Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 8

"Paradoxical Delights" 

I am always intrigued by the paradoxes that reveal themselves in the studio when I take time to notice them.  For instance, I've realized that when I restrict my palette, I often feel that my muse is set free.  And when I decide to turn to "the dark side," I am contradictorily filled with laughter and light.  I am sometimes at my best when I feel my worst and when I allow myself to believe that the end result is of no consequence, I produce work that is anything but inconsequential.  Such are the delights of late, here in the warming, blooming air of spring.  I bend to my sketchbook, caught up in the quiet act of creation and from my tools, creatures are born.  They are filled with shadow and yet sometimes arrive bearing a shy smile and a pink balloon.  Hello there, wee beastie...welcome to the world.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Weeks 5, 6, and 7

"My Sketchbook is Going Dark"

As you can tell from my multi-week check-in coverage, it has been more "lost" than "post" here on the Pacific coast.  As the seemingly interminable winter yields to the slowly gathering warmth of the fairer seasons, my days have picked up pace.  The irritating spring rituals of taxes and student aid applications had to be completed.  My teaching semester is winding down (I'm done at the end of May until September) and so I am looking forward to fresh teaching opportunities in my community.  There's a show looming in May which means I'll spend the balance of April painting while trying to keep up with my assignments for "The Year of the Fairy Tale."  My days have been filled to bursting and yet, somehow, I found time to pause and really think some deep thoughts about where I'd like to take my art next.

I'm going to be forging a new path.  I have things I want to accomplish before the Parkinson's makes me too unsteady to realize the images and ideas in my head...but that's the simplistic explanation for my decision to try some new things.  In truth, these "new" things have been percolating in my brain for years, even decades.  I began setting the stage for this next phase in my art life a couple of years ago when I decided to focus more on illustration.  As I drew and doodled, I built my confidence and technical ability.  Now, with some significant time away from journaling (which, of course, opened up more time for drawing), I realize that I just might have reached that magic place where ability and aspiration meet.  Now just might be the time to stretch in a different direction...

Ever since I was little, I've been inspired by all things science fiction and fantasy.  I grew up on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Outer Limits, The Munsters.  I adore old-school, black & white horror flicks as well as B-movie sci-fi fare from the fifties.  Some more modern idols include Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and Guillermo del Toro.  Looking through my sketchbooks from the last couple of years, I realize my fascination with robots and monsters was "gateway art."  After so much time lurking around a path I've wanted to explore all along, I've finally decided to step over the threshold and let myself dabble in a bit darker palette.

I'm fairly good at "pretty" but to tell the complete truth, I've also sort of felt all my cute and pretty art was sort of safe.  I've often thought that it was more acceptable to draw cute things, more "mainstream."  I've been afraid to get a little edgy.  After all, even my "sweet" illustrations kill comments and views around here.  However, if I've realized one thing during my "sabbatical," it's that I have no real need anymore for what going on in the mainstream.  I care about what's happening in my mindstream.  I care about letting characters loose upon the world while I am able.  And I'll tell you now that many of those characters & creatures might be a touch shifty with a moral compass that's slightly askew.  I'm not abandoning cute but rather balancing that with a side of creepy.  Silly needs to snuggle in with sinister. 

There's no specific end goal, no secret project or career ambition driving this turn off the pavement and into the wilds.  I am doing this simply because I've always wanted to...there is no better reason than that.  Maybe this will be only a passing phase...maybe I'll fight my way through the underbrush and realize I prefer a more comfortable path...or maybe, just maybe, I'll forge a brand new, exciting road.  All I know for sure is that I'll never know if I never begin.     

