Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Switching Things Up in My Illustration Practice

It has been a wild and weird week...and it is only Wednesday! However, the weekend is in my sights so all things considered, life is looking up.

I've been experimenting in my sketchbook with new-to-me ways to shade and detail my illustrations. For a long time, I've felt that a strong black ink outline sucks the liveliness out of my creatures and critters. That thick primary line seems to work well with drawings from life but for cartooning, I wanted to have a softer, more realistic look. Then Doodlers Anonymous introduced me to illustrator Maria Tiurina and a lightbulb went off in my own head with the brilliance of her inspiration. For some reason, it had never occurred to me to use watercolors over graphite. I guess maybe I thought it would smear. After some experimentation though, I discovered that I could give my characters shading and detail without flattening the drawing. I need to practice a whole lot more but even these first experiments make me feel as if my illustrations are entering a new stage.

It is important to know when to shut out the inner critic but it is also good to know when to listen. It is also good to realize that sometimes we don't know when we are staying safe inside our usual toolboxes. I had started out illustration with one particular style of working and while my ability has improved drastically with all the focused practice I've done, I had forgotten that I needed unfocused play as well. It is a bit of a paradox because I do include a lot of playtime in my art practice but for some reason, I had overlooked this important component when it came to my efforts at becoming an illustrator. Lesson learned.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How I Do Art When I Can't Do Art

Last week was a blur as a weird health issue arose, necessitating an Xray, doctors' visits, lab tests, antibiotics, and a CT scan. A separate issue in my left foot requires an MRI this coming week to evaluate for surgery. I worked every morning and tracked down medical help in the afternoons. When the weekend hit, I needed to clean the apartment from top to bottom because the first of two annual inspections is here. Needless to say, there hasn't been a lot of time for art-making. However, I still managed to make art.

Tammy over at Daisy Yellow recently posted a lovely little inspirational piece about daily art and it made me think about how I get anything done in the studio given my schedule and health challenges. And then I thought "Maybe that would make a good blog post" so here it is:

I Work In Teeny, Tiny Time Frames:
Sometimes, I only have 15 uninterrupted minutes at a time to sit and work on a project. Most days, I can find a couple of these quarter-hour chunks of time to devote to art. I might sketch a monster in one small time period; the painting part of the illustration could happen later in that same day or maybe weeks later. For me, the hardest part of working like this is accepting it as my reality. I would love to sit in the studio all day long but unless it is the summer or a holiday weekend, I don't really have the luxury of unlimited art time. I am building a cohesive, unique, and extensive body of work bit by bit.

When I Can Work for Longer Periods, I'm Prepared:
I don't want to waste time searching for supplies; thus, my studio is set up so everything I could need is within immediate reach. I also don't want to waste time trying to figure out what I want to do in the time I have so I am constantly writing things down: lists, brainstorms, quickie sketches, random ideas. I have a couple small "kitchen sink" pocket notebooks for when I'm out and about but mostly I keep my notes and lists and sketches with the project they relate to.

I Do Many Things So A Door to Art Is Always Open:

Some days, my fine motor skills are crap so I paint journal backgrounds. When I'm focused and feeling good, I draw or watercolor my illustrations. When I have time for a challenge, I sculpt or sew. I have projects for short time periods and long, sharp focus and poor, steady days and shaky. No matter my mood, health, or work schedule, there is always a project at hand to fit the circumstance of the day.

If I Don't Make Art, I Absorb It:
I read and watch things that inspire me on an artistic level. I pay attention to color schemes, shot composition, textures, and beautiful writing in movies and my favorite television shows; I write down anything I want to remember and tap into later. I read fiction that is heavy on description and that centers around topics that I play with in my art. All of my non-fiction reading has to do with art in some way: makers, history, technique. When I'm out and about, I look at the world through an artist's eyes and through an artist's hands. (When I'm in a store, I spend a lot of time touching things because experiencing textures directly is very stimulating; if I'm feeling stuck, my best bet is to visit a local furniture store to experience all the patterns and fabrics.) I take pictures of what intrigues me so I can tote that inspiration back to my studio. 

