Monday, August 3, 2015

Sparks Fly Out into the World

Well, the Sparks of Madness show went up onto the walls yesterday afternoon and despite my (usual) worry that I wouldn't have enough pieces to fill the space, it looks pleasantly full. I hung 31 pieces and I have six more in varying stages of completion. Next Sunday, I'll pop in to add them to the show. I'll have to tweak the current arrangement to make them all fit in a visually pleasing manner. Actually I should say that my "installation assistants" (aka very good friends who support my artsy endeavors) will adjust the display as I am banned from climbing ladders given balance issues. I just stand back and command "To the left!" "Up just a bit!" "No, back the other way!" "Stop! That's perfect!" I'll post pictures of the show in a future missive, maybe after reception night.

At the last minute, I decided to give all my pieces elaborate, silly titles. I'm hoping this will help draw viewers up to the works to read the tags and perhaps connect more deeply with individual characters. This particular piece is entitled "The Sheckle Brothers" which may or may not be a sly reference to the wretched Koch brothers. (I just in this very moment realized that I spelled "sheckle" wrong. *sigh* That's going to bug me the entire week. I'll have to fix that even though I'm willing to bet few people will notice.)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday How Do You...Choose What to Pursue?

Today's "How Do You...? feature centers around a question my dear friend Ellen recently posed to me and it is a topic I've been pondering intensely as summer winds down and the new school year approaches, full of new opportunities and challenges. In the face of reduced time for personal art-making, I am trying to pin down my approach to this dilemma so I can make the most of my available time and supplies:

How do you choose lines of artistic pursuit with so many areas to choose from?

My studio is packed to the brim. My primary work space occupies almost half of my upstairs living space (which includes the kitchen, half bath, and what the landlord calls a "living room.") I call it my studio. I have another room downstairs for little-used or overflow supplies (what is supposed to be my bedroom) as well as an office at work for all my teaching supplies. All in all, like many people, I have too much stuff and I am actively involved in reducing my stash. Right now, the upstairs studio is filled with all those things I feel I can't live without and represents a vast range of interests: journaling, sewing, sculpture, painting, illustration, jewelry-making, and book-making. And, since I am sure that I have enough books to call it such, my library is upstairs as well. So this begs the question: when time and energy are limited by health issues and the demands of everyday living, how do I focus on a particular area when I am surrounded by possibilities?

Before you can figure out how to do something, it is important to figure out what that "something" is in the first place. Here are some things I try to distinguish between when looking at the range of options spread out before me:
1) Fleeting fads vs. long-term love affairs: (i.e. Indian loom beading vs. drawing)
2) Daily activities vs. short-term projects (i.e. journaling vs. prepping for a show)
3) Hard focus vs. soft focus tasks (i.e. scientific illustration vs. doodling)
That last point of distinction - hard focus vs. soft focus tasks - is the most important for me. Hard focus tasks are ones that take the most concentration, enthusiasm and/or energy. Hard focus tasks also most often have a specific end goal or singular result. In contrast, soft focus tasks are things that I can do without much thought, projects that are repetitive and soothing. Soft focus projects often are ongoing, things I can pick up and put down over and over again within losing ground or momentum.

Since journaling for me is a soft focus task, I can do that while watching TV or waiting at an appointment. I do soft focus tasks when I'm not feeling well. I save my uninterrupted studio time for those hard focus tasks (sculpting, painting, illustration, sewing) that need the most attention and practice. This means that feeling good or feeling bad, I'm almost always still making art.

Once you pinpoint what it is you'd like to accomplish in your studio, you need to devise an plan that will support your goal. Here's some ways to approach the problem:

Tactic #1: Explore a Single Theme in Multiple Media aka Mastering the Imagery
I am doing this right now with my creatures. I draw them, paint them, doodle them, collage them, write about them, sculpt them, and have plans to sew them.

Tactic #2: In a Single Medium, Explore Multiple Themes aka Mastering the Medium
I used to swing back and forth between this approach and the former but it's hard to limit myself to one medium. I want to play with them all! I also feel like I get less done overall. I'm OK with being a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Tactic #3: Exploration Time Frames
I never had much success with doing this but I know a lot of people do. With this approach, you give yourself a time frame (whatever feels natural) to explore something specific (i.e. for the next month, I will make books or for six weeks, I will study and practice watercolor.)