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 4

"Wandering"

It has been a strange week, alternating between skull-crushing migraines and highly-productive, happy days.  My time in the studio is solely focused on assignments from the "Year of the Fairy Tale" class.  I'm not working in any sort of logical, linear fashion.  Instead, I'm bouncing between tasks, painting one day and sketching the next; sometimes I paint my sketches and sometimes I sketch into my paintings.  In short, I am letting my muse do whatever she damn well pleases.  Because of this, it has taken days to complete this study sheet of my princess in her froggy form.  I was experimenting here with different combinations of techniques, trying to settle on one style that I will pull forward into all my spot illustrations for this fairy tale.  I am filling my spare moments with joyful realization of my imagination's notions and as I set the long-caged characters free, my head and shoulders lift with relief.  This is what art-making should be about...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 3

"Full Circle"

After months away from all my colorful supplies, I discovered it was very, very difficult to get started on the mixed media portion of the "Year of the Fairy Tale" assignments.  The sketchbook felt comfortable, safe, manageable.  I actually dreaded the thought of dragging out a bunch of materials, the inevitable clutter invading my workspace.  I'm craving quiet and simplicity right now.  However, in the interest of not falling too far behind, I moved forward last night and played just a bit with watercolors.  My wee frog princess is starting to develop, shown here holding the arrow shot into the swamp by Ivan, the young tsar-to-be in search of a bride.

It is so delightful to fill the spare moments of my days with fairy tales and illustration.  I haven't worked in my journal since maybe last November.  I wonder if perhaps I'm moving away from that pursuit.  Indeed, it feels like I'm coming full circle: I began my serious art studies with scientific illustration, moved into printmaking, bookmaking, then journaling.  All along, my imagination whispered to me, characters gently advocating for their release from my head.  I shushed them all, not feeling confidant enough to draw from my heart instead of my eyes.  After years of casual doodling and teaching cartooning, I'm starting to believe I can give my imagination life.  Sometimes there is a perceived gap between what I see in my mind's eye and what I am actually capable of rendering.  I think that I've been assuming that gap is a chasm when in fact, it may be more of a hop, skip, and a jump.  Of course, I didn't discover the truth of the matter until I actually set self-criticism aside and made the leap.       


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 2

"Stepping Out of the Chaos"

Well, welcome to the "Monday-Check-In-on-a-Wednesday"...heh, heh...Time flies when you're ignoring it...


It has been two weeks and (as beginnings typically do) things have been proceeding along swimmingly.  It is amazing how just making a declaration of new direction can, in fact, start propelling you in that direction.  I've spent a lot of time lounging in my sketchbook dedicated to my "Year of the Fairy Tale" work.  This illustration class taught by Carla Sonheim is turning out to be everything I had hoped for and so much more!  A big component of my decision to take a sabbatical (even if it is mostly a figurative one) was that I wanted to completely commit myself to this class.  We're only two months in and I feel it will prove to be an absolutely transformative experience for my art and art life.

All this patient sketchbook work has helped me build sustained moments where I step out of the busyness that sweeps me along through the days.  In my peripheral vision, I sense life continuing to rush by but I am learning to focus on the quiet scratching of pencil on paper; time slows as does my heart rate.  Princesses and frogs rise out of my graphite dust and I am content.  It is really difficult to feel fulfilled by a passion when three-quarters of your brain is preoccupied with the stress of living so this "time-slowing" is essential to master if I want to get the most out of this artistic life I have chosen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 1

"Rekindling Begins"

So here begins my documentation of my "sabbatical," a break I'm taking to rekindle my passion, inspiration, energy, and focus.  I'm largely concentrating on my artistic life but I think that I'll benefit across the board by taking a little time and space to reevaluate where I'm at, where I want to go, and how I might get there.

This week, I got caught up on my notes for the "Year of the Fairy Tale" class and actually started working on the assignments.  Whoo hoo!  It felt so good to do art again just for me.  I also spent this first week doing a little bit of studio reorganizing.  I don't want to get too invested in this task so I'm only allowing myself about 15 minutes worth of digging, shuffling, filing, and cleaning a day.

