A manipulated ink & Sharpie blind contour drawing of my canine best friend, Murphy.
Blind contour captures the essence better than anything.
If you've been to college or university to study art, you no doubt have been asked to be consistent with using a sketchbook. In fact, the two schools where I have attended, it was mandatory in most classes. In the college I attended as a kid out of high school, along with the three hours we spent every day in the drawing studio doing mostly gesture drawing, we were also required to bring a full sketchbook back after summer holidays. (I think my next blog will be about the importance and freedom found in blind contour and gesture drawing.) Perhaps I was one of the lucky ones because I loved this exercise, and still do, but like it or not, my drawing skills would never be remotely what they are today without these age old traditions.
I have currently embarked on a new mission: more sketchbook - less screen. Or, as Corey R. Tabor, an illustrator that I found online stated - more drawing, less clicking! So whether my chosen format for keeping sharp and developing ideas is a traditional bound notebook, dollar store canvas, chunks of cardboard, walls, the floor, or the back of old wrapping paper, one thing is for sure, ideas rarely, if ever, fall out of my brain onto a canvas fully developed. They always need tweaking and exploration. Any worthwhile depth I have achieved in my work has never happened while I was sitting and thinking about an idea; it takes roll-up-the-sleeves action.
As I draw daily, one thing accumulates on top of another and leads me forward to places that would have been left undiscovered without this process. Picasso said, "I have an idea, and then it becomes something else." I love this. For me, 'the something else' is what I'm hunting for, and the greatest success with leading me to that 'something else' is to use a sketchbook.
Ideas frequently arrive while I'm driving, so I'm often alongside the road jotting something down, therefore, it is pretty handy to have a travel sized sketchbook in hand. Having one by my bed is a great asset as well. I find a nicely bound notebook type easier to carry around than canvas, cardboard, or the floor, so it is my preferred method.
Right now, I'm concentrating on an exhibition that will be held in the fall of 2018. In the past three weeks things have loosened up dramatically because I've been consistent with my sketchbook. It's like when I haven't been consistent with daily walking and drinking enough water. It's a no-brainer, but I allow life to get in the way and I fall off the wagon. So, in the first week of using my sketchbook faithfully, I went from feeling like I was drowning to being ready to bring some transformed ideas to fruition. Now, don't get me wrong, there will always be unique things transpire on the canvas when it comes to the finished work; this is another crucial step in my process, but the initial development stage, for me, is vital, if I want something fresh to emerge. If you've never earnestly tried it, it may also be a wellspring for you.
So here are the 7 summarized reasons a sketchbook is my best friend as an artist:
1. I can trust it to always loosen up and uncover latent ideas and images that would otherwise stay dormant and locked away in the dark recesses of my brain.
2. One idea unleashes another idea and another and another; they multiply without fail if I just follow their lead.
3. It keeps my skill set sharp. Just like a musician, you have to work at honing your chops. I guess a person really does have to put in those 10,000 hours.
4. I feel so much better having thoughts and idea out on paper, or cardboard, or cheap canvas, or napkins, or, or...instead of them having them trapped inside my head.
5. I'm always looking for something new in my art practice. Doing a daily drawing can relieve the stressful anxiety that comes along with these uncharted waters. Most artists have felt like there were drowning at one time or another...this is an effective form of venting. Sketchbook therapy.
6. Barring fire and flood, it's a secure place to preserve ideas. As I mentioned, I spend time on the side of the road getting an idea down before it floats away. Ideas can be elusive, capturing them is especially important for me before I go to bed. If I draw it, write it, or record it somehow, I have at least given myself a better chance that my insomnia may leave me alone for the night.
7. It's exciting to know that there is a guaranteed new frontier within the pages of a $15 sketchbook; a world beckoning and waiting to be uncovered. What an exhilarating prospect! I literally just need to show up.
So, I have challenged myself, again, to dare to uncover all the nuggets that I know exist along this journey. Will a segue to the next body of work emerge? Most likely.
I challenge you to do the same. I dare you. I triple double dare you. What do you have to lose? 15 minutes from your day that you may otherwise spend in front of a screen, perhaps? It's all there, just waiting for us to step up to the plate. I'm dead serious when I say that it could change your life for the better. I'm on Day 25, so you better get started, or I'll whoop your butt! Like I said, what I uncovered in the first week of this recent journey rather blew my mind.