Tactic #4: Go Where the Whim Takes You
This is, of course, another valid approach to art-making. Wake up and follow your gut. In my case, I have specific goals and projects that I wish to see to fruition before my fine motor control deteriorates due to Parkinson's Disease. I have to use my time wisely (both day-to-day and long term.) For me, it is not an option to wander aimlessly in my studio on a regular basis. I could dabble here and there in a bit of everything but I would never complete anything and I would never dig very deep into any particular subject or medium. There are days of course when that is all I am able to do but as a general rule, I try to pursue just one or two things at a time. The more limited my time, the more focused I need to be.

NOTE: I have found that "following my whim" often dissolves into games entitled "Gather Rather than Do," "Mimic the Teacher," and "Stack the Unfinished." While those pursuits are fun in the moment, ultimately I find them to be unfulfilling. 

Some other considerations/strategies:
Eliminate distractions.
Get rid of supplies that you never use, things you tried but hated, and supplies for things you used to do but got burnt out on. I've pretty much accomplished that but the problem is that my favorite mediums seem to require lots of pieces! Yes, I can mix all the colors I need from just red, blue, and yellow but where's the fun in that?! Fortunately, I feel like I've reached to point where the only supplies I now need to purchase are replacements for stuff I use up. Otherwise, I'm fairly sure I have enough art-making fuel for three lifetimes.

Recognize and honor ideas that just won't go away. 
Here's a classic example from my life. I've had this idea for a circus-themed journal or storybook (created entirely in black, white, grey, cream, red, silver, and gold) for almost sixteen years. I've collected an entire box (well OK...boxes) full of papers, fabrics, trims, and embellishments in that color scheme. An entire stack of books in my library is devoted to circus-themed novels and non-fiction books. I have written bits here and there on the story for years. This is an idea that will not die and I know at some point, I need to find a way to tap into that reserve of supplies and thought. I may not know why that idea is so important but its persistence in my peripheral vision is something that cannot be ignored.

Where I'm at Now in This Decision Tree:
I am keenly interested in bringing the characters and stories in my head into the real world (no matter how they are received by the public.) I am also determined to push my fine motor abilities while I have them so that means lots of drawing, painting (on a smaller scale,) sculpting, and some sewing. I especially enjoy Tactic #1 mentioned above so I will continue character creation across multiple mediums including watercolor, acrylics, pencils, markers, clay, fabric, and paper. I will continue my efforts to purge the unwanted and the unnecessary. And, most importantly, I will always try to move forward by listening to my body and making the appropriate adjustments for the energy, pain, physical ability, and focus level of the moment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

ICAD 2015: Closing Thoughts

Daisy Yellow's Index-Card-a-Day challenge is over for another year and here are my thoughts on how this project went for me:

  • I completed, photographed, and blogged 49 cards. I have another 14 that are backgrounds only. Those cards are "unfinished" simply because I was completely focused on work for my upcoming show. Once my show is up and I can relax, I may add more to those cards or I may leave them as is. I feel no pressure either way.
  • I did NOT number any of my cards. My goal was to complete seven per week and that system worked well for me. (I already have a well-established daily art practice so that component of the challenge wasn't something I needed to meet.)
  • In fact, this year, the challenge progressed smoother than it has in all previous years. I picked seven cards at the beginning of the week, applied paint here and there in the course of that week while working on art for my show, and on the last day, I finished off the set. Easiest-peasiest method ever!
  • To stay organized, I made a little chart for all nine weeks of the challenge with columns to check off for prepping, finishing, photographing, and blogging my creations. This made it easier to keep up with the documentation of my participation (something I often find harder than the challenge itself.)
  • This year I expanded the definition of "card." In addition to standard index cards, I also used recipe, flash, bingo, playing, and library cards. Sometimes I cut those cards down to 4x6; mostly I just used the cards as I found them. The little bit of text behind my painted backgrounds added an extra layer of interest and I got to dive into my collected but neglected stash of cards.
  • I LOVE the cards I created this year and I cannot wait to incorporate them into my journals!

As much as I love this challenge, I'm not sure I'll do it again next year (something I say every year.) Besides the fact that I may be laid up next summer with yet another major foot surgery, I am feeling an intense pull towards other projects. ICAD does eat up valuable studio time; this year, however, I felt like I was finally able to find that balance between doing the challenge justice while still focusing on other things. Never say never! 