What I need desperately is a reorganization (perhaps even a revolution) of how I spend my time.  Teaching, prepping for teaching, coping with health issues, household chores & maintenance, cooking, parenting, chauffeuring:  all these things and more still need to be done so I am working on making better use of my time.  I am very prone to losing my way when everyday life gets messy and busy.  Too often, art and self-care get shoved to the backburner and it has been to my detriment.  Ah well!  These are the sorts of things I hope to figure out in the coming months as I take a long, hard, deliberate look at the current state of affairs.  Right now, I only know that things have to change.  The "how" part of the equation will reveal itself as I go along.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Confessions, Realizations, and Plans

I confess:  For months now, I have felt deeply disconnected from and disinterested in my personal art.  It could be a result of a relentlessly cold and dismal winter, a clingy respiratory illness, everyday busyness or (most likely) a combination of all of the above.  Regardless of the cause, the interest and inspiration is gone.

I did manage to churn out 27 robot sculptures for my February show but only because I was whipped into action by a looming deadline and the specter of shame if I failed to meet a commitment that was splashed all over local newspapers.  Other than the robots and the flare of energy when I teach, I've done absolutely nothing to nurture and exercise the artist within.  And that bothers me.  I know I am a better person when I am creating.  However, after so long away, I had begun to wonder if I would ever get back.

So, a couple of nights ago, as I sat in front of the television contemplating and mourning the twin losses of my mojo and muse, I thought "I need a break." And then, just as quickly, I realized that, in fact, I needed a renewal.  And so, the wheels began turning and I started formulating a grand plan.

I am granting myself a six-month sabbatical.  Until the end of August, I am creating for myself constructive time away so I can get back to what I love.  I don't just want to "take a break" because that would just be a continuance of what I'm already doing: nothing.  I want to dig deep and dig myself out.  The artist in me hasn't really gone away; she's just tired, bored, and aimless.  So, that said, I have six sabbatical goals:
  1. Rest my body...
  2. Reflect on my overall purpose and direction...
  3. Renew my passion...
  4. Replenish my inspiration...
  5. Romp in my studio without outside pressures and, finally...
  6. Reconnect to (and perhaps reinvent) my artistic life
I'll still be teaching; that pursuit is an incredibly positive influence on my own art life.  I'll still need to keep up with all the everyday life stuff; there's nobody else to pick up the slack.  However, by declaring this sabbatical aloud, I am committing to action in all the spare moments I can gather.  To keep myself accountable, I will post here every Monday, reporting on my efforts and discoveries.  There may be additional posts here and there but in general, I plan to stay away from blogging.  I have this intense feeling that the time is now, that I have to do something concrete in a big way or my artistic self will perish from lack of love and exercise.

You are invited to stick around and follow my progress or to flee to more active climes...no hard feelings if you pack up your follower status.  This is something I have to do to save something I cherish.  I have to let go to make room to grab hold.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Robot Army Stands at Attention

It was inevitable.  Since my last post, I have acquired the respiratory plague my son brought home a week ago.  I sound like a foghorn and feel like I have an elephant duct- taped to my chest.  *blech*  Since it is so hard to breathe, every move has to be slow and deliberate which isn't necessarily a horrible thing.  Every time I get sick with some bacterial or viral ick (which isn't often thankfully), I look at it as a sign from my body that I need to ease up and take a break from my normally hectic pace of living.

Believe or not, work on my upcoming show, "For the Love of Robots," is progressing steadily.  I'm just about finished with the robot sculptures and hopefully I'll have the energy somewhere deep down to get some drawings done as well before the official opening on the 14th.  I'll be showing more pics of these little dudes in coming posts but I wanted to share a group shot of the robot army as it stands.  They are just a kick in the pants to create and each one has its own personality.  I giggle frequently while assembling these found object characters and hope they bring a smile to someone else's face as well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hip Deep in Robot Guts & Other Messy Business

Things may seem quiet here at Lost Coast Post but behind the scenes, it is as crazy and chaotic as it gets.  Since the last week in December, my life has revolved around getting my son Daniel transitioned from community college to a four-year university.  He lives at home while attending school so thankfully, no moving was involved but there has been an endless circus of hoops to jump through to make this shift happen.  And then, no sooner had he completed his first week than he was struck down by a very bad case of the flu (make that pneumonia) complicated by asthma.  Attendance is critical in the first couple of weeks since there are more students than seats (professors drop students who don't show up) but I'm not sure I'll even be able to get him on his feet today.  I might have to go in and talk to his teachers so they know Daniel isn't just being neglectful of his school responsibilities.