Heading into new territory without leaving home,
The Podunk Howler
My brief research of amusement parks has told me that some people rate The Millenium Force, a roller coaster in Sandusky, Ohio, as the number one all round ride in the US. (I'm sure this could be hotly debated, but for my purposes here, it doesn't matter.) Apparently, it is 6,595 feet of nonstop fun where you reach a top speed of 93 miles per hour at a maximum height of 310 feet. I don't know much about theme parks, they're not my speed, pun intended, but this, and for that matter, any of the hundreds of roller coasters that exist in the world sound like lunacy to me.
Like it or not, however, we all must ride the inevitable, precarious curves of life. It takes courage to endure the ups and downs that can leave your stomach up, when your body is already down. It takes wisdom and faith to withstand the G forces as they plaster you against the wall. Apparently, a high G-force rate endured for too long has the capacity to drain all the blood from your brain, render you unconscious, or leave you blind, so the makers of roller coasters literally take you to the edge of death, but not beyond. How thoughtful. (When my children were small, we anxiously watched my husband as he rode The Mindbender - the world's largest indoor roller coaster in the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada. There are differing opinions online as to the experienced G-force, some say 6.8 and some say 5.2. The duration of the ride is 1 minute 13 seconds. When the 'fun' ended, there was a guy throwing up in the nearest trash can, and my husband, who had gritted his teeth at the beginning of the ride and had unknowingly caught his cheek in his teeth, was left wincing in pain with a mouthful of blood. Oh, such merry frivolity!
Life is never without challenges; just when one fire is brought into submission, another one flares up somewhere else. So, like everyone else in my neck of the woods, I'm currently navigating numerous challenging 'first world' rides. Maybe they are timid in comparison to the crazy theme park statistics mentioned above and they aren't the wildest rides I've endured in life, but nevertheless there is some G force action involved.
When I look back over my lifetime, one of the things that helped me then, and now, turn unsavoury situations into something palatable, was filtering the issues through some type of artistic pursuit - various endeavours that help to process and corral my thoughts and feelings into something manageable. Sometimes the results are ephemeral and feed the shredder, but others are keepers; some even develop into bodies of work.
I still haven't tried number nine: throwing cheap cans of paint on walls, but it is brewing to a breaking point where I will need to do it soon. Note to self: put number nine on the calendar for some time in the spring of 2018. Invite my grandchildren to join in. Crazy or not, it's on my "bucket" list. I can feel the liberation.
I wish I had always implemented the following actions, quickly, but i confess that I have wallowed in the mud a bit too long at times. These are cathartic, tried and trusted methods of surviving my own Towers of Terror (a notorious roller coaster in Johannesburg, South Africa):
1. We've heard it a million times. Journal. Maybe there's a reason we've heard it a million times. If you tend to obsess about things, like me, set pen to paper and write, write, write. Don't edit. Just write. I know some of you are too young to remember the great English band called the Moody Blues, but they had a fantastic line in a song that was profound: "...letters I've written, never meaning to send..." One of my "letters" turned into a fictional fable that I was asked to read at a university symposium a few years ago. It is called Poor Sad Henry Blight, but that's another story for another time.
2. Memoir writing, short bits at a time. At the beginning of 2017, I started a project with my kids and their spouses. Each Sunday, I send them a question - things like what fads do you remember from when you were a kid? Or do you have a namesake? At the end of the year, we will each have our own mini-memoir and who knows where that may lead? If you don't have kids, just do it for yourself. There are many lists of questions online for this purpose. check them out and you might uncover some fun things that you've forgotten.
3. Write short stories...or blogs! I love creative non-fiction but maybe you would enjoy science fiction! So, even if no one ever reads my Podunk ramblings, they are assisting me in my creativity. (if there is someone reading this, though, please let me know.)
4. Mind map. it is a great practice for organizing a visual person's thoughts. This is also a great way to loosen up a creative block and serve as a beginning point for idea development and can have the potential to turn into a work of art, itself. There are lots of websites dedicated to this topic.
5. Draw. Keep that sketchbook humming. Take it with you in the car. Whatever the choppy waters are, draw them; you may gain a fresh perspective. I recently found a quote by an illustrator named Corey R. Tabor - "Spend more time drawing and less time clicking." I like it.
6. Personal history timelines. These can help sort out the scope of one's like and bring back memories long buried. Even when dealing with a dark period, it's helpful to find something good to salvage. Each segment of time can be illustrated as you go, don't be fussy, just draw or write quickly. the results can be turned into a book, or displayed on a wall, or join the shredded thoughts already decomposing in your compost bin. (I've found timelines particularly effective in my work with kids who have had a raw deal in life. It can help to bring order from a shambolic mess.)
7. Paint. Getting bold and experimental with paint application releases a lot of stress. Don't be afraid of making a mistake. There is no such thing in art. I'll repeat that. There is no such thing as a mistake in art. Take it out on the canvas; it's very forgiving. Experiment with unusual tools and materials. May I suggest using a blow torch on canvas, as I have done in the past? This is a highly recommended prescription for artistic constipation, but make sure you are outside with either snow or water available. I love Cai Guo-Qiang's gunpowder drawings! Check him out. It's phenomenal. Action drawing. Action painting. Thanks, Jackson Pollock; I'm sorry about your anguished roller coaster ride, but it has been our gain.
8. Photo journal. Along with my sketchbook, I love using my iPhone and photo manipulation apps to create series of images. The things I see around me every day can be turned into seriously great pieces of art.
9. Buy super cheap cans of paint. (There is a place nearby where I live that sells cans of inexpensive premixed paint gone awry.) Next, throw paint onto chosen target.
I hope from this list, that someone has gleaned an idea to help them through a roller coaster season. If you're musical or theatrical, any one of these can be adapted to those skills as well. It is one of my greatest joys to inspire someone to be creative, even better if the creativity can help them heal.
Until next time, I'll be making art and navigating life in Podunk.
"And whether or not, it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should." Excerpt from Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, 1927
I admit that I constantly worry uselessly, but really, when is worry ever useful? And in spite of my fretting and fussing, things most often evolve and resolve without any effort on my part whatsoever. However, and this is the key, it is incumbent that I be aware of myself and my surroundings in order to notice, and be ready to adapt, when solutions are revealed.
In the 1970s, everyone had a Desiderata poster on their wall. Who is brave enough to date themselves and admit to remembering this, besides me? 'Go placidly amidst the noise and haste...' Les Crane, possibly thinking that the poem was public domain, turned it into a spoken word hit song. (For the younger set, check it out; there are many versions online.) I just read on numerous websites, however, that apparently it was not yet public property and Mr. Crane it seems had to pay out unexpected royalties. Hopefully, he calmly rested in the 'universe unfolding as it should' when he handed over a chunk of his profit.
In my own small universe, I have have been anxious about how to fit everything I love to do in the context of one year. The people in my inner circle have heard me say many times that I need about 20 lifetimes to be able to comfortably dedicate a season to each of my passions. Painting, horses, drawing, gardening, printmaking, genealogy, illustration, writing, landscape architect, pottery, architecture...
Being a gardener, and maybe because I grew up on a farm, my world still rotates on a seasonal axis. It turns out that this seasonal routine is a good thing for me. As an artist, when I am in creative mode, I can become emotionally drained in the giving of myself to my art. You may have heard it said that with each creation a part of an artist's soul is required. That may sound dramatic, but in my experience, it feels true.
So, even though I've danced around this idea for a few years, I hadn't concretely incorporated it into my life. However, it has become crystal clear recently, that the transition into Summer Girl that happens in May, annually, without fail, is a gift, and that it is counter-productive to fight it. The solution was sitting right there in front of me and I missed it. I need to allow myself the freedom to let go and not feel guilty to step away for a season; that staying in the 'I can do it all' mindset is a killer. I cannot do it all.
So, this summer, I blew it again, and wasted a ton more brain cells forcing Fall and Winter Girl to march alongside Summer Girl's ambitions. Rather than just let her rest I forced the issues. Rather than purely absorb the gift of being outside in the garden, and enjoy the planning for the outdoor quilt show, including making a quilt, be enough, I lost sleep and precious time being in a state of bother.
The two paintings that I'd started had become a drain; good art is difficult to produce under this kind of mental divide. Eventually I stopped and fought off the feelings of guilt. So, now I am absolutely resolved that May and September will be welcome, book end, transitional intermissions of adjustment, rest, tying up lose ends, and regrouping. A total gift. Next year, I am determined to embrace Summer Girl when the right time approaches and allow Fall & Winter Girl to have a sabbatical. Rather, than the fretting and fuming, I want to be grateful that my universe has unfolded, no doubt, as it should.
Embracing this freedom has lifted a weight off my shoulders. From an objective standpoint, it seems like this should have been a no-brainer, but somehow it has taken me numerous frustrated seasons to have it sink in. Dah.
