Go with It

Yesterday morning I submitted my final project for class, and today I am feeling so relieved that I am almost giddy. (Whee–another class down, just four left to go!)

That–in addition to the images in a jewelry catalog a co-worker showed me yesterday afternoon–has me making collages like crazy. You know the feeling: that burst of energy that carries you to your art desk early in the morning and keeps you there until the household chores (and the children) just can’t be ignored any longer.

For me, such a time is to be prized, since there aren’t many “bursts” of energy since my surgery. I have to go with each one while it  lasts! The laundry can wait.

Come to think of it, I’ve started (and never gotten around to finishing) quite a few books on maintaining creative energy. I am sure those books are full of good ideas for keeping the spark bright. But for me, the answer is always the same: take care of myself. I need sleep, I need rest, I need to pace myself, and I need not to feel down when the urge to make or draw or paint something has temporarily left me despite doing everything right: like getting enough sleep and exercising and resting when I should.

There are just days like that, and it is better to accept them, leaving myself open to enjoy the times when it all works out and I’m having fun making art.

Today, I’ve made a few mini-collages to be necklace pendants, and I like how they came out so much that I might make a few more. After all, the weekend is young and I still have some energy left!

…and that’s how it goes…

I am sure anyone creative has experienced one or more of these extremes: you have time, but no inspiration; you have plenty of  ideas, but no time; you have both time and ideas, until you sit down and are facing a blank piece of paper, at which time either a child starts demanding attention or all your ideas evaporate. This past week I’ve experienced all three.

Taking those distance learning classes through Ithaca Collage  has really cut down my art time, my online time, my reading time … my time for everything! I am glad I am taking the classes because I am learning so much, most of which I can apply to my job immediately. I certain these nine months of hectic living will be worth it, even if I seem to be complaining.

However, I miss making art! I miss seeing the art of others online! Sigh…

My current compromise is this–be simple. Since I am only going to have a brief amount of free time to devote to art, I need to sketch something small, something uncomplicated, something I can finish fast. Either that, or it has to be something I can break down into simple steps, so I can put the piece away at a moment’s notice and then pick it up later (whenever “later” comes).

Doing pieces like this 4×4″ simple sketch of a branch keeps me from feeling like I have abandoned my sketchbook. Yes, I’ve already drawn branches just like this one a million times. But I tried to make it look more interesting by doing the sketch on a map–something colorful, instead of white paper. And no, it’s not my best sketch ever. But for now, it’s good enough!

My Randomness is Infinite

Trying out a stamp I carved....

Sometimes I feel that I need greater creative focus. You know how it is: I have limited time and energy, so whatever I can get done isn’t going to amount to much unless I focus on getting one thing done–all the way done–before moving on. Besides, I feel guilty whenever I find a half-finished and now-forgotten art project in a drawer or cabinet, all alone like an orphaned child.

Yet although I want to focus, there are times when I just can’t seem to make it happen–the line from the start of a project doesn’t seem to lead straight to its completion. For example, a while back Fran posted pictures of some of the stamps she carved by hand on her blog. They were wonderful, and I immediately remembered that I loved to carve stamps myself and that I had some Staedtler MasterCarve blocks ready and waiting in my art stash. I quickly got them out, put them on my desk, and started thinking of what to carve.

But that was back in October! And when did I finally carve that stamp? Just four days ago. I got tired of those blank carving blocks staring at me whenever I sat at my desk to work on another journal page or watercolor or drawing. “I have done so much–why haven’t I made time to carve a stamp?” I kept asking myself. Since I had no good answer (except that “lack of focus” thing), I did one stamp–had a lot of fun, by the way!–and put the other uncarved blocks away because I have way too much going on. I’m trying to make some cards to sell and maybe set up an Etsy account, remember?

These are great!

But just as I was promising myself that I would do better, my latest order from amazon.com arrived: a set of 12 Inktense Pencils and some watercolor paper. Once I peeked inside the pencil tin and saw the wonderful colors in there, I decided I’d start keeping that promise next week. (It took me six months to get around to carving a stamp–I wasn’t going to let these pencils sit unused for that long!)