I Remember that Art is Everywhere, Not Just in the Studio:
I have found inspiring patterns in the dishwater, cool color combos in a stack of bath towels, and awesome shapes in the rocks my landlord uses for landscaping. Some of my best art materials and inspirations have been discovered in the course of casual walks to the trash compactor or corner grocery store. You become an artist not just in the doing, but in the seeing. It is also essential to remember that art is more than just "art stuff." Writing, cooking, traveling, music, theater, decorating, dance, getting into the outdoors: these are all artful arenas as well. 

When I'm Not Making Stuff, I'm Teaching Others to Make Stuff:
Of course, I also happen to be lucky enough to teach art and that alone is a fantastic way to maintain a connection to art when I can't make it myself. In the classroom, I create vicariously as my students tackle their art assignments. When I need to build up their courage or reign in their negativity, I give voice to things I need to remember for myself. I never give my students an assignment that I haven't first done myself so lesson planning becomes a making session for me.

Everyone has their own unique mix of responsibilities and distractions that get in the way of art-making. However, if you stay open to inspiration and get creative with the time you do have, it can feel as if you make and/or experience art every minute of every day.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Already Crazy Busy with Teaching

Aaah...the weekend! This school year - at least for the first semester - is going to be a doozy.

As I've mentioned, I have 85 students to start this year, ranging from 5th grade to 12th. They are broken down into 6 groups of about 15 kids per group and I see every group, Monday through Thursday for 30 group right after the other. I have an unusually large number of students simply because there is a teacher out on maternity leave until the end of January. That teacher usually takes half of this number for English and history. Since she's gone, the remaining upper grade English teacher (that I typically pair with) has all the students, all the time and that means I see everybody as well. In a nutshell, my job at this school is to use the English, history, and Spanish curriculum as a springboard for art education. I look at what material will be covered each year and then design art projects that teach both basic art principles and that strengthen students' understanding of the material.

We are beginning the year reading Great Expectations in preparation for seeing the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in mid-October. The English teacher is approaching the book from a language/writing perspective and I'm helping the kids analyze the book from a visual perspective. My students will be creating their own comic books, character maps, and geographical maps based on our reading.

A week before we leave for a four-day trip to Ashland and the Shakespeare Festival, I'll switch gears with the kids and discuss travel journals/urban sketching as the students will be keeping sketchbooks for the entire trip. The journey to Ashland is an annual event for our school and virtually every student will go on the trip.

When we get back from Ashland, we'll do about a week of closing assignments surrounding our travel experiences, and then we'll dive into our theater unit with dizzying intensity. The youngest middle school students will be learning and performing Midsummer Night's Dream while the older kids will tackle Hamlet. Some of the older students (who have already done Hamlet) may spin off to perform Eddie Zipperer's Don't Fear the Reaper. During the theater unit, I help the students learn the material through the creation of a journal. This year, each student will be constructing an accordion-folded journal that holds vocabulary lists/definitions, act summaries, Shakespeare caricatures, and faux illuminated pages.

Whew! You might be as tired from reading all that as I am in planning/doing it. Last week, I came home every day and fell into bed. I'm hoping as the days progress that I'll be able to find a healthy rhythm that leaves me with energy at the end of the teaching day to do my own stuff. I am trying to get back into journaling and other small projects (while preparing my show for hanging) so the photo I've included in this post is of my latest spread in my small "Unexpected Convergences" journal.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Winding Up/Winding Down

The school year has officially begun although I won't actually have students until after Labor Day; at my school, 5th through 12th grade students camp the first week of school, getting to know one another, reviewing/updating the school constitution, and learning school goals and expectations. I spent this week doing bulletin boards, setting up the library, planning lessons, ordering supplies.

Even without students around, I can feel the chaos brewing. It's like looking at an approaching tornado - all swirly with crazy energy and unpredictability - and saying "That looks like fun! Let's jump in!" In fact, I often feel swept up and away by teaching but this year, I am going to practice having more mental and emotional separation between work and the rest of my life. I need to be able to come home and detach so I can relax and focus on other things. 