For those of you joining my ICAD party late, here's links to all my previous "ICAD 2015" posts (all links will open up into a new window):

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Happily Holed Up in the Studio

We're in the middle of a heat wave here in extreme northern California and that makes working with acrylics a tricky business as the paint seems to dry instantly upon contact with canvas or palette. And yet, paint I must as I hang the Sparks of Madness show this coming Sunday. I'm making slow but steady progress. Since today is my birthday, I predict a long, glorious day in the studio doing what I love best: making art. Wherever you are, I hope that you too are doing whatever you love best, today and every day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

ICAD 2015: Cards 43 - 49

These "cards" were created exactly as described in my previous Index-Card-a-Day post but this time, I drew a frame and cut it out after outlining the paint lines in permanent black ink. I LOVE how these turned out! These will be perfect elements for my art journals and I intend to make many more. I'll probably use these funky frames to showcase some found word poetry, a page title, or the date. (If you just tuned in, I use all the index card art that I create in my journals so I have readily available collage material that is unique to me.) 

I'm going to be scarce this coming week as I'm in the final lap of show prep before I need to hang the show on Sunday, August 2nd. Once I finish painting, I have to attach sawtooths on every piece and then create labels, show signage, business cards, and a master price list. It also happens to be my birthday week (hello 46!) so I'm going to try and carve out some time for celebrating...which means I'll be sitting in the studio making more art whilst eating cake and wearing a party hat.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Guess the Story Results

Well, the results are in and you guys hit the nail on the head four times over. I asked my readers to guess the story of this piece for my show and yes...the title is "The Suitors." So hooray for my illustration abilities! I've been working hard to get the story aspect into my illustrations so I'm making progress.

I have no earthly idea who would want this piece as it is a very strange image to hang on the wall (kid's room maybe?) but I'm trying to allow myself to create whatever comes to mind. I'll worry about the waste of canvas later. I am learning a lot about myself, my interests, and my future goals with this series so no matter what happens once these pieces go out into the world, I'm content. I'll always be able to say that I took the risk and brought my creatures out of the sketchbook for all to see. My deepest thanks to everyone who has cheered me on! There have been plenty of times where I might not have continued on this track were it not for the wonderfully supportive comments you all have left for me on this blog.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Guess the Story

Happy Wednesday! Let's play a little game! This piece for my upcoming show actually already has a title that essentially describes the story I visualized when creating this piece. I'm curious though, dear readers, what you surmise that story might be. The last time I asked for an interpretation of the tale told by one of my works, I was delighted with the imagination and cleverness that bloomed so brightly in the comments. I'm interested to see if what I intended is clearly telegraphed to the audience, a test of sorts of my illustration abilities. So I'll keep the title of this piece a secret and see what it seems to say to you. Don't worry...I won't be sad if you don't see what I see. We all have a unique eye. I might even discover a hidden story I didn't know that I told!

Monday, July 20, 2015

ICAD 2015: Cards 36 - 42

This is the last set of index cards that I completed in the week that they were "due." I'll continue creating index cards for the balance of July but at my own pace. My elective art time is dwindling as the summer begins its final hurrah for 2015. The next two weeks will be spent in a fevered push to complete a bunch of paintings and then, after a brief respite, preparation for fall teaching will begin in earnest. Teaching this coming year is going to be challenging but the task of balancing increased work demands, health issues and the needs of my artistic soul will be an even more rigorous task. I'm glad that I have a couple of weeks at work sans students to get my legs underneath me. Hopefully I can develop some sort of daily rhythm before my students stride in at the first of the year, full of that beginning-of-school enthusiasm that often borders on wildness.

This was a fun set of index cards to develop. I wanted some cards that were less finished, ones that could be added to later...or not. I sort of like these cards just the way they are. I created the backgrounds throughout the previous week, randomly layering on bits of paint leftover from my painting sessions. Then I drew the off-center mandalas with a white paint marker; once that dried, I outlined the white lines in black ink to make them pop against the colored background.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday How Do You...Create a Schedule?

Welcome again to my new blog series "How Do You...?" in which I answer readers' questions about how I organize and conduct my life as an artist. Today's question is closely related to the first one I answered: "How do you manage to get so much art done with all the obstacles you deal with?" (Part 1 here and Part 2 here

"How do you create a useful art/life schedule?"

