In the NE corner of Oregon in Wallowa County lies a little visited wonder known as the Zumwalt Prairie. I recently returned from a five day writing workshop in this remote place and still memories swirl in my mind like the prairie wind.
This 330,000 acre bunchgrass prairie remains largely intact as the high elevation averaging 4,000 feet, poor soils, and harsh weather conditions made it unsuitable for the plow. This was a summering ground for the Nez Perce tribe before white settlers and broken treaties ultimately exiled them from their lands. This land is still home to a plethora of wildflowers, elk, deer, badgers, bird, and insect species, many of them threatened.
The Nature Conservancy owns and operates 36,000 acres of this land. It’s a nature preserve but part of its mission is to work with the local ranchers integrating them with their mission of conservation work which includes biological inventories, ecological monitoring and preserving biodiversity. It’s a partnership with conservation and private interests. Careful grazing management is part of the picture. The Nature Conservancy field station was a farmstead abandoned years ago as the harsh conditions of hot summers, frigid winters, poor soil, and remoteness made it too difficult to farm.
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.
Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life. I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible. At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format. This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant
This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done). I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes. There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project. You can never have enough words of wisdom.
I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again. It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.“
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)…
Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
Concept– what do I want to express?
Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
Timer to keep me on task (essential)
I broke down the project into small steps such as…
Figure out the proper size of the painting
A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
You want to be a writer, but you don’t know how or when. Find a quiet place; use a humble pen.
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!
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!