In the end, I decided that I would compromise with myself this way: do something toward finishing one long-term project, then do something else that I just randomly want to try. (This makes these side projects seem move like a diversion than a distraction.) So this morning I photographed about half the cards I plan to offer for sale and, once that was done, I treated myself to some time with the new Inktense pencils. (Everyone says these are great, and they really are! So creamy to draw with, such bright colors when wet!) I hope that I may have found a balance between chaos and control, focus and randomness… we’ll see! After all, a quick count reveals that I have more than 30 books downloaded to my e-reader–none of them finished–yet.

Do I Dare?

Here in Texas, it’s spring. I’ve shed my sweaters, the boys can’t be kept inside, and, on Friday, our dog slipped the surly bonds of the backyard fence to run off for a few hours. Yes, we all have a bit more energy.

My mind has wandered, too, returning to an idea I’ve had many times before: making artwork to sell. Yet–do I dare?

Friends have told me that I could do it simply because I make artwork that they, themselves, would be willing to pay for. And, in fact, I’ve made pieces for those who have requested it and been paid a bit (a little bit) of money in return. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

And I don’t even mean the practical things like setting up an etsy.com store or a PayPal account or deciding prices. (Details like that can seem overwhelming!)

My hesitation is about “turning play into work.” It seems like just the other day I wrote about how making art needs to be a peaceful, joyous exercise for me. Will I lose that if I start creating artwork for sale? Will it suddenly seem more like a chore than a choice?

And yet, the lure of the validation of selling a piece (for money!) is hard to resist. It would be the same kind of silly excitement I feel whenever someone favorites an image of mine on flickr–I think, “someone likes it, really likes it!”–but exponentially more so. Of course, the potential for failure looms large in my mind too. (What if people like my stuff, but no enough to buy any of it?)

If, by now, you are thinking that I am over-thinking this, you are right. I should just get to work and make some cards, right? (I’ve already made about 10, which I will post soon!)

Drawn to Dreamland

A detail from the Unicorn Tapestries.

Sometimes, the stress of everyday life seems too much. I race from meeting to meeting at work, race around helping to take care of the boys when I get home, and by the time my body collapses into bed, my mind is racing. Sleep can seem a long time off.

So I’ve started taking 15 to 30 minutes at night once the boys are asleep–no matter how tired my body feels and no matter how many dishes are in the sink–to draw. I find an image from an art book at home and copy it (or just a portion of it). It works wonders for relaxation!

Because I am copying another’s work, this exercise is both good practice and pressure-free. (I don’t have to spend mental energy trying to be creative or original.) It must also be good for my mental health, because once I close my sketchbook, I immediately drift into a trouble-free dreamland.

Ahhh…

From the movie set model for Gormenghast Castle.

From William Moriss's Chrysanthemum Wallpaper.

Quick Update: The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition

My submission for The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition: spread 1

This hasn’t been a week conducive to blogging. It’s been too busy for clear thoughts… like “what’s my name again?”… let alone writing!

So rather than force myself to come up with something that wouldn’t be worth your precious reading time, I’ve photographed and posted the first three spreads from my contribution to The Sketchbook Project, Limited Edition. My theme is “The Secret and How We Tell It,” which I am excited about.

I used to create a lot of photocopier art, which I’ve incorporated into the book. I also took the time to rebind the book, creating new pages from 90 lbs. Canson Foundation Series Watercolor paper. This paper has been perfect–not too heavy for a slim book, yet heavy enough to take washes of acrylic color and layers of acrylic gloss medium without buckling.

There will be more pages from the book–and more meaningful blog entries–coming soon!

And P.S.–As I write this, there are still more than 1,000 openings for this project. Head over to arthousecoop.com to sign up!

Spread 2.

Spread 3.

Something Different

"It didn't come today--again!"

I use my time with my art journals to relax, to be peaceful, to move my hands–because when I do that, it helps my brain work things out. I try new techniques and new art supplies. I try to get better at drawing. I hardly ever illustrate a struggle I am having or a problem I am experiencing, although I know others do and find it very therapeutic. Instead, my journal is a respite from those things.

Until this week, when I did something different. When I sat down at my art journal, all I could think about was Antonio’s calendar.

