

It’s enough to make you throw your art journal and pencils in a deep desk drawer, lock it, and toss the key. Or almost enough, anyway.

Although I get discouraged, I keep drawing, collaging, and painting anyway. And then I go back to Flickr or tumblr to post it all.

Oh, no… Do you think I create envy in anyone when I post my journal pages online?

Nah. No way.

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Page 5, and Counting

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I just finished page five of my journal for The Sketchbook Project 2014. But I have no idea what I’ll do on page six, or seven, or the front cover.

And while I have a working title–Petal and Stem–I’m not yet sure how I’ll letter that.

Hmm… I have a lot of art to do!

In case you are wondering, this is not how I usually work. In fact, for each of my three previous submissions for The Sketchbook Project, I had every page carefully planned. I had already decided on a title and had a cover design all worked out for each one before I ever put pencil to paper.

If that seems a bit strict–or even forced–let me assure you that it wasn’t. The ideas for those previous books simply arrived in my mind fully formed. It just happened.

But this time, it didn’t happen. I waited a few weeks, and still, nothing. I started to worry that if I didn’t find inspiration soon, I’d run out of time. What to do?

I decided to just start drawing. And here I am, at page five! I am trusting that the book this journal wants to be will reveal itself page by page. I hope inspiration will come at some point, but maybe it won’t.

And I am ok with that, which is surprising. I’m used to being in control! But it feels good to let go, too, and try trusting the process.

Another Kind of Balance

Another Kind of Balance

There are a handful of reasons why I like this antique cameo. Of course, I appreciate the expert carving; that’s one. And then there’s the fact that it shows Petrarch, and I am named Laura. And then there’s the setting.

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The setting suits the carving well–I have seen beautifully carved cameos in poor settings, and wonderfully ornate settings that overwhelmed the lesser quality of the carvings they hold. But the best part about this one is that it is a little “off.”

The pearls are NOT precisely at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock the way you first assume they are. Draw an imaginary straight line across the face of the cameo, from one pearl to the other sitting opposite it. You’ll find that the line isn’t perfectly straight; it’s a little angled.

And so, a design element that could be static and stable adds movement instead. The pearls seem to slowly dance around the setting. And it’s so subtle! Most people might assume that the pearls line up neatly in pairs and would never notice (except maybe subconsciously) that there’s another kind or balance and rhythm at play here.

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There I Am!

There I Am!

Late last year, I signed up (with about 5000 other people) for The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition. The idea was that one page from each sketchbook submitted would be included in a book to be released in December. (This book would be instead of the sketchbooks traveling, as they usually do.)

Sure enough, in December I received the book that I had pre-ordered, and after several passes through it, I finally found an image of one of my pages. (Hey, it had been a few months, so it took a while for me to recognize it!)

I’ve wanted to post a picture from the book–which is still available from Art House Co-op (http://shop.brooklynartlibrary.com/)–for ages now. Today, I finally got around to it. There I am!

For more images from the book, check out my Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laura_rivera/sets/72157628121505564/

And I signed up for the Sketchbook Project 2014, too. Maybe you should! Check it out! http://www.sketchbookproject.com/sketchbookproject

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At the Core

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They say that an element of being strong and certain is making decisions from your core–the center of who you are–your understanding of who you are and what is right.

It is what I try to remember when I am faced with tough choices and when everyone seems to have their own opinion of what I should do.

Decisions that seem complex are really not that complicated when you strip them down to their essentials. What is best for you isn’t so hard to figure out when you know what is fundamentally right.

Who am I? At the center, all questions are really this one, single, core question.

Who I Will Be

The kind of artist I want to be isn’t afraid to try a new technique or style.

The artist I want to be remembers that inspiration is everywhere–and, more importantly, remembers to look for it.

The artist I want to be doesn’t blow her weekly gas and groceries budget at the art supply store.

She’s an artist who knows her strengths and weaknesses. (And most of the time, she’s ok with them.)

She doesn’t save the good paints and papers for herself, but shares them with her sons when they show interest, because there is always more where that came from.

(But not the watercolor brush that cost $23 and was worth every penny. Hands off!)

The artist I want to be will always wonder what really happened with Artemesia Gentileschi (don’t you?) while admiring her brave Judiths.

And she will be silly sometimes, serious sometimes, and will smile a lot.

And also will continue (for this week, anyway) to recommend “Exit Through the Gift Shop” to anyone who will listen.

The artist I want to be is humble, grateful, and determined; and thanks God every day for art that can touch the heart and make us better versions of ourselves.

But meanwhile, the artist I am is having fun. I hope you are, too!

Too much?

I wonder about an alcoholic taking his or her first drink. Do they know, immediately, that what they just tasted might own them, control them, take their life? Do they know right away, and do they already feel that it is too late to turn back?

Yes, I have written about creating with feeling. I have written about my efforts to think less while making art. And I don’t take any of that back–and yet–I also wonder about the power of raw emotion. It’s uncontrollable power. Can it be destructive?