Now that my show work is drawing to a close (just 4 weeks until it goes up on the wall!) I am returning to the myriad of other projects that have been lingering on the sidelines. This journal page is just a reminder to myself to play around. It is good to spend time on things that don't bear the weight of deadlines or expectations. In the past, after one of my show prep summertimes, I've felt drained of inspiration after so much intense focus on a single project; this year is quite a bit different as I still feel full of ideas for new pieces and shows. That's sort of cool but I need to dial back the energy I'm putting towards my work so I have energy to guide students towards their own art-making. Playing around in my journals will help me maintain a vital, gentle connection to myself. It also provides a great place to unwind after a hectic day swirling around in the tornado that is 85 middle and high school art students. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sidebar Survey in Progress

I am thinking about doing more how-to/instructive posts, perhaps as just part of the regular blog or maybe as mini online classes (either here or on a separate, private blog.) This content might be delivered in the form of my usual photo/text posts and/or short, simple videos. First though, I need to know what media/technique/topics you, my dear readers, are most interested in learning about from me. So think about the kinds of thngs you've seen me do here on the blog and pop into my sidebar for the poll. You can also leave comments on this post. Remember, consider your answer in terms of what I do; for example, if you really want to know about encaustics, you'd be out of luck because that isn't a medium that I work in. Think about my interests and style (I'm not big on a lot of collage for instance but I do a lot of original drawing/painting.) I've listed a few things to choose from in the poll; you can choose more than one. If any of those things happen to be something you'd like to learn about, let me know. And again, if you want to provide a more in-depth answer (or the poll doesn't work,) leave a comment.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Single instructional posts or a short series of posts would probably run here on the main blog. You could drop something into my tip jar if you felt motivated to do so but otherwise, free for all to see.
  • More complex/in-depth/lengthy instruction would be probably be on a separate private blog; you would send me your email and I'd send an invite back to you to join the blog. These classes would be low cost and/or by donation and you'd have lifetime access. My only firm stipulation would be that you not pin anything from that private blog/online class.
  • My video/editing skills are still in development so any videos would probably be in a "watch me work/listen to me talk" style. You'd have to be OK with that. I have a decent camera and a tripod but I don't have the brain power/computer program/time/energy right now to whip super-duper uber professional videos...

Nothing is set in stone right now. In fact, I haven't even gotten the chisel out of the toolbox yet. For now, I just need to get a sense of what you all come here to see and learn about. Baby stepping toward online teaching...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Show Work Wanes; Teaching Looms

I've had my head down the last couple of weeks, tinkering away on my wall doll sculptures for my October show. I have 17 complete; I'm aiming for 21 in this series. I have the makings for a small side series (same technique/different characters) but we'll see how much I have time/interest for in the upcoming six weeks.

The new school year is here and as I've been working on the show, I'm beginning to feel the familiar pull of other projects that need my attention. Bulletin boards, lesson plans, and the school library are calling my name. Outside of work, I am also practicing with chalk pastels to prepare for an annual hometown event called "Pastels on the Plaza." I've always wanted to participate but most businesses already seem to have artists that they call upon year after year. However...remember when I said that I was excited to hang my art at the local library because it meant new eyes and perhaps new opportunities? Yep. That's what generated the invitation to do a square representing the library. Anyway, "Pastels" is happening Saturday October 1st and the show will go up the next day. The show reception is the following Friday evening...lots to do before then.

I also have several other art projects that have been piling up and as my attention to show production starts to wane, it is only in the last week or so that I've actually started to see those things in my peripheral vision. This is a very typical work pattern for me when it comes to shows; I spend a couple months caught up in white-hot concentration and then the rest of the year, I do other things. I am forever trying to change this habit as I'd surely get more done if I worked year round but school usually dominates my time mid-August to mid-June. I rarely have enough energy leftover for such an intense process as making work for a show.

In about four or five more weeks, I'll concede (reluctantly) that I've run out of time for making new pieces and I'll turn my attention to the nitty-gritty details of the show such as labels, pricing, advertising, and signage. That stuff always takes much more time than I anticipate, mostly because it is so much less exciting. It is important though and I have found that my shows are more successful if I really make an effort on all those small details that bring the show together. I'll post on that process once I get there.