But I should start at the beginning: a little while ago I made a calendar for him because, as someone on the autism spectrum, he has a bit of trouble understanding what’s past and what’s future. He lives in the moment, and this presents some problems. For example, three days before Christmas, he started sobbing suddenly. Why? Because he thought Christmas had passed and no one had told him, and he had missed it. With a calendar, we can cross off each day and he can be sure there’s nothing he’ll miss. Using it, we arrived at Three Kings Day without tears! (Although whenever I hear someone preaching that we need to live more “in the now,” I still roll my eyes.)

Recently, Antonio wanted to order a special toy online with some of the money he received for Christmas. Now, most adults that you could ask would tell you that they are satisfied with amazon.com’s shipping speed, but they aren’t 6-year-olds with an autism spectrum disorder. The steps of order processing, shipping from the warehouse, and arriving at our home seemed like torture to him. Each day after the order was placed, I arrived home from work to a disappointed son who would moan, “It didn’t come today–again!”

No matter what I said or did, he just didn’t understand why he didn’t have the toy already. I could not reach him–not through compassion or logic–and that was torture to me.

Of course, once the package arrived, all the waiting was forgotten and he was happy. (Maybe there are a few benefits to living in the moment after all.) Me? All I’m left with is a journal page and a question: what do I do differently next time?

A journal page made just to help me relax

Sometimes, It’s About the “Stuff”

Yay for Moleskine notebooks and other great art supplies!

This time of year seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about consumerism in our culture and question whether it has gotten out of hand. But since I don’t have anything original to say on that topic, I won’t bother saying anything at all.

But I will write about “stuff”–my art stuff, to be exact.

The other day I went to the store to buy some Moleskine journals. Those Moleskines aren’t cheap, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. And it was the week before Christmas, so I had to fight to find a parking space at the store and then stand in line to pay. My wait gave me ample time to ask myself, “Why are you doing this? What makes this notebook different than any other?” Yet I wasn’t able to articulate, even to myself, what exactly justified their price and my effort. So I just headed home with some new Moleskines and was happy.

By the time I got home, I had changed to wondering why I get so much satisfaction from art supplies–and not just my journals and notebooks. I love new paintbrushes, and paints, and fresh colored pencils, and pens I can uncap for the first time. This feeling would be easier to understand if I told you I enjoyed these tools whenever I use them, but the truth is that it is more than that. I like knowing they are there at my art desk waiting for me. I enjoy arranging them and rearranging them in my art cabinet. I can’t wait to wander all the aisles of an art supply store, even when I have gone there to purchase one thing and one thing only. I just like “stuff.” And I don’t think I am the only one!

I had a friend who suggested that these feelings might be rooted in “creative avoidance.” I.e.–The idea that if you are feeling uninspired and lack confidence in your creativity, you can at least enjoy the tools of creativity without actually using them (and perhaps failing). Hmm. Maybe.

Or it is that we, as artists, are looking for newness and novelty? After all, it’s easier to buy a new sketchbook and pencil than it is to learn to draw somthing new or in a new way.

Neither of those explainations seem totally wrong, but they don’t seem totally right, either. I am not sure what causes us to connect with objects, but when one of my boys wants to sleep with a new toy of his right on the nightstand next to him, I somehow understand. In fact, maybe I’ll slip one of those Moleskines under my pillow tonight.

Searching for a Psalmist

Acts 9:3-4

I sometimes ask myself: now that I have recovered so much since my brain surgery, what’s next? What is the point of such a miracle if I waste it?

There are days when I feel that the only right response to the gift of recovery is to honor God with every journal page I create. But then I find myself aimlessly doodling things I like, or making a collage of what feels good, and I can hardly scold myself. I gain so much peace of mind from the time I spend with my art journal, it would be wrong to call it “a waste,” even when the images don’t refer to religion, or spirituality, or the Bible. I want to honor God, but I don’t think would be right for my journal to become a chore or my art time to be when I ask myself if I have been holy enough. Such a burden doesn’t seem like the point of my recovery, either.

After all, even Bono’s lyrics vary a bit.While he often sings of his questions to and his search for God in a raw and honest way, that is not the only subject he explores in his music. Nevertheless, in his songs I often here the voice of the Psalmist–and as Thomas Merton says, “The Psalms are songs of men who knew who God was.”

That’s the kind of voice I am searching for! So even if I wander from that path, it is still my goal. Enjoy the holiday season, everyone!