The Art of the List

“It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive” 

John Lennon

There’s a grey zone between creative projects, that high of completing something big and the low of “Now what?” 

To ease out of the “what now “ doldrums I find great solace in making lists.  I find them grounding from to-do lists, not-to-do lists, to grocery lists.  I feel better with a rock-solid list.

This go around I decided to make a list of my symbols that I use or would like to use in my imagery and my writing as metaphors or prompts.  Here is my latest list.  Feel free to use any of it you like…

*all visuals in this post are from my daily planner or sketchbook

Stepping Up to a Creative Challenge

Mixed media painting by the author

I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel.  We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy.  Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it.  Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds.  This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.

I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors.  Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked.  Original art was out of my price range.  That left the task up to me to manifest the painting. 

Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination.  That was not an option in this case.  I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…

  1. Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
  2. Concept– what do I want to express?
  3. Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
  4. Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
  5. Timer to keep me on task (essential)

I broke down the project into small steps such as…

  1. Figure out the proper size of the painting
  2. A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
  3. Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
  4. Apply gesso
  5. Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
  6. Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.

I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.

Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby.  Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day.  To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities.  In that regard, my timer was my best friend.

The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom.  It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal.  I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece.  Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals.  Just start and keep going.

Cat Gratitude

Hurtling towards the spring equinox I awoke to the sun in my eyes this morning.  It’s been months since that’s happened.  Yesterday I made an appointment for my second Covid vaccine.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Soon I will be able to resume somewhat of a normal life.  Camping and river trips are starting to appear on the calendar.

As with everyone else – it’s been a rough go through this pandemic (and everything else).  If I were going to give a speech at the “Covid Survival Awards”  at the beginning (while holding my covid 19 virus trophy) I would have to thank my two, now 7-month-old tuxedo kittens, Zoey and Zander, and their baby mama, Zinnia (“Mama Z”) for unwittingly helping time to survive this time.  Their endless antics and purrs have helped to keep laughter and smiles in my life.  I’m sure many of you out there feel the same…

Zander’s Gift

He is the fraidy one

but this morning he chose me

popping up on my quilted lap

his purr inviting me

to cradle his sweet body

love his ears

and the soft fur of his belly

with my hands

In this simple encounter with a cat

I breathe deeply

inhaling our mutual contentment

savoring that for a moment

all’s right with the world

Zoey, Mama Z, & Zander

Zoey top, Zander left

Artwork by the author

See my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Have a Happy Day (Planner)

Last year I was looking for a daily creative practice that I could stick to.  I was not much of a sketcher or morning pager.  I needed something kind of short and sweet.  Then I noticed the 2’ blank square in my 2020 day planner.  Not much going on there but a few spillovers from my to-do list.  I committed to filling up those square every day with a doodle or something creative.  The ground rules are to use pen and have no judgement on what I come up with.  Spontaneity is key.

Fast forward over a year later- my day planner practice is my creative kick start to the day.  Not only does it get my pen to the paper in a nonthreatening way, I have created an artifact of my life to look back on though this crazy time of Covid and political craziness.  Mostly I create a daily doodle, a weather report, a cartoon, quote, poem or something about my life with words and/or pictures.  It’s been an evolving practice.  Some have become finished pieces, most I don’t appreciate until I look back at them.

This year, 2021 I couldn’t find the same day planner so I made my own.  I purchased a simple blank spiral sketchbook and glued some decorative paper.  I customized it for words of the year and monthly goals and then grid out each week as they come along.  At first I measured but now I just eyeball it letting the lines be as wonky as they want to be for interest.

My planner is now less about what I need to do but how I need to be…creative and fully alive, paying attention to the inspiration each day has to offer.  I highly recommend trying out this daily practice.

Life is more than a to do list

Please visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Notes on Tossing Out My Old Artwork

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.

I love my clean closet. 

That’s over with!

There’s a Pen for That

You want to be a writer, but you don’t know how or when. Find a quiet place; use a humble pen.