In the meantime, you'll see my post content start to shift to other topics and (fair warning) my post frequency might also change. Due to a staff member's maternity leave, the middle/high school English/art classes are HUGE this fall; We'll be breaking the group (about 85 kids) into many small groups and projects but it still means a lot of squirmy bodies per day that I'm trying to wrangle into art-making. I'm a little exhausted just thinking about it but it always seems worth it in the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bear Feet & Bear Belly

It's been a while since we've had some Marley Mania around these parts so here goes...

Because I'm sure you've wondered, Marley will show you how a Bear washes his feet:
1) Back support is particularly important. Bear feet are big so get comfortable.
2) Grasp the dirty paw with a clean one to keep it steady.
3) Lick enthusiastically.
4) Surrender your modesty because Momma is going to grab her camera. more's a bit of Bear belly love to soften the edges of your day:

Monday, August 8, 2016

Using Every Last Second of Summer Vacation

Soon I need to start turning the bulk of my attention to preparing for the new school year; this is the last full week that I can focus almost exclusively on work for Figmenta. It took a while but once I found my groove, the summer days flew by. I have lucked upon a great source for the perfect-sized wood blocks I need to create these "wall dolls;" a good friend with a large collection of lumber is cutting and sanding blocks for me for free. With this fortuitous development, I have decided that my show will feature my assemblage works only. It is a huge departure from hanging paintings for nine years and I'm sure it will take many in the community by surprise. I hope my audience will be as delighted by the final product as I have been in the creation process. I'm confident that I'll come back around to painting; my ideas just need some time to percolate and mature before I approach the paints again.

Meanwhile, I'll keep constructing these characters, trying to get as many done before October as possible. The space I show in is huge. My "Cyborg Relations" are long (approximately 18") but they aren't wide so it will take more than a few pieces to make to wall space look full. The venue (a local furniture store that participates in our monthly art walk) has two levels so I could hang paintings in other parts of the store. However, my town's library offered to host my work on its walls and since the library is a new venue for me, I am going to take the bulk of my painted work there for display. It is always fun to push out into a fresh space that taps into an entirely different audience. The more eyeballs on the work, the more chances for opportunity to knock. 

Thank you for your warm encouragement throughout this process! As I start back to work (and thus diversify my art-making again,) my blog content will become more varied. I actually have been doing other art aside from the assemblages but I haven't taken pictures of anything but show pieces this summer.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

When a Spark Becomes a Firestorm

Although I've been quiet here at my blog, a creative fire has been raging in my studio as I continue to bring parts together for this crazy sculpture/assemblage project that has gripped my attention for the past several weeks. As usual, once I decided to trust my instincts, a small spark of an idea became a firestorm. I am gleefully buried beneath a mountain of bits and baubles: beads, charms, spools of wire, pipe fittings, springs, buttons, screws, nails, nuts, bolts, keys, game pieces, jump rings, and gears. What grand, silly fun I am having! I can now say that I spent an entire two hours of my life building a miniature ray gun. Last week, I whittled a peg leg and constructed a hook hand. I have giggled and whooped in triumph.

Interestingly, as I work on these sculptures, my normally unsteady hands do not shake. This is a phenomenon familiar to people with Parkinson's: projects & processes that require intense concentration and skillful manual dexterity often calm tremors. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain that PD patients lose (which in turn leads to lack of muscle control,) spikes during rewarding activities. I am quite literally high on art right now.

At this point, I am approximately 95% sure that my show will be comprised entirely of these three-dimensional, wall-hanging characters. I simply cannot deny my heart's desire and I have to see this project through until the embers of madness and delight begin to cool. I hope that doesn't happen any time soon as I feel like I have just begun to explore where this inferno of inspiration and joy might take me.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole

If I'm lucky, there comes a time during every show production session that I become completely absorbed in the work to the exclusion of all else: other art projects, laundry, meals, Netflix, errands, sunshine, blogging. Until about two weeks ago, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to find that sweet spot in creating work for Figmenta, my solo show in October. I told myself that I was still recovering from an especially difficult teaching year, that it was just taking time to rebuild my energy and focus. I told myself that an ongoing battle with severe tendonitis and increasing tremor were slowing me down but that I was still making progress, albeit at a snail's pace.