Having a daily schedule isn't for everyone and I've only started using one religiously in the last year. I used to begin each day with a general list of things I wanted to get done but that method was a bit too haphazard and stuff kept falling through the cracks. After a period of trial and error, I figured out a way to construct a workable schedule that accounted for all those things I needed and wanted to do. I'm someone who is more productive with the imposition of some structure. Your mileage will vary depending on your personality and your life.

Just a heads-up, this is a super long post that doesn't lend itself to pictures, so run and grab a cup of whatever makes you happy and settle in for a bit of a read. I'll break this post into lots of little paragraphs so perhaps it'll be easier to consume.

First and foremost, I want to say that living by a schedule does not mean jumping on and off the hamster wheel of life at certain chimes of the clock. Allow yourself to change things up until you find the right fit for you; I like to create a schedule and then tweak it after a couple of weeks of putting it into practice. And by all means, if something unexpected comes up, don't feel guilty if you need or want to abandon your preordained schedule either temporarily or permanently. 

A schedule is a scaffolding for your days, not a set of prison bars!

Step 1: Make a Set of Lists
(Note: All examples listed are from my personal perspective. Your lists will, of course, be unique to you.)

  • Regular, Must Do Commitments (i.e. work, doctors' appointments)
  • Things You'd Like to Do Regularly (i.e. gym, reading, baking, blogging)
  • General Areas of Art You Want to Focus On (i.e. journaling, painting, crafting)
  • Things You Need to Do but Would Like to Limit (i.e. checking email, time online, cleaning)

Step 2: Draw Out a Weekly Grid
This doesn't have to be perfect; you're just starting with a rough draft. Make it large and work in pencil at first. When I settle on a schedule that seems to work, I make a nicer, color-coded version to post in the studio where I can easily refer to it throughout the day.

Some Notes Before the Next Step:
* Think about how much time you need to finish each task and how often you need/want to do it. Add those time estimates to your lists. Work time is easy; that regular commitment comes with specific time allotments already attached. Art time is more amorphous and how much you want to devote to your artistic pursuits can vary widely from day to day. 

* Think in terms of blocks of time, NOT hour by hour (trust me on this!) Initially, I tried out a schedule that organized each day from the moment I woke up to bedtime. Horrible idea! It was far too restrictive and I immediately felt panicked if I got off track (which usually happened by early morning.) Now I develop schedules with blocks of time. With the exception of things that have a specific time frame (i.e. work), other to-do items can be assigned generalized blocks of time. (Sometimes it is important to me that an activity occur either in the morning or the afternoon. In the photo below, you can see "Open Time Till 1PM." This just means that I've placed that block of time somewhere in the morning hours.)

* I do not worry about completing a task in consecutive hours; instead, I look at the total number of hours accumulated during the day. For example, if I allot four hours on a Sunday for art time, that means my goal is to devote four hours on a Sunday to art, not four hours beginning at 1pm and ending at 5pm. I might do two hours in the morning, take a break, do a couple of chores and then put in another couple of hours. I don't use a timer. I just generally aim my brain in the direction of my goal and see where I land. I'll get back to this idea in a moment. For now, back to plugging in your tasks.

Step 3: Plug-In Your Commitments
* First things first, block out time for those absolutely have-to-do items like work or regular weekly appointments. Allow a bit of extra time for these tasks. For instance, if I know I'm at work for four hours on Monday, I add an extra hour to that to account for getting ready, travel, and post-work decompressing.

* Next, plug in those tasks you have to do but want to limit such as checking email or housecleaning. Be forewarned: These time blocks will be the hardest to stick to until you develop a new, more reasonable habit. In order to do that, you really need to stick to the time limits you give yourself.

* Plug-in "Studio Time." I break my art time into leisurely, low pressure activities (journaling, crafting) versus more important, higher intensity activities (painting, sculpting.) The former gets plugged into the day where I have less energy (early morning, late evening) and the latter gets assigned to my most productive, clear-headed time of the day. Again I am aiming to complete a total number of hours per day. Interestingly, I have found that when I get my schedule in tune just right with my natural daily rhythms, I do actually complete my tasks hour by hour.

Protect your studio time!
Do not automatically sacrifice art time for other things, especially those tasks you really don't have to do right that very moment. If you really want to make art a regular part of your life, eventually you will need to view (and treat) your studio time as just as important and inflexible as your work commitments.