Paul Simon

Recently I received a question on my Almost Daily Doodle Instagram feed.  “What kind of software do you use?”  I had to laugh.  I guess the software would be my hand and my hardware would be my pens.  Years ago when I had to make money I did much of my illustration work by computer but I found working by hand so much more intimate and enjoyable.

I began my love affair with pens in elementary school in the early 1960s.  In the third grade, there was this rite of passage where we all learned cursive handwriting.  It was time to put away those rotund pencils they gave in first and second grade to learn our letters with the privilege of using a pen.  This was the first taste of the grown-up world and we relished it.  My girlfriends and I were particularly fond of adding stylish curlicues to our letters and using flowers to dot our Is. Then there was the endless practice of refining our signatures.

To showcase our newfound skills we begged our parents to buy us Shaeffer fountain pens that used little ink cartridges. Blue was the preferred color of the day.  It was a badge of honor to have a blue knuckle on your middle finger where those pens would at times leak.

Many schools have dropped cursive handwriting in favor of keyboarding.  It’s a shame since there are documented benefits to the brain in the areas of thinking, memory, and creativity when you write with pen to paper. I do most of my writing by hand first before typing on a computer. My pen helps me think.

In my twenties, I became an accomplished calligrapher with all manner of dip pens until carpal tunnel syndrome in my right hand curtailed that pursuit.  I’ve had all kinds of artistic endeavors since but now in my 60s, I’ve returned to the simplicity of pen to paper to do my artwork.

I have a variety of sketch pens I use- nothing too expensive.  Recently I’ve switched from Microns to Hi-Tech and now Uniball Signo.  Recently while perusing the Jet Pens website for a reorder I came across their fountain pen section. One can spend a fair amount of money on a fountain pen but I found a Pilot Metropolitan for $19.50.  Live it up!  Third-grade joy here I come! 

Since it came I’ve been sailing over smooth paper for my journal and other writing.  What fun to write with a nice pen!  If you want a simple pleasure consider getting yourself some cool pens (and nice smooth paper).  Check out your local art supply store or go to JetPens.com.  Below are some samples of my favorite pens.  Happy writing!

A Zine is Born

Zine (according to the Urban Dictionary)

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!

For more info on making a zine click here

My Words for the New Year 2021

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.  That concept sounds so burdensome.  Instead, I have a personal tradition of picking one or more words to aspire to live by for the coming year.  I revisit these words from time to time and check in on how I’m doing.  (Writing them on the bathroom mirror is a very effective strategy.)

My words for 2020 were acceptance and focus.  I almost wore out the word acceptance with the pandemic and political matters and it’s unlikely I can ever truly accept the damage of the forest fires had here in Oregon this year.  Climate change is unacceptable and is something I will always fight against.  Thus it has been a mixed bag with that word.  FOCUS has been an ongoing challenge for me but I am happy to report that I am BETTER!  Being a creative soul I am forever distracted by my thoughts and every shiny thing that comes along in my day.  Now though, I am more aware of my distractions and am honing a system to keep me on track.

This December I mulled over what my new words would be.  I wait to see what will bubble up to my subconscious and pick the ones I resonate with the most.  So drumroll..  my new words are:

Commitment–  I allowed myself this year to go “fallow” and dabble in a lot of creative pursuits.  Now I am ready to synthesize what I’ve learned into specific avenues.

Generosity– Give more of my time, talent, and money to others

Focus – This word remains on the list as I need more work with it.

Let the year unfold!  What are your words for 2020?

and my poem for you this New Year

A Toast for 2021

It’s the season of new

the Earth has spun through the heavens

and arrived at the place we call the beginning

a bookmark we humans have put in the order of things

the New Year, the first day of the first month of the 21st year of the 21st century

All is new, yet all the same

a cycle in a continuum of millennia

yet a comfort that we have a fresh start in our minds

Shall we proceed then with our new slippers

virgin calendars full of exotic pictures

day planners devoid of marks

and forge on with gusto?

for we have been given another turn

a blank canvas to paint another 12 months upon

Let us mix up our palettes with new intentions

hope, faith and the unseen circumstances that will surely find us

stroke, splash, and drip with abandon

make your marks with love, touching others with color

bringing forth new memories

painting this Earth a brighter place

Check out my other blog onesweetearth.art.blog on sustainable living.