And then, finally, I fell down the rabbit hole. However, the hole didn't appear where I expected it to and I am doing some serious pondering about what it all means.

I had been casually preparing a bunch of small canvases after completing two large pieces but after the first couple of layers, my interest stalled. I'd look at my stack of blank canvas and feel like I had to drag myself across the room by my elbows to them. So, in the spirit of moving onward, I turned my attention to my sculpture/assemblage project based on an idea I jotted down in 2012. It's an idea that's been patiently brewing in my brain pan for the last four years but simultaneously going nowhere. Since Figmenta is all about honoring my artistic whims, I had finally decided to bring this idea out of the show workbook and into reality.

I worked on the individual parts assembly line-style so it took a few weeks for everything to arrive at the same point. The heads were sculpted, dry, painted, and varnished. The edges of the wood blocks were covered in tissue paper and then the fronts & backs were covered with paper as well. Holes were drilled and screw eyes attached, four at a time. I could begin assembly.

And that's when the rabbit hole opened beneath me. Most of the last two weeks, I've spent upwards of ten hours each day playing mad scientist. Metal and wood bits cover nearly every inch of my studio table with the exception of Marley in his box and the tool jars that take up most of the righthand corner of the table. Somewhere in that pile of embellishments there are pliers, glue, wire cutters, a small hand drill, scissors, and a cutting blade that I hope I remembered to cap. There are itty bitty screws, brads, eyelets, random coils of wire, game pieces, and gears galore. As my actual workspace shrinks, my joy expands. Whenever I create something particularly amusing, I actually cackle aloud: "Heh, heh, heh." Time begins to slip slide away.

At first, I was just assembling the two parts I had completed: heads and bodies. But as I worked, characters and their stories began to emerge. I have moved into the deeper levels of the rabbit hole and as I continue to fall, I am starting to evaluate where I might land. Initially, I thought these "Cyborg Relations" would just be scattered in amongst my paintings, oddities for distraction and amusement. Now though, I am wondering if perhaps these might become the main attraction. Other than my very first show in May 2002 and a small show of the robot army in February 2014, I've always shown paintings. Both shows of my 3-D work were in tiny venues. Do I dare try to base a large solo show on my assemblage work? Hmmm...the wheels are turning frantically in my head.

My new friends await their arms and legs. I have two heads to redo since I discovered I am not in love with them. Other ideas are starting to surface. I am making copious notes and sketches. Unless I am seized with new enthusiasm for painting, it is very possible that Figmenta is going to turn in an unexpected direction. I'm not closing any doors yet; it's too early to make any drastic, final decisions. For now I'm just going to enjoy the descent into all-consuming fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


I will never tire of the sculpting process and this is my favorite part. As I work the clay, the characters I envision begin as ghosts; since I do no sketches prior to smoothing the clay onto the armature, I have no concrete idea what the final piece will look like once paint is applied. I have to believe that my subconscious will guide my fingers towards a character that "works" in the end. As I add the shading and details, the sculpt comes alive and if I've trusted the process, the resulting character feels like it existed fully visualized all along. It is as close to magic as I can get in my studio.

I think at this point I can reveal that this series is called "Cyborg Relations" and that it's destined to be part of Figmenta; however, I'll leave it at that until all the heads are painted and I'm ready to start bringing the parts together into the final forms. I do hope the process will start moving along at a faster clip once the heads are complete since that is the most time-consuming part of this project. I feel like my distraction-free studio time is slipping through my fingers and that I don't have much done. I need to keep focusing on each individual work day and not get mired in the gradually-rising anxiety within as summer winds down and show premiere date looms with the onset of fall. 

Thank you to all for joining me on this journey and for your enthusiastic and encouraging comments. Creating a large body of work for a show can be a lonely, exhausting endeavor and it has been nice to have a cheering section as I try to bring Figmenta to fruition. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Figmenta Rises Bit by Bit

I'm a bit behind here at Lost Coast Post because work on the show has complete command of my attention right now. If you were to wander through my studio, it would probably seem as if I'm not making much progress: there are unfinished projects all over the place. Currently, nine small canvases are drying in my tiny kitchen so that I can move on to the next stage with them. I try to end each day with a painting session after the dishes are done so that everything can be dry and ready to go in the morning. However, dinner might have to be take-out tonight so that I don't have to disturb my work.