* Plug-in Things You'd Like to Do Regularly but Often Overlook:
I want to read and go to the gym more regularly so I give those tasks their own little block of time. Again, these things will need to fit into your natural rhythms. I'm too tired to concentrate in the evenings so I read each morning while eating breakfast. I assign gym visits or walks to days when I'm not overwhelmed with work. (On top of trying to get things done, I am also trying to be mindful of my health needs as well.)

* Plug-in Open Time:
I have blocks of time that I leave unassigned to any particular task. This allows for unexpected appointments or chores. This way, I don't automatically have to sacrifice anything in order to cope with the unplanned. Depending on the chaos level of your life, you may need open time every day or you might be able to get by with this schedule component less often. 

* Plug-in Down Time:
I make sure that I create time in my schedule to do nothing besides relaxing and self-care. I am especially drained after work so I rarely plan anything specific for this time. I've discovered that forcing myself to a task at a time when I have the least energy is completely counterproductive and even destructive. If you have chronic health issues to work around, you must account for that reality when creating a schedule. I have a tendency to be very neglectful of self-care time; I typically just run until I drop. In this case, it is helpful to make "self-care" a "must do" item and plug it in to your schedule just like you do a job.

Step 4: Put Your Schedule into Practice:
Be prepared to adjust your blocks of time and where you place them until you discover the schedule that works for you. I have found that schedule-making gets easier as I have become accustomed to living by a schedule. I make a new schedule for each teaching semester and one for summer. If a major, long term change shows up in my life (like different work hours or frequent regular appointments such as physical therapy,) I will make a new schedule. I make it large and pretty with colors assigned to each different type of task but that's just me; I have OCD so I adore color-coding and labeling. All in all, new schedule development takes me about a hour and a half to complete. 

A Few Final Thoughts:
* Don't schedule out spontaneity! Use your down time or open time; don't sacrifice it to "must-dos."

* Try to meet your time goals but adjust as needed. If I have assigned myself to the studio for three hours on a Monday, I work really hard to meet that goal. However, if after a while, it seems to be a consistent struggle to meet that goal, I lower my expectation for that day. Conversely, if I find I can consistently do more than I thought, I expand my goal.

* Not finding enough time to do what you love? Be ruthless with those things you need to do but that can get out of hand needlessly like being online. In addition, use time more wisely; if you have some down time before an appointment such as waiting to pick the kids up from school, spend those moments doodling. It all adds up!

Now that you've reached the end of this mammoth post, you might be thinking "Holy Sh*t! This all seems like a lot of work!" Take a breath and remember that you might already be making daily "to do" lists or keeping a planner. Some of the legwork is already complete. And remember that this is how I personally organize my life. This approach may not work or appeal to you. I will only do this as long as it is useful. At some point, I may not even need a written schedule to get everything done in a day that I desire. New habits will develop and I'll be able to do all this without a visual reference. My daily rhythms and needs will evolve with my health. All in all, I have found that having a weekly schedule has greatly increased my productivity and attention to hopes and dreams that might otherwise have been overrun by the "must do's" of my life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 27 and 28

I struggled to finish this spread but in the end, it felt very representational of my summer days. I will love this journal when it is complete, both for its contents and the fact that it is finished. I need to move on from this style. I'm currently fiddling with my schedule, trying to find a bit more time to journal so I can work on something different - something more based in observational sketching - but it is hard to concentrate when I am fretting over my upcoming show. Once the show goes up the first week in August and the opening reception happens August 14, I literally hit the ground running with work (which is new for the first time in ten years.) It will be nice to have two weeks of prep time before the students invade but it does sort of cut my summer short. Time management is going to be key.

Monday, July 13, 2015

ICAD 2015: Cards 29 - 35

So I've made it to the halfway mark of the 2015 Index-Card-a-Day challenge and I'm going to try to keep up as long as possible. The next five weeks are going to be insane and I'm not sure yet which "want-to-do" projects will necessarily end to make room for things I "have-to-do." I am in love with the 35 cards I've completed so far and I cannot wait to leverage them into future art. As long as my index card work can continue alongside and not instead of other, more pressing things, I think I might make it to the end of July. If big deal.

Doubt and delight are doing a merry dance in my brain right now as I try to absorb the changes that touched down last week in the midst of my quiet summer days spent painting and relaxing. After nine years, my art teacher role at a local charter school is transforming and expanding. I'm moving from teaching Friday mornings to 12 hours per week in the regular academic classroom Monday through Thursday.