Until next time,
The Podunk Howler
In order to maintain my equilibrium, I periodically find it helpful to engage in methodical activities like pulling weeds, painting 'barn quilts' or hanging clothes on a clothesline. I find a calmness in the activity. My brain gets a rest and afterward I can head back into a deeper and more demanding art project with restored and refreshed vision.
Yesterday, my husband and I had a visit from our old friend Robin. Drummer. Poet. Leather artist. Gentle soul. Not 30 seconds into the visit (theres no small talk with Robin), we were off on discussions about creativity which eventually led to the artistic benefits of methodical activity.
I discovered that he, too, finds hanging clothes on a line is one of his favourites. Currently, he is engaged in a love affair with his frozen, twisted pieces of clothing that he has left on the line for a long period of time this winter. He finds the beauty in th twists and curves of the fabric. I get it, but I'm more of a warm weather clothesline enthusiast. I love to see the sheets flapping and snapping in the wind. And, oh, how glorious bedding smells that has been dried outside! But that's another story...
Awhile ago, I heard a CBC radio newscast saying that somewhere in suburban Canada, outdoor clotheslines were being banned. It seems that the folks living in this area were offended at the sight of their neighbours 'undies' billowing in the breeze. At first I laughed out loud, but then, I felt astonished that in a world rife with problems, why would anyone get their 'bloomers in a knot' (pun intended) over such a triviality?
CBC recommended that, in protest, all listeners across our nation who are passionate about their right to hang laundry in the fresh air, do a load of washing, hang it on their clothesline, photograph said clothesline, and send it to them. So I did just that; it was amazing how many others did the same.
It seems that people are very partial to this activity and would defend their right to it with gusto! (Living in Podunk, I have no worries about a law like this encroaching on my rights.) So, I decided to take the idea a step further and eventually developed a series of drawings called Clothesline Wars. The series deals with how differing personalities would exercise civil disobedience and break the law to hang their clothing 'plein air'. (I wonder if Monet enjoyed his clothesline?)
The following are images of the two of the drawings that were the final result of 36 developmental sketches. The Peacemaker sits naked in her backyard with laundry strewn over the shrubbery, the Mercenary stands guard as a hired gun for her neighbour.
If you have any methodical madness ideas that work for you, please share them here.
Until next time.
1. Barn Quilts
I believe in civil responsibility - giving back to my community in some way. Volunteering. I've been know to say that if all the volunteers in our country resigned, our society would collapse. I believe that. Currently, my contribution to Podunk is a public garden that my husband and I created and have maintained for 11 years. Among other things, this garden hosts an annual outdoor quilt show. So, to add a little colour throughout the rest of the year, I've been creating 'barn quilts' - traditional quilt patterns painted on wooden sign board and put up on barns, if you have one, if not, your house, on your gate, or whatever space you can find. This is a fascinating grass roots art movement that has gained popularity in North America & Canada. To my understanding, in 2001, Donna Sue Groves, from Ohio, painted a wooden 'quilt block' and put it on her barn in honour of her mother. From there it has spread far and wide. You can check out the barn quilts at eleanorroseoutdoorquiltshow.com to find out what I'm talking about.
For me, as an artist, I find it helpful to do something methodical once in awhile to keep me from becoming lopsided. In the past, I have made some very beginner quilt tops and I have made the barn quilts. I also find weeding a garden helpful. I find it is a way to keep my hands busy while, in some ways, resting my brain.
2. Website Building
This venture definitely does not rest the brain. Every step I take seems to lead me further and further into the rabbit hole of technology where no one speaks my language. But, I press on and hope to emerge into the sunlight at some point, where I can understand SEO and how to do mass emails and write effective meta descriptions and...and...and...Yikes!!! Will I ever be bilingual? Probably not.
3. Packing and Transporting of Large Paintings
I am trying to develop a professional, clean, and simple transportation method for my large paintings. Tricky. One of my profs told me once that an artist should paint according to the size of their car. Well, I used to paint to the size of my van, but then a deer sideswiped me; I ended up in the ditch with a destroyed steering system, bent front wheel, etc, but I got a fantastic photograph while waiting to be towed! Large poplar trees are beautiful at dusk but unforgiving to motorized vehicles.
Now, I paint to the size of my husband's tool trailer! Very handy for me, not so much for him, as he has to move all his tools every time I need to move my paintings. I would like a trailer of my own to pull behind a car. One that I could modify to suit my art. Anybody ever made anything like this?