With all this life business stuff going on, I've had little to zero time for art for almost three weeks.  I'm going a wee bit mad.  So yesterday, I planted my rear in the studio and in between caring for my patient, started work on some new robot sculptures.  I have a show debuting next month (yikes!) called "For the Love of Robots" and I think I have exactly two weeks to construct an entire fleet of mechanical men.  Nothing like a bit of pressure to get the ball rolling...So if it continues to be a bit slow here at the blog, please know I am working myself to the bone, all the while hoping I can escape the viral wickedness that is waiting like a coiled cobra in my son's room.  Wish me luck... 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Trying to Finish Up So I Can Start Something New

The end of this "Scraps" journal is dragging on a bit as my studio time gets squeezed by other art projects (homework for an online class and prep for an upcoming show) and general everyday life business.  In my experience, it actually isn't that uncommon for the beginning work in a new journal to progress like wildfire and by the end, for that same work to feel like swimming in quicksand.  However, I already have enough unfinished journals on my shelves; I am determined not to add another to the stack. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wake Up Call

How many of you out there have done some or all of the following?  Sit quietly for a moment in your studio space, consider carefully, and be honest...
  •  Purchased a new book or art supply, read a few pages, maybe did an exercise or two, or completed a few swatches/experiments and then stashed the new goodie away and forgot it existed...
  •  Went searching for something you knew you had only to discover something else that you had forgot about...
  •  Tore out all the articles you loved from your favorite magazines with the intention of getting back to those fantastic, "must make" projects and yet never did...
  •  Fell in lust with a new art supply, purchased it in every color imaginable and then only ever used the same five or six colors...
  •  Discovered a new technique or craft, collected all the tools and supplies for that craft, dabbled for a while, and then abandoned all that stuff in favor of the next big idea...and then the next...and the next...
  •  Spent more time lusting after, hunting, gathering, and organizing supplies than actually making something... 
  • Spent time learning the techniques of (and perhaps purchasing the products promoted by) a well-known artist only to feel like you can't make stuff that feels representative of you...
  • Felt a little bit embarrassed when a stranger (or even a family member) sees your art supply stash and comments on its size (perhaps even making a reference to the show "Hoarders"?)...
  • Wished you could make more art and followed that wish with the phrases "If only I had..." or "If only I could..."
  • Spent money you didn't really have for something you didn't really need...
  • Accumulated a vast stash of art supplies and reference materials that will constitute a big clean-up and clear out chore for your loved ones when you pass on...
For my part, I've done all of the above and frankly, it is hurting my creativity, the expression of my unique vision, and of course, my wallet.  This isn't a new topic here at Lost Coast Post; about this time each year, I revisit this theme.  Well, I think it is time to pay real attention to a reoccurring thought.  There's so much at stake.  I'm changing things up in 2014, curling inward.  However, instead of sleeping in my hoard like Smaug the dragon, I'm going to start actively appreciating and using what I have.  I'm not going to waste any more time in search of more "treasure" I don't need; the treasure I really need to unearth lies within.  More to come in future posts...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let the Year of the Fairy Tale Begin!

One of my primary goals for 2014 is to focus my time in the studio.  I love to dabble and dance around the studio, doing a bit of this and a touch of that.  It is a lot of fun to be sure but often, I either don't complete a project or I just skim the surface of a technique, theme, or art supply.  So much possibility is left untapped!  As much as I can, I want to interlock my reading, education, and studio time so I can dive deeper into fewer things.