First and foremost, I'll be teaching a yearlong class to 35 upper grade students entitled "Art of the Americas" that will run concurrently with first-year Spanish. Besides supporting student acquisition of a new language and presenting cultural, historical, and creative concepts of the Americas (Mexico, Central & South America,) I'll be floating from class to class, presenting art lessons on a wide variety of projects including the usual Shakespeare unit (and accompanying theater performances of Twelfth Night and Hamlet.) I'll also be teaching observational drawing the entire year (this will be a component of the Art of the Americas class so students can meet a particular graduation requirement.) And just to shake up my life a bit more, if my health holds up, I'll be doing some traveling for the first time since my son was one (he's nearly 23 now.) I'll be going to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in October and if I survive to next summer, I'm destined for the Yucatan Peninsula in June when the Spanish class travels there to attend a language immersion program. 

Aaaaaaa! Picture a woman running in circles, a swarm of bees circling her head and you'll know how I feel right now. I'm thrilled and terrified, a rather bewildering combination. These changes are going to require huge adjustments in my self-care routine and time management if I have any hope of getting through it all without physical and mental collapse. I struggled last year with a mere seven hours per week but I felt I would be crazy to turn down this opportunity. I can't discover the boundaries of my world unless I test the edges every now and then...*deep breath* 

For now, I'm going to focus on my upcoming art show and try desperately to take this grand new adventure one day at a time (in spite of having to draft months of plans before mid-August.) I still have some leisurely summer days left before I have to dive back into teaching.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Sharp Turn to the Left

Just checking in on this Sunday: As you can probably tell there's no "How Do You...?" feature today as a sudden, crazy, completely unforeseen shift in my art teaching job happened last week and now, besides the fact that I am beginning the final three weeks of prep time for my August show, I am scrambling to adjust my entire life to fit my new reality. I'll post more as I know more but today I'm pausing to breathe so my head doesn't pop right off with the rapid infusion of responsibility and possibility. Sometimes life just takes a sharp turn to the left; I'm happy but anxious, excited but overwhelmed. I'll be back tomorrow with my latest index card art (ICAD) and then on Wednesday, I'll post the most recent Snippets spread. I think that if I can work ahead, I'll be able to keep this blog on track. We might go up on two wheels as we screech around the corners of my newly twisty road but that could be fun...hang on! Those of you who have been down this path with me before (juggling blogging, art, and unplanned life events)...well, stay the course as you usually do. For those of you new to the blog in recent months, strap on your crash helmet, tighten your seat belt, and pack snacks...things are gonna get a bit wild...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Trio of Sparks

Thank you so much for all the wonderfully supportive comments on my previous post regarding the doubts I'm having about my Sparks of Madness show! Seriously...I feel like I've gathered my second wind and I'm hoping that I can spend the next three weeks in a whirlwind of productive studio days so my show looks full of fresh material. I have plenty of prepped canvases to complete and even some new ideas emerging from my clearer, more confident head. (Interestingly, some of those brainstorms have nothing to do with monsters but with a new series of flora and fauna pieces. We'll see how much time I have to execute everything I want to do now.)

I'm actually feeling so much better about my monster paintings that I decided to post this piece, one that has been complete for months but which seemed so odd I was too embarrassed to show it. This canvas is actually the second piece I did in the Sparks series and when I finished it way back in February, I had to sit back and take a breath. I love it and yet it scares me a bit because it is big (18x24-inches) and it was the first really weird thing that I've committed to canvas. It certainly isn't a shy sketch that can be quietly shut away in a journal.

After I finished the initial layers of marks and color, I started looking for creatures hiding in the background and I was surprised to find three. I wasn't totally sure that I wanted to bring all three to life but not only did the size of the canvas demand it but the creatures all seemed to "need" each other. Each character seemed to fit in naturally with the others; I just defined and refined the details and the edges. I spent a lot of time working the contrasts in color and value inside and outside the creatures so each would stand out from the background while remaining detailed and vibrant themselves. 