Why I am Still Blogging After Four Years

My WordPress account just renewed.  Here it is- my fourth year and I am still at it.  My first post was on Jan. 4, 2017.  I started blogging during the aftermath of the 2016 election.  At that time, I thought I could not survive the chaos, but here I am, bruised by events but not defeated.  I am thankful for the companionship of my pen which has acted as a lightning rod, keeping me grounded during difficult times.

When I write down the bits of my life the unremarkable becomes remarkable. Those bits become a pathway back to myself when I get lost. Writing combs the tangled strands of my thoughts back into an orderly fashion. When I share my writing with others in a blog post it’s like leaving footprints in the universe to perhaps help others on their journey.I have shared poetry, personal stories, opinions, artwork and photography. It’s been a hodgepodge of myself.

For the most part, my blogging is a weekly practice, a Sunday morning ritual that affirms my existence. I have no master plan or theme as is advised.  During the week I try to pay attention to what pops into my mind worthy to blog about.  It’s an intuitive process.  I don’t fret about topics.  I write for myself but I’ve noticed that the posts where I stay truest to my own sensibilities get the most readers.

If you are reading this post, I am grateful for your time and attention.  It’s gratifying to have readers from all over the world, sometimes from countries that I have never heard from.  Today I have had readers from India, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Indonesia, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mauritius, and Malaysia. I have met some great blog friends and hope to connect with them in person some day in the non-Covid future!

If you are not a writer, I encourage you to write a few words a day.  It doesn’t have to be good- but if you make it a daily practice, you will improve.  It’s a journey worth pursuing.  If you choose to blog- go for it. It’s much more meaningful than Facebook Meanwhile, see you on the blogosphere!

Alanna also blogs about sustainablility on onesweetearth.com

In Defense of Doing Nothing

Take note…none of the great sages, prophets, and saviors ever became enlightened by being busy. They renounced their worldly possessions, headed out into the desert, sat under trees, and retreated to caves high up in the mountains. They fasted, prayed, and meditated- basically doing nothing for extended periods. In this solitary, inward experience they became one with themselves, nature, God, and ultimately fulfilled.

In contrast, our culture encourages productivity. The more we achieve, the more we are valued even to ourselves. We are always heading towards something -graduation, career, children, children leaving home, retirement, and acquiring more stuff. We were never encouraged to just BE and Be with our be-ness. Therefore a great deal of our society thinks happiness is always beyond the next bend. For example- “When I______________(fill in the blank), I will be happy.

Being a victim of this frame of mind, I started my sheltering in place journey with a “Super- think of all the things I can get DONE!- writing art, gardening, fitness, etc.”.  Then I started to go crazy with all these added expectations.

I concluded that productivity is overrated. You get something accomplished and then 3 more things go in the queue. The carrot remains out of reach. What I needed to do was slow down and find a nice cave to curl up in with no paper to write a to do list on. Savoring the moment is where it’s at. It’s likely we won’t get this type of “opportunity” again.

Now I have granted myself a time to go “fallow.” I haven’t gone off the rails, nor am I enlightened, but I have lowered my expectations.  Oddly, this takes a bit of mindfulness.  Old habits die hard, but overall, I am happier and enjoying the ride alot more…

and it is such a relief!

Small Acts of Rebellion

Not flossing before bed

Saying no to the news

Watching a movie first thing in the morning

Staring off into space

Going braless

Making bad art

Writing bad poetry

Using BAD two times in a row

Being happy

Refusing to give up

Find Balance

Alanna also blogs at One Sweet Earth

Doodle by the author