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

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!

The Thing Itself

“Not Ideas About the Thing, But the Thing Itself” is a Wallace Steven poem that has fascinated me since I was first introduced to it in college. At the time, it was the most obscure poem I had ever read, and I just couldn’t figure it out. It was a “welcome to college where you’ll find out that you’re not as smart as you think you are” moment. It was a moment of authenticity.

And authenticity is what I think of when I read that poem today; after all, we seem to live in a culture that is hungry for experiences that are direct, immediate, and most importantly, authentic. This has a good side: protesters across the world can take videos with cell phones and instantly upload them to the internet to show us what their totalitarian leaders are really up to. On the other hand, it means that “The Jersey Shore” and other reality shows like it are the most popular shows on television. I have no numbers to prove this,  but instinct tells me that today more people read blogs than newspapers.

There’s more–think of how few people write first novels anymore. They write memoirs instead. And think of how professional wrestling has lost the interest of many, while the UFC is growing. The first time I saw an UFC fight on TV, I told my husband (a blue belt in jiu-jitsu), “But it just looks like two guys in a street fight!” Exactly. Whereas professional wrestling is a performance, this stuff looks real.

Our culture today rejects anything that seems too manufactured, too polished, too precious. We want the real thing.

But what does this have to do with journals and art? I wonder that myself.

It was a little less than 15 years ago when I first saw example of art journals at a presentation given by Tracy and Teesha Moore. The idea that you’d make art that is just for you–just like you’d write a diary that you never intended anyone else to read–and then show it, was so new that it was a shock to me. But now art journals and sketchbooks are hardly new; in fact, they seem to be all over. There’s the 1000 Journals Project. The Sketchbook Project. There are books and books of examples and how-to’s; there are websites, too.

It used to be that artists’ sketchbooks were private places where they worked out the challenges of larger, finished pieces that were intended for a wider audience. The finished piece was “the real thing.” Today the opposite seems to be true–those raw, unfinished pages seem more real. More genuine.

And so even if the popularity of “the Jersey Shore” makes me worry, more sketchbooks–and more art–in the world doesn’t.

The Trouble with Hands

Hands are hard to draw. But you already knew that, right? I created the watercolor backgrounds for this journal page in just minutes, then spent hours (and a lot of my eraser) drawing the hands.

What I didn’t realize at the time–and what a visit to the library for a book on drawing techniques or a trip to a museum to look at the work of some masters could have taught me–was that it is sometimes ok to just suggest or imply instead of drawing every detail outright. As my pencil point became blunt as I worked (because I refused to come up for air, stop, and sharpen the darn thing), I found I liked the results better. Up close, it was not clear what those blunt marks referred to. But when I looked at the finished page as a whole, they fit in and led the eye to complete what was not “really” there.

The trouble with hands is: they can’t do it alone. The eye has to engage, participate, and share in the work. But then, I guess that is true of all art.

After creating an abstract piece, I expect a viewer to attach meaning or emotion to what they see–even if it is meaning that I didn’t intent to put there. Their view is their experience, after all.

Maybe figurative work isn’t so different. And so, with that thought, I am going back to my journal. My hands still need some work.

Watercoler abstract mounted on chocolate brown mat board.

Erased Messages

I journal page I worked on recently with some water-soluble graphite pencils. I took it to work yesterday.

Yesterday, I hung up a recent journal page on the bulletin board in my office. I do that sometimes–it gives me a chance to think about a page or technique, and what does or doesn’t work about it, while I eat lunch at my desk. (I gotta get in that art contemplation time whenever I can!)

Both my bulletin boards (there are two) and my white boards (I have three) at work are full. There are to-do reminders, photos of the kids, schedules and calendars, thank you notes, awards and certificates, and the random journal page or two. Until yesterday, there was also the last two notes from co-workers that were left for me when I was out of the office recuperating from my brain surgery.

Those notes–short and simple but generous in spirit–are precious to me. There were so many of them! I will never forget my first day back at work after medical leave when I walked to my office and found that the white board on my door (where I sometimes post my schedule for the day) had been covered with kind messages from friends at work. “We miss you.” “We love you.” “Can’t wait until you’re back.” I left those messages there for years–three years, in fact. They were encouraging reminders that I saw daily, and they helped me get through some difficult days when I felt exhausted and frustrated by my limitations.

And then, I erased them. Three years after I returned to work, I was suddenly tired of being, “the girl who had the brain tumor.” I decided that my co-workers and I would have plenty of ups and downs to share in the times ahead, and I didn’t have to keep those messages as if they were the only kind words that would ever be written to me. (Plus, the were starting to get smudged.) Those messages were written on my heart and mind–I no longer needed to see them to remember them.

There were also notes handwritten on cards or scraps of paper, and these I moved to my bulletin board. Yesterday, however, there was no space left for the journal page I wanted to put up, so I decided it was time to take down the last two messages. I put them in a drawer. Hung up my journal page. Remembered that I needed to be “future-focused.” And tried to have a normal work day until 5.