In between painting sessions, I am working on an assemblage series. In my previous post, I showed you some plain wood blocks. All those blocks are now covered in paper: fronts, backs, and sides. I won't be touching them again until I get into the final assembly stage but I am eager to see how these work together with the heads I'm creating in clay.

Yesterday I completed the last 5 (out of 13!) sculpted heads and in about a week, they should be completely dry. Meanwhile, I'll start painting & embellishing the ones that are already dry, a fun but lengthy step-by-step process. I'm excited though because as I complete the heads, this project will really start to crystallize and come alive. This idea has been a long time in coming (my first sketch for this series dates back to 2012) and it is a more than a little thrilling to see that random note becoming reality. My show title, Figmenta, is becoming more appropriate by the day, as I transform scattered figments of my imagination from barely-articulated whims into real life objects. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that in the next few weeks, I'll have a lot more completed pieces so my usual panic about not having enough to hang will diminish. For now, I just need to keep working away on all the individual parts and trust that things will start to come together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Hmmm...I wonder what these things will become? Some blocks of wood...

A fantastic collection of metal, plastic, and wood bits & bobs (what's in this picture times five)...

Sculpted heads waiting for paint...

'Tis a mystery to be revealed on a future date. The wild ride that is Figmenta rolls onward...

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Research Question

Need to do a little research for my show...if you have a moment (and are willing to engage your imagination,) please answer the following question in the comments:

Based on what you have observed, when animals wear hats, how do they usually wear them? (I understand the type of animal, length of ears, and hat style creates a lot of variables but generally, when considering some common creatures - cat, dog, raccoon, fox, rabbit, bird, etc - what do you think is the most typical practice:

A) Hats are known for being uncomfortable. The hat is pushed down onto the head with ears poking out (if long enough) beneath the brim.

B) The ears are stuffed up into the hat so as to keep them warm and dry. This is the point of a hat, silly.

C) Animals have special milliners who craft ear holes in their hats; because of this accommodation, ears remain proudly on display whilst wearing hats.

D) Proper hat-wearing etiquette demands that the hat be set at a jaunty angle, covering one ear and perhaps concealing the other.

E) Hats are sort of a nuisance when one has ears on top of one's head; any hat worn by an animal must perch carefully atop the head, in between the ears.

F) What a ridiculous question! Animals don't wear hats!

If you have observed any hat-wearing options in the field other than what I have listed above, do tell. Thank you for your participation!

EDIT: Yes; I know "real" animals don't wear hats. However, I live a lot in my imagination and a world of story. In case you hadn't noticed, dreaming up fantastical characters, realms, and possibilities fuels my art and life. I thrive on silliness. To answer this question, you'll have to suspend disbelief, logic, reason, and reality. And then, go read Wind in the Willows...

A Parliament of Hooligans

as yet untitled; 12x36-inches gallery deep canvas; acrylics & vintage paper
Work on my show, Figmenta, is progressing very slowly but steadily. This is the painting I completed last week, the beginning of a series I'm calling "Woodland Hoodlums." This piece in particular is going to be titled either "The Hooligan Gang" or "Members of Parliament." (A group of owls is called a "parliament.") Figmenta will be different this year in that instead of consisting of a single, cohesive set of paintings, the show will be comprised of several series, each with its own look and technical style. I'm a bit worried that the final pieces will all look a bit disjointed when hung together but 1) it is too early to worry about that, 2) right now I just need to do the work, 3) my old way of doing things was boring me, and 4) I am giving in to my every whim, every figment of an idea that is floating my way. 

Next week, I will start working on some smaller pieces - preparing multiple canvases at once - so hopefully, I will move more of my canvas stash from the "blank" pile to the "done" pile. This photo captures the stack of small canvases waiting-in-the-wings; I have some large ones as well but I'd like to get these small pieces done first before I turn my attention to something really big and complex. We'll see how far I get in the next few weeks...
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