However, I spent the most time - weeks in fact - trying to decide if the standing figure needed a mouth. I tried on a bunch of different mouths and absolutely nothing seemed to work. I finally came to the conclusion that any mouth I added pushed the image from oddly sweet to incredibly stupid-looking. I kept fighting myself, thinking "Well, she has to have a mouth!" Another part of me though (the small voice I ultimately listened to) could feel the gentle, motherly aspect of that character; even without the mouth, I thought I could feel her smiling. And the little owl she's holding and the strange fellow hugging her leg seem to sense it too. Someone who saw this piece said it looks as if the tall character is getting ready to eat the others; that person felt this piece was "ominous." I don't get that at all but maybe I'm too close to the work to be objective. What do you, dear readers, imagine is happening in this scene? I would love to hear your thoughts on possible narratives.

Perhaps you can imagine all the strange conversations I have with myself and these creatures as they come to life. The only other time I've felt that my creations are "alive" is when I'm sculpting characters. My found object robots and clay monsters all seem to gain self-awareness at some point in the process and I find myself guided towards their completion by voices that are not quite my own. (I've heard other doll-makers allude to this phenomenon so I know that this is actually quite normal...whew!) Anyway, this same process is happening as I create these canvas creatures. It makes for some very lively and surprising painting sessions.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Fire Behind Sparks is Sputtering Under Smothering Doubt

I'm behind in posting pictures of work for my upcoming August show titled Sparks of Madness. I had been working steadily throughout most of June but admittedly, in the last couple of weeks, my time spent painting has given way to less intimidating projects like journaling and jewelry-making. Basically, I'm procrastinating with crafts. I am plagued with doubts about the wisdom of hanging an entire show of 
monster paintings; I worry about how it will be received 
(financially and critically) and it's too late now to shift gears. With 13 pieces done so far, I need to complete another 20 paintings or so in the next 28 days to have a comfortably full display and yet every canvas I commit to creature creation makes me increasingly nervous. I love painting these guys more than I've ever loved painting anything else but boy! I really feel like I am standing on my tippy-toes on the smallest twig at the end of the highest branch of a very tall tree swaying in a very fierce wind.

In past years, I've always shown at this particular venue in October but this year, due to a scheduling snafu, I had to take whatever slot was available and that meant August. I think I might feel better if this show was going up closer to Halloween since the subject matter might make more sense in the eyes of the audience. I don't need any justification for drawing and painting monsters (other than I want to) but I think the world at large might need it. There are deeper reasons why I am so enthralled with creatures and critters but I'm not sure my explanations would sound anything but weird to most people.

Originally, I thought I would split my Motley Menagerie show into two parts: I'd do a series of monster paintings under the name, Sparks of Madness, and then another series of more "traditional" images that would beef up the collection of Menagerie pieces I still have in-house. I'm running out of time but I'm also running out of enthusiasm for the original, two-pronged show concept. As much as a show entirely populated by monsters terrifies me, I'm equally appalled by the notion that they need to take second billing next to more "acceptable" and "marketable" works. In fact, if I'm honest, I am a little annoyed that I even have to have this conversation with myself. It is a reasonable, practical, and timeless argument but irritating nonetheless. And yes, I have already had more than one person say, right to my face, that while these monsters were "cute," they weren't really "living room" appropriate. Hence, the doubt that is smothering my passion for this project. I know, I know...screw what other people think. Easier said than done...

Anyhow, I think I'm going to just leap off the teeny tiny branch of comfort zone I'm standing on and see what happens. Whether disastrous or successful, the journey (and the landing) will be dazzling either way.    

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sunday How Do You...Get So Much Art Done? Part 2

Last Sunday, I introduced my new blog series "How Do You...?" in which I attempt to answer readers' questions about my life as an artist. I began with the following:

"How do you get so much art done with all the obstacles you deal with?"

I'm answering this inquiry in three parts. Last week, I discussed my general strategies for having an art-filled life while also coping with with health challenges. Today, I'm going to take a slightly different approach; the following is a play-by-play of a typical day for me (Monday June 29 to be exact.)

4am - Wake Up: I wake up every morning no later than this; I don't need an alarm (haven't used one in years.) Sometimes, I get up earlier than 4 but if I do, I only stay up for an hour or so, waiting to be sleepy again. Then I go back to bed and start my day once I've slept a little more. I love being up before the sun; the world is stocking-feet quiet and distractions are few.

I switch on the little circle of white lights over my studio, fix a cup of coffee, and spend about an hour and a half checking my email, reading the news online, and cuddling my girl kitty Tuscany. Since I have an extreme sensitivity to light, I introduce my eyes to light very slowly and gently in the morning.

