Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Flame of Change

The planning and pondering continues here on the Lost Coast at a breakneck pace.  On the one hand, a creative fever is a good sign as it means I'm nearing the heart of my true passion; on the other, there is the potential to burn up with the heat of too many ideas bubbling up all at once.  Still, I'm letting the fire burn, containing its enthusiasm only when necessary and otherwise waiting to see what the flames will reveal.

This crazy idea for a new project sparked to life about a month ago.  Since my wrist fusion surgery in 2008, making a full, tight fist has continued to be difficult and that complicates both my precision and endurance in the studio.  Notice that your wrist bends upwards when gripping something; hand and wrist muscles work together to hold an object.  Take the wrist movement out of the equation and the hand has to try and do all the work.  As using scissors is considerably less painful, I began leaning more heavily on collage with unaltered magazine images.  Although the work is physically easier, it is also emotionally unsatisfying.  Now and then, on a "good hand day," I would create a page entirely from scratch and the upwelling of glee was undeniable.  In turning down the easy path, I had forgotten the challenge and reward that my own work offers.  Some soul searching produced a moment of clarity and that became the following bonfire of goals:
  • Re-dedicate myself to physical therapy:  Curl, stubborn ring and pinkie fingers, curl!
  • In general, return to art that is heavily imprinted with my own hand & soul...
  • Illustrate (and share) original characters (no matter how tentative I am)...
  • Test the creative writing waters & see if there are any stories still alive inside...
  • Employ a specific theme for inspiration & consistency...
  • Explore that theme in a single project for at least a year... 
  • Radically reduce time spent collecting and increase time spent creating...
So there you have it!  Now you know the why, the when, and the how...all that remains is the what and that, dear readers, is a subject for another day!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shine On

I started doodling these little spud-headed characters way back in 2004 so after browsing my sketchbooks for inspiration, I decided to convert one of my ink scribbles into paint.  I think this face style is a bit too simplistic for my upcoming needs; I need to develop something that has the potential for a broader range of facial expressions.  However, this little "sun child" has his own charm.  I think the background needed more pizazz  but this really was just an experiment in blending and shading.

Experimentation is the word for today...and tomorrow...and the day after that.  I'd like to develop some illustrative consistency before I launch into my Big Idea.  I also have other projects & interests calling my name (I'm oh so behind!) and I'll need to tackle and complete those before I can really lean into my adventure.  But little by little, an itinerary will emerge and when the time is right (probably beginning in November), I'll be ready to fully focus on my plans.

What are those plans?  (I know, I know - enough suspense already!)  For now, I'm keeping the theme of my journey close to my heart, letting the idea take root and blossom a bit before transplanting it into the world.  I will say that my general scheme is this:  take a unifying theme and explore it in word and image over a long period of time (hopefully one year).  I'd like to compile all my explorations into a single volume.  I'm not sure if I'll work on this project to the exclusion of all else; it remains to be seen how far down the rabbit hole I fall.  Tomorrow, I'll elaborate a bit more on why I'm even looking down that rabbit hole in the first place.  Until then, I wish you all a sunny day and artful times...

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I've had some trouble spilling words this morning so I've popped some classic Paul Simon into the WinAmp player and as my head bounