In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.
Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself. And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use.
Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today.
We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.
Some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying(in some cases, scanned, put on the ‘net, or copied via fax)on any range of topics, but usually filled with passion. A means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/comics/doodles.
The instructor for the Zine lesson of my year-long Words & Pictures class made a 16 page zine of his favorite mustards. Now there’s a quirky idea. How could I top my favorite mustards?
I took a look back in my sketchbook and came across some silly doodles of triangles. The triangle doodles eventually morphed into silly triangle birds. Then I noticed that all the triangles happened to be isosceles triangles (two sides of equal length). Hmm. How about if I made a zine just about silly things made up from isosceles triangles. Thus I went about writing and publishing my first zine, The Isosceles Triangle Illuminated.
This was a perfect pandemic project. I had a hilarious time brainstorming and drawing my triangle ideas. The hardest part was correctly photocopying the back to back so the pages would be in the correct order. Instead of Holiday cards, I sent them out to friends for a good laugh.
Want one of my isosceles triangle zines? Use my contact page and for only $5.51 I will send you one!
Start with a shape, a circle perhaps? Or maybe begin with a line, straight, zigzag, or a series of turns, twists and loop de loops? Add onto what you started with maybe a pattern…Circle, line, circle, line, dots. Punctuate with a triangle- just for fun. Take those lines for a walk and see where they take you, putting off any specific destination in mind. Work with in a small area like 2”x 2.”A calendar block, the back of a business card, or a post-it note is perfect. A small space provides comfort lest you prefer journeying in a vast wilderness of white space.
Work in pen so you won’t be tempted to erase. Fill in some shapes if desired. Put letters, numbers, keyboard symbols, and words in your tool box. Keep working until you feel an end point. Then leave it. Come back later and look at it with fresh eyes. Often you will be charmed by a doodle that you didn’t like initially.
The rules are simple- no erasing, no judgment, no starting over. Let your hand go where it wants to go. This is merely a creative exploration to see what comes up. As you progress with this practice, maybe add recognizable objects. I seem to be fond of birds, teapots and tea cups. Sometime my random shapes become objects without intention. Odd cars and animals have been known to appear and I delight in building on to them.
If you are a writer you can doodle with words and letters. Start with one word and through a stream of consciousness; add more words that might relate. Feel free to put them upside down, sideways, smaller, bigger, thick or thinner than the original word.
This exercise functions in some ways like Julie Cameron’s morning pages. Allow your pen to express what it needs to express. Doodling has freed me to examine myself, my fears and my willingness to explore. It allows me to have a little fun without worrying about outcome.
I started this practice because I no longer had time to do my visual art daily due to all my writing and home improvement projects I had undertaken. Inspired by the book, If You can Doodle, You Can Paint, by Diane Culhane; I knew I had the time to do at least a daily doodle! My day planner had an unused square. First thing in the morning after I planned my day, I started doodling in that square before I got out of bed.
After several months of this, I have fallen in love with these quirky expressions to the point doodling has become a favorite art form. As with any practice it has evolved. I have developed more of a style with reoccurring themes. Some of these have wound up as part of larger art pieces, and some I am going to expand into pieces in their own right. Some have inspired stories, but the vast majority remains “creation meditations.” This detachment from outcome can lead me to places I never would have gone. As a result, I am less inhibited in my creative process. My doodles have gone wild inhabiting my journal, notes, or wherever there is a fallow piece of white space.
I doodled all through high school and university courses to help keep me focused. Remembering this, when I taught a middle school, I allowed students my doodle during lectures when they did not have to take notes. For many people like me, lines provide an anchor. Now much later in life, I have again allowed myself the pleasure.
Try it! Buy yourself some special pens. I am especially fond of the fine line pens from Jet Pens if you don’t have a local art supply store you can visit.
PS- see more doodles on my new instagram feed @almostdailydoodle. I’m also blogging at One Sweet Earth.
If you are any type of creative person you probably have a cheerleader on one shoulder and your inner critic on the other. My muse is my cheerleader, that voice that feeds me sparky ideas and inspiration. My muse is the positive force in my life. My inner critic, in contrast, argues with my muse. She likes to shout words of discouragement and fear in my ear to the point I quiver with self-doubt. Unfortunately, she’s an annoying fact of my life.
I have come up with strategies to deal with this bitchy pest that tries to drown out the voice of my sweet muse. One of them was to give her a name and draw a picture of what she looks like….
Helga, my IC, is an ample pickle-shaped-figure with spiny whiskers protruding all over her grotesque, gelatinous body. She has a high whiney voice resembling the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. The only facial expression she has is a grimacing frown of disapproval.
Daphne, my muse is a sprite of a being that emits light from her colorful body. She dances with joy and speaks to me in cheerful songs of encouragement. Her voice is softer than Helga’s and can be easily drowned out.
I’ve become more adept at isolating those two voices by putting an identity to each. When Helga gets too annoying I visualize swiping her off my shoulder with a THWACK and then dropkicking her out the door. (So satisfying).
Inner critics tend to love periods of creative inactivity. The best way to keep the beast off your shoulder is to diligently keep up your work on a daily basis in some form. Even 15 minutes a day of seat time can make a huge difference can add up to a full article in a matter of days, a chapter, a painting. Set a timer and go.
You can read about the creative process and motivation all you want but the only way to have to leave your squawking inner critic behind is to build momentum. The bike won’t go unless you start peddling. The muse loves to feel the wind in her hair.
As a creative soul, it’s important to me to keep a fresh flow of ideas and perspectives entering my psyche so I can continue to grow. Taking classes is a wonderful way to do so. In recent years I’ve turned to more to online classes. Though I appreciate the human component in an actual class, in an online class I don’t have to commute and carve out a substantial chunk of my day to attend one session. I also have access to the video content so I can watch the lesson over and over again. In terms of engaging with other students, there has always been a dedicated Facebook page to post and comment on other students’ work.
As I am a non-traditional artist not wedded to just painting and drawing I find there is more of an eclectic selection of classes offered online. In the past, I have taken “Make Monotypes” (Gelli Printing) with Linda Germaine, “A Year of Painting” with Alena Hennessy, & currently, “Words & Pictures” produced by Carla Sondheim and friends. All these classes have been top-notch and reasonably priced. I made the mistake with “A Year of Painting” of not researching the artist’s style thoroughly. Though it was well taught ultimately the content was not for me.
If you are interested in taking an art class online, just Google online art classes in your specific media and then do some online research on the reviews as well as the artist’s work. Instagram is a good one for that. Also, consider MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are FREE.
I am having loads of fun at the moment with “Words and Pictures.” This class is currently getting me out of my comfort zone to explore lots of great ideas. A friend of mine signed up for the class as well which makes it even better. The current lessons are being taught by the infamous Martha Rich. We are quick sketching life around us and the conversations we hear (including internally). I have my first ones with this post.
Never taken an art class before? Go online. There is nobody to be self -conscious around but yourself!
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali
So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly. What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art. It’s a part of the process. If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn. This is especially true in the medium of ceramics. There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges. There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments. The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape. It’s still lovely but not saleable. I’ll use it though. No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks. Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked. This was a puzzle. Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold? These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire? I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.
The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.
Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale- but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.
They are the cracked
The not quite right
Products of my hands
Victims of experimentation
Or forces beyond my understanding
Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart
Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others
When any of my pets have passed on I make a piece of artwork to remember them by. Though I love photographs, my personal interpretation of their spirit provides more meaning and facilitates closure. Sometimes it’s a clay sculpture, a tile, a ceramic mask. This time in remembrance of Dougie, my sweet 14-year-old Golden Retriever we had to put down last week, I made this collage.
This piece pretty much summarizes his personality- colorful, happy-go-lucky, playful and a little goofy. The painted paper I used for his face, tail, and the spirals are from a failed print that came from a printmaking workshop. These so-called mistakes are torn up and placed in my collage box for a future reincarnation- a lemonade out of lemons kind of thing. To be able to repurpose these disappointments into other forms that are pleasing to me is very gratifying and highly symbolic.
Out of the ashes we can find beauty. We passed the Spring Equinox. Winter is behind us. The daffodils are blooming in the yard.
My second piece of prose “Bull’s Eye” was published recently by “Montana Mouthful” a literary magazine out of Missoula Montana. This was in their latest“Haunted” issue on page 15. They also were the publisher of my first prose piece “Looking for Abraham” back in their August Secrets issue on page 29. Both were blind submissions so I guess got lucky! In both cases, having a submission deadline got me focused and finished– even though my inner critic was whispering “not good enough.” I’m so glad I followed Natalie Goldberg’s advice “Let others be the judge of your work”.