At the top of my list is continued illustration practice with the ultimate goal of writing and illustrating a children's book (even if it is just for private consumption.)  So late last year, when I learned that Carla Sonheim was cooking up a yearlong exploration of fairy tale illustration, I jumped in immediately!  I can intensify my focus on illustration by taking an in-depth class that does just that.  "The Year of the Fairy Tale" is my one big class for 2014 and I am so excited for it to begin!  We get our first assignment on January 20th so I'm in the hunting, gathering, and preparing stage.  As for you, my dear readers, prepare to see lots of fairy tale-related art!

Note:  Carla is an amazing teacher: her classes feature a very warm & welcoming creative energy that gently encourages exploration of open-ended activities.  It is very easy to adapt her lessons to reflect your own personal style and interests (something I think is extremely important when choosing where to spend my limited funds.) I encourage you to check out the "Fairy Tale" class or any of her other fantastic offerings. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Discover Morning

Here's another spread in my "Scraps" journal.  As you might know, I've been painting a lot of flowers in this journal but I'm ready to start branching out into other things.  I think I might do an entire journal of bird portraits...oh, there are some many journal ideas and so little time!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Product Review: Dura-Lar Wet Media FIlm

Since late December, I've been playing with a new (to me) art supply called Dura-Lar Wet Media Film.  The best description of this product comes right from the package: it is a clear acetate that has been treated on both sides to accept water-based mediums without the beading up, chipping, and running you get with traditional acetate. The affiliate links* you see in this post will take you right to the product on Amazon but if you are shopping for this stuff elsewhere, be aware that you'll also find "Dura-Lar Clear (or Matte) Film" on the shelves.  It's made by the same company (Grafix) but not the same thing.  Look for "Wet Media" on the package to ensure you're getting the specially-treated acetate.  Some other properties: Dura-Lar Wet Media film lays flat, doesn't tear, is heat resistant and archival.  (Remember that's "archival" right out of the package.  What you add to it will change that...someday I might detail my thoughts on industry use of "archival" to draw in buyers.  It's a word sort of like "organic": sounds great but not always all that true.)

So what can you do with this stuff?  I've been using it to create uber-layered art journal pages.  I bought a couple of sheets at my local art supply store just to experiment and I fell instantly in love!  You can use acrylics, watercolors, markers, stamping inks (such as Staz-On), and sumi ink right on the film without those afore-mentioned problems of beading and chipping.  Be aware that since the film is not porous, it takes a bit for wet media to dry (via evaporation.)  Acrylics dry pretty fast as per usual but watercolors take much longer.  I typically start with a layer of watercolors, let it dry overnight, and begin the serious playing in the morning.  This product also accepts collage materials quite nicely.  I just use decoupage glue to adhere papers.  You definitely want an adhesive that dries clear.

The pages you see here are drowning in layers!  I painted, stamped, and collaged on the page itself and on the back of the Dura-Lar.  When I finally got to a look I liked, I simply glued the embellished Dura-Lar into my journal with more decoupage glue.  Then I added a sumi ink sketch, more painting, stamping, washi tape, and stickers to the top of the Dura-Lar. 

So what if you paint or stamp onto the film and hate the results?  Just wipe it clean with a baby wipe or damp cloth, make sure it is completely dry, and start again.  You can even wipe off Staz-On permanent stamping ink if you don't like something you've stamped or you want to reposition an image.  Remember, once the wet media is dry, it won't rub off on your fingers.  It only reactivates with the application of more wetness.  (Note:  When you brush more wetness [such as glue] over the top of dried stuff, you need to use a gentle hand so as not to reactivate and push around what you've already placed on the film.)

You could use this product like I have to create layers on top of existing journal pages or you could embellish some Dura-Lar and tip it onto a page stub to create a whole new page.  Make your own custom transparencies!  There are lots of possibilities!