5:30am - Breakfast, Reading & Sinemet: I turn on a light at my studio table, fix something to eat, and read for about 30 minutes while breakfasting. Marley Bear joins me while I read until I open the blinds to watch the day brighten over the neighboring cow field. At this point, I also take the first of the day's five doses of levadopa, the synthetic dopamine that keeps the Parkinson's tremors at bay.

6 - 8am - Time for Whatever Needs to Be: For the next two hours, I do whatever I feel my body needs. Sometimes, I sit on the couch and doze lightly. If I have a full-blown migraine, I take meds and go back to sleep for real. However, if I'm feeling good, I begin working in the studio, usually starting with my journals or other small projects. This day, I spent the time finishing up my index cards for the week and listening to music. That leads to some fantastic 80's dance moves across my living room.

7:30am - Venturing Outside: The music has me up and moving and since I feel pretty good this morning so I decide to go for a short walk. It rained lightly overnight and the world is adorned in row upon row of dripping diamonds that sparkle in the morning sun. I've seen fit to bring my camera and I spend my walk taking pictures of glowing weeds and glistening spider's webs.

8:15am - Shower

8:30am - Laundry & Other Chores: Typically, I schedule this chore for Wednesdays only but the pile of dirty clothes looks like it is becoming self-aware so I pack up a basket and go to the nearby laundry room. A single load of laundry takes an hour and a half so while I'm waiting I also put away my blankets (I sleep on the couch,) feed Milo the bird, put out fresh kibble and water for the cats, put away clean dishes, and scoop the cat box. I check my email again, fiddle with my index cards some more, prepare my Snippets spread for the coming week, and sort a little paper pile that has formed on my table. By the time, I drag the clean, dry laundry back to the apartment, I realize I've done too much. My head is starting to hurt and my legs are scolding me. 

10:30 - 11:30am - Taking a Breather: Since I'm hurting, I decide to slow life down a bit. I fix my second cup of coffee, watch some stupid reality court TV, do the dishes, and rewrite a recipe for a cookbook I'm assembling for my son. Once the light gets just right, I take pictures of the finished index cards and a few completed canvases. I'll edit and upload those pictures on another day. Marley hops up on the table to snuggle and so I spend some time rubbing his belly and deciding my next move. While Marley is licking my cheek in a bid for attention, Tuscany is taking full advantage of the warm laundry. Laundry day is Tussy's very favorite day of the week and she will spend the next several hours happily contaminating our clean clothes with her calico hair.

11:30am - 2pm -  Lunch & More Miscellaneous Tasks: After a quick walk across the street to the market for spinach, I fix baked chicken flautas, guacamole, and salsa for lunch (from this recipe) and while eating, my son and I watch something I TIVOed the night before. Afterwards, I do the dishes again, take out the garbage, and check my mail. (I do this way too much each day and I am actively working to reduce time spent online...blogging excepted of course!)

2 - 6pm - Getting Down to Business: I finally settle into my studio and work on eight small canvases, preparing them for the next step of the painting process. Leftover paint goes onto a new set of index cards while I'm working. I get up here and there to feed my fish, and fold and put away clothes. My son and I find our own way for dinner. Yep, there's my third cup of coffee for the day... 

6 - 6:30pm - Trying to Find My Second Wind: I take a break to feed the cats their evening meal, fold some more clothes, and find something on Netflix to keep me awake for another couple of hours. I'm definitely winding down but I don't want to go to bed too early so...

6:30 - 8pm - Back to the Paint: I get some more painting done and set the canvases on the stove to dry overnight.

8 - 8:30pm - Bedtime: I clean my studio completely so it is ready to go in the morning. At this point, I basically reverse my "waking up" routine: get my bed set up, gradually lower my lights, and generally wind down.

In summary, this was a pretty typical day for me and it played out as my predetermined schedule suggested. I started out feeling decent but then overdid it (quite common) so I had to take a step back and readjust my plans. Every day is an exercise in decision-making: deciding what I want to spend energy on and what, as a consequence, I must let go of in order to do what I have chosen. I self-assess multiple times throughout the day and make those adjustments that will keep me moving forward but that will also acknowledge my body's needs.  I have a different schedule for each day of the week and I try to stick as close to that as I can. And speaking of Sunday, I'll discuss my thoughts on creating a workable art/life schedule. Using a daily schedule isn't for everyone but I have found that having a basic guideline for each day has really helped me stay focused and get more done.
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