4. The Art of Managing Your Career Course
This course is offered by ACI Manitoba and is well worth the time. Very inexpensive for the massive amounts of insight and valuable management tools you gain. I'm saying that and I'm just getting started. Heather Bishop is the instructor with a plethora of knowledge and insight. Check it out as they're offering it again in the fall, I believe. The great thing is that from the comfort of my home in Podunk, I can attend class using Skype.
5. Riding the Edge, the Sequel
I have 6 large canvasses stretched and ready for paint application. I have my paints and tools all assembled and ready to do another version of RTE. Date for initial paint application is set for March 21st. I need to start shopping for that small tool trailer soon, as one of these babies is 7 feet tall.
5. Searching for Luminosity (working title), a new body of work
Ah, now, this is the good stuff! The marrow. The candy. The piece de resistance. The jewel in the crown. This stuff is what gives me goosebumps and makes me do a little dance and maybe even leap around like a crazy person. This is where it's at! All new territory. A new learning adventure. A place I've never been before.
Using photo manipulation and my sketchbook, this new body of work has been brewing and developing for two years. Lately, I've been watching woodcut tutorials by the score and I have placed my order for tools and inks. I will be doing lots of practicing on MDF wood, to begin with, and maybe progress to Japanese shina wood. The concept is in place, I have an outline of an artist statement, and now this is where another stage of the process will begin. I cannot wait to get at it, see what's in store, and experience the ride!
Until next time.
For me, the following are tried and true ways to squash my creative juices. Whether you are an artist, a mechanic, an accountant, or a farmer, creativity is imperative. You may have some of your own killjoys to add to the list. Please share some of the things you struggle with in this department.
1. Be unteachable and stuck in your ways of doing things. Be completely unwilling to step outside your comfort zone.
2. Mainline television, gaming, and screen time. Never shut the telly off and never set your cell phone aside for longer than two minutes, day or night.
3. Never get any fresh air or exercise.
4. Be as inconsistent as possible. Only work when you feel like it.
5. Do not learn how to listen to your inner voice that helps you know when to take a break.
6.Do not give your creativity a place of prominence in your every day. Be sure to let the minor things in life - there are hundreds of options - steal your precious time.
7. Do not eat properly or consistently. Make sure to let your blood sugar drop to all time lows because you're so into what you're doing.
8. Never keep to-do lists. Be totally unorganized and never stop to regroup. Do not review your to-do list every night before you go to bed, that way you can toss and turn all night wondering about it.
9. Do not, under any circumstances, keep a sketchbook, a journal, or a notebook for recording and developing ideas. Never take your sketchbook with you when you travel.
10. Do not keep your sketchbook, journal, or notebook by your bed; that way when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and a good ideas strikes, you will have nowhere to write it down, therefore, you can have a restless sleep trying not to forget the good idea.
11. Do everything in your power to ruin a good night's sleep. Never get any sleep before midnight, and pull 'all-nighters' whenever possible.
12. Avoid spending time around other creative people. Be a loner and never ask for help.
13. Try hard to live in a state of chaos, one where you can never find your tools. Never clean up your living space.
Until next time.
1. I live in Podunk, well, actually it's Kelwood, but the definition of Podunk is: a small, remote, unimportant town, so most would say that describes my village pretty accurately. The thing is for those of us who live here, we think it's the center of the universe. You know, Paris is 4,158 to Podunk, NYC is 1,790 miles to Podunk, Rio is 6,122 miles... You get the picture.
2. I believe an artist can create exciting, cutting-edge work no matter where they live...thus, I choose to live in Podunk. I think that inspiration abounds and ideas flourish no matter where you live. I believe in blooming where I'm planted.
3. I do not have a diagnosis of OCD, but then again I've never been tested, but creativity is what keeps me awake at night and what gets me up in the morning. At times, ideas come in such a fast and furious stream that I need to be prepared so I don't drown.
4. When I'm making art, I don't always play by the rules; I do like to play, however. My experience has taught me that the road to new discoveries needs to be strewn with broken rules. Like using a weed torch on a canvas or mixing charcoal with acrylic paint.
5. I'm not a 20 or 30 something. Podunk has been my landing page for 6 decades and I'm finally living the lifelong dream of being a full time artist. It's never too late. I'm pumped and I hope I can encourage anyone reading this to develop your creative side no matter what your occupation, your age, or your life situation. You will be the richer for it.
Until next time.