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

That Yes or No Question

Years ago, I was introduced to a man through my job that I knew immediately must have been through a grim battle. He was polite, smart, and reserved. Yet his solemn mien told me he had stared the undertaker in the eye and said a firm, resounding, “No.”

I never got to know him well, but others who did told me that he had survived cancer. So that explained it.

Since my brain surgery, I often think of him. I feel that in many ways I have said “no” to limitations and defeats of my own, and I wonder if those who meet me see my scars so obviously, like I saw his.

But, the thing is, I don’t want to be known for saying no. I want people to hear me saying “yes” after I have refused defeat.

Not because I think that, in saying “yes,” I have the better, wiser, more complete answer. There are times when you are so injured in your fight that all you can do is manage to stand your ground and say “no,” and that is the bravest, most powerful, best thing you can do. But “no” leaves little room for whimsy and fun. Any joy must be quiet.

For me, the fight is not over once I have said “no” to a circumstance that would defeat me. It continues until I am able to say “yes” to other things, the next things, better things.

I have found that my enjoyment of my sons, art, and life as a whole has to come from a place of yes. I don’t want to feel as if I can no longer doodle goofy hearts, act silly with my three-year-old, or even (get this) forget the whole brain surgery thing for a few minutes. To do any of that, I have to find a way to say “yes.”

Don’t mistake me–I don’t want to seem as if I have never been through trials and tough experiences. Yes, they have forever changed me. But they cannot define me.

Group Hug! (And a humble thank you, too.)

It been about six months, and over a thousand views, since I started this blog. My original goal in writing was to assuage some guilt: many people told me that I should write a book about my brain surgery and recovery–so many and so often that I was afraid that my lack of action was becoming offensive to them. (“Why won’t she listen to us?” I could hear them mutter.)

I didn’t want to seem lazy. And I fully believed (and still do) that if what I learned from my experiences can provide help or comfort to anyone–well, then it was all worthwhile. I was flattered by the suggestions and didn’t want to seem ungrateful. But a whole book? I sense the possibilities, yet with a full-time job and two young kids–do you think I need a new project?

A blog, with brief posts and no deadlines, seemed like the perfect compromise.

So here we are, readers and writer, for my last entry of 2011. And I have to say thank you, because I have learned so much from my readers! You have commented, emailed, and otherwise told me how much a certain post or journal page meant to you. You have shared your own experiences with me. You have given my blog and my artwork your time and attention–two things that always seem in short supply these days! You have given me encouragement and compliments. You have shown me time and again that art and creativity really can connect us all. People seem amazed at my recovery, yet they don’t realize what a large part they have in it. (What, did you think I did this by myself?)

Did I say thank you? Then I need to say it again. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s have a virtual group hug as we head into 2012. I wish great things for all of us!

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!

Remember Color?

All that’s left to complete for my submission to The Sketchbook Project 2012 is to wrap up my journal into a safe package and send it off. Yes, I’ve finished the pages, scanned them, and over the next few days I will have the last handful of images color-corrected and posted to flickr. Yay!

It’s surprising to me that I’ve enjoyed working on the project so much that I don’t even mind that I am parting with the journal. I thought it would be hard for me to give up something I had carefully created, but instead I am excited and look forward to sharing it. (In fact, I just signed up for The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition!)

It is also a bit surprising–and kind of funny–that although I fully embraced the “monochromatic” theme, now that I am back to my personal journal, I am also back to color. I really love my water-soluble graphite pencils that I used though out my journal for The Sketchbook Project, and I have even created some personal journal pages with them. But I haven’t touched them for a few days now.

Instead, I’ve been using many of the paints and inks (and crayons and pencils) that I put aside for the brief time I was working on my monochromatic pages. So, I guess it’s a “color correction” in it’s own way.

Going back and forth between extremes–that achieves balance, right?

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

An Easy Journal to Make

Recently, I’ve seen a few artists online who have made Teesha Moore’s 16-page journal. That motivated me to post the instructions for Pam Carriker’s 12-page journal, although I haven’t posted a “how-to” here before.

I like Pam’s journal because it’s a bit simpler, involves no measuring, uses the single sheet efficiently, and can easily be adapted to any size sheet. And it really does take only about ten minutes to make! I have made this type of journal twice, both times using 14×17 sheets of Strathmore drawing paper. (One is the Everyday Journal I posted on flickr: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjw2quTm.) I like to work small, but I think I will try making one from a 22×30 sheet next time.

Some notes on the instructions: 1) Maybe you want to reverse steps 4 and 5 so that you don’t accidentally tear open the folds that are to be to the spine. 2) For heavier paper, wet the edges you will tear open; it makes it easier. 3) Want 24 pages? Just do the same steps with two sheets at once instead of one.

Have fun!

Speaking Without Words

I am almost finished with my submission for The 2012 Sketchbook Project! Hooray–just one more page to go!

I’ll admit that I was somewhat intimidated at the start of the project, mainly because you are asked to choose a theme for your sketchbook when you sign up online. A theme? None of my journals have ever had a theme! At least, no theme other than “me”: what I am working on, what I am thinking about, and what I am exploring at the time. (Is that too self-centered?)

But whether I am intimidated or not, I generally follow rules; so I signed up and selected a theme from the list that was given without too much fuss. In many places on the website there were encouragements to use the themes as guides and suggestions, not limitations. I still felt a little uneasy. I had decided on “monochromatic,” since I felt that was safe–I could use it to influence my method or media, if not my subjects.

After all, giving my sketchbook a theme–Hopes and Failures, The Worst Story Ever Told, or a similar one from the list of suggestions–would be to bare more than I am ready for. I take comfort in the fact that no one really knows what my doodles, collages, paintings, and journal pages are all about. Their response to anything I put out there remains just that–theirs.

I think back to one of my favorite bands when I was in college, The Cocteau Twins, and how you could never really understand the lyrics that their vocalist was singing. I heard her (Liz Fraser) explain it in an interview this way: that she had some painful experiences, that she wanted to talk about them and express her pain in some way, yet she was afraid to do that, so keeping her lyrics difficult to distinguish kept her protected. She was speaking, but no one could really understand what she was saying. Online, I found this quote from her: “It’s amazing though…I mean really the records are…a representation of our coping skills…”

Yes, it’s more than a little ironic to sing into a microphone and hope that no one understands you, just like it doesn’t make any sense to post art online on this big,vast internet and then refuse to tell anyone what it’s really about. But we all cope in our own way.