Sometimes when I am finished with a drawing (it might or might not be a good one), there seems to be such an amount of direct feeling in the lines on the paper that it defies the effort I used to create them. I wonder where that amount of emotion came from, and it scares me when I don’t know. Why? Because, somehow, it seems like a lack of effort to control my drawing, or to discipline myself, and that seems both irresponsible and dangerous.

I think of, years ago, watching Nirvana give their Unplugged performance on MTV. Anyone who saw the performance of the last song could have guessed that Kurt Cobain’s death would be tragic. Watching it, you see him express raw emotion that escapes him and will take control and torture him until he succumbs.

Maybe, being less talented that Kurt Cobain was, I don’t need to worry. Then again, I think I might strive for balance, just in case.

What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

So yes, I enjoy listening to Elvis Costello sometimes, and that song in particular.

But it was NPR that I was listening to when my mind started to wander (sorry, David Green) and I stumbled onto yet another blinding flash of the obvious.

I was thinking about people who are not happy. They may not be unhappy, but still, they feel something is missing, something is not right, and sometimes they are not sure what it is, or why they feel that way. And it makes my heart ache to see this.

I began to wonder why I don’t question myself more about my own happiness. “Do what makes you happy,” and “You deserve to be happy” are statements I hear and accept without skepticism. But should I? Is that all there is? Just being happy and doing what I want? Feeling entitled to something? While there is nothing funny or trivial about happiness, I  believe I might need something more. (And yes, I realize that does sound entitled.)

I realized (and this is what should have been obvious to me) that the question I have become preoccupied with is, “What is God’s will?” I spend more time wondering, “What should I do?” than asking “How do I feel?” It’s more about actions and attitude than about emotions. The emotions are secondary. Peace, love, and understanding are about what you do, not what you feel.

In his book The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton recalls his realization that anyone–anyone!–can be a saint, if they allow God to make them one. That sounds so much easier than it is! And there is no promise that such a path leads to happiness. But it might lead to something greater.

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” –Thomas Merton

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with art, or drawing, or journals. The answer: I’m not sure. But I do know that figuring out what to do depends on your opportunities to be quiet and listen sometimes. And art is a great way to be quiet. Creatively quiet, letting your mind wander into those blinding flashes of the obvious.

Making It Count

 

OK, so instead of whining about how little time I have, I thought I’d share five quick tips I use for making the most of my time.

1. The first should be obvious: get your stuff together. If you only have five, ten, or fifteen minutes to spare, you don’t want to waste it hunting down your journal or favorite pen. If you have a desk, keep the tools to use most often at arms reach. If you cannot leave items out (maybe you have little kids, like me), then just keep it all together in a shoebox up on a shelf.

2. Remember that it’s ok to be simple. Others may create complex layers in their pieces with sophisticated combinations of color and media. It’s ok if you don’t do that. It still counts as art.

3. Begin with the end in mind, like Stephen Covey says. It’s best if you have an idea of what you want to do when you first sit down. You don’t have to be holding the complete sketch or journal page layout in your head, but it helps to know which journal you want to work in, if you’ll be using watercolors or pencil, and so on. To keep from getting frustrated, it also helps to be clear at the onset how much you hope to get finished. Say to yourself, “I am just going to get a pencil sketch down, next time I’ll start to add watercolor.” (What do I think about on Friday afternoons when I am stuck in traffic? What journal page I am going to work on Saturday morning, of course!)

4. Work even when you’re not inspired–it lays the groundwork for when you are. Spend a few minutes cutting sheets to size, sharpening pencils, or creating interesting backgrounds you will collage or draw on top of later. For those times when you are inspired, remember to stop short of working through all your ideas. It works like this: if you sit down and work until you are stuck and have no ideas left, then you’ll never want to come back to that piece because you have no idea of what to do next. Stopping just short of your last idea, saying to yourself, “OK, I know what I am going to do next,” means that whenever you have a chance to come back, you already know what to do, and that smooths your transition back into the piece.

5. And the last is easy–or at least, it should be: have fun! Remember there should be some joy in creating. Don’t lose it!

Does It Take Five Minutes?

…’cause that’s what I have time for. Anything that takes five minutes or less gets done; everything else has to wait.

Having spent five and a half years getting used to the limited energy that a brain injury leaves you with, I feel ok about this. Although some interpret my attitude as either aloofness or self-importance, it isn’t either. I am used to prioritizing ruthlessly, to cutting things out of my schedule that  I really enjoy–knowing that I won’t really enjoy them anyway if I’m worn out.

A few minutes with my art journal here and there is all I’ve had time for. (I’ve had even less time to upload those pages to flickr or tumblr to share with others.) At least those time constraints have led to some interesting results. What is hastily done doesn’t have time to get precious, and what might seem careless can also seem care-free.

But I hate letting others down. I’ve got some pending blog posts and other updates to share here that I will get to–promise.

As soon as I have more than five minutes. 🙂