CONS:

  • Thick layers of paint will scratch off if you dig at it with a sharp object or your fingernails.  I used gouache to paint my flowers and had to keep the layer pretty thin.  (Gouache is famous for cracking anyway in thick applications.)  It is also important to keep your layers thin so you can glue the film flat to your journal page or other substrate.  Generally speaking, once dry, I found the wet media applications very durable with normal touching and rubbing.  When a piece of this stuff is glued down into a journal, it isn't really going to get roughed up unless directly across from something scratchy like say a brad or eyelet.  And certainly, this issue is not a problem if all your paint work is trapped between the page and the back of the film.
  • You can't use colored pencils or crayons directly on this stuff, even water-activated ones.  You can paint first, let that dry, and apply pencil over the dry paint.  If you look close, that's how I got the shading in my flower portraits.
  • Dura-Lar is also a bit more expensive than standard clear acetate.  However, I find that this is a product where a little bit goes a long way and if I really want to experiment with transparent layers, the non-beading property of Dura-Lar expands the range of materials that can be used on the surface.
  • Another possible downside is the "shiny-ness."  I don't mind how this looks in my journal but some might.  It might be possible to blunt the shiny finish with a final layer of matte medium but I haven't tried this yet.  I'll do some experimenting and edit this post with my results.  There is so much I look forward to trying with this product!
This special acetate comes in a package of 12, 9x12-inch sheets or a package of 12, 11x14-inch sheets or a roll that's 25 inches high by 12 feet long.  I've purchased the 9x12-inch sheets and cut them in half to fit into my journal.  Each sheet is interleaved with a piece of tissue.  I mark my desired measurement on the tissue and then cut both tissue and film with my paper trimmer.

Well, this post is reaching epic proportions so I will close for now.  However, I will update this review as I continue to play. 

* I am a Amazon affiliate which means that if you click on a product link at my blog and ultimately purchase something with that link, Amazon lets a bit of change tinkle my way.  Please know that I only include links to books & products I have personally read and/or tested and that I can recommend. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lessons from "Scraps"

My "Scraps" journal is nearing its end...just about ten pages left to complete.  This book has been an adventure, a place where I've explored techniques I hadn't tackled before: no dates, extremely few words, gouache & colored pencil flowers, virtually no collaged imagery (from sources other than my own work) as focal points.  I've learned quite a few things from this journal:
  1. I miss having a place to record my daily thoughts, observations, and events.  I've kept a "daily diary" of sorts on & off for many years and I stopped once again in July 2013.  I often get tired of writing a little blurb every morning but every time I decide to give up on the practice, I discover that I miss it.  It is a valuable, grounding morning ritual.  I need to restart my diary-style journal for 2014.
  2. I love slow journaling!  I have thrown out the notion that when I sit down to journal, I have to complete a page or spread from beginning to end in a fevered marathon session.  First of all, I simply don't have the time or energy to work like that anymore but more importantly, journaling accomplished at a leisurely pace feels more holistic and genuine.  The pages develop of their own accord rather than being so deliberately crafted.  The downside to this way of working is that I have less material to illustrate blog posts.
  3. I am head over heels in love with gouache!  Seriously smitten!  I also adore bright colors (duh!), simple layouts, and heavily-worked backgrounds.  In the latest pages, I've also discovered a passion for working with Dura-Lar, a material I'll discuss in a future post.
  4. Finally, I realized that I can indeed generate enough of my own personal imagery to fill an entire journal.  Between my own paintings, drawings and photos, hand-lettering, carved stamps, color copies of prior journal pages, and copyright-free or "generic" images, I think I can eliminate *predetermined* imagery almost completely.  I've been working towards this for several years and I finally feel like I've arrived...
I am so excited to see how my journaling continues to evolve and grow over the next year!

*Predetermined* Imagery:  Commercial rubber stamps (such as specialized "art" stamps), purchased collage fodder/scrapbooking notions, and magazine clippings that come to your journal with someone else's recognizable style attached.  Copyright questions aside, I feel that heavily predetermined imagery, used with little to no alteration, detracts from my unique voice by screaming out the name of another popular designer or artist.  I seek to keep those sorts of intrusions to a minimum in the majority of my journal work.  Exceptions to this rule include inspiration "gluebooks" (analog pin boards) and my daily diary which I love to fill up with all manner of scrapbook supplies and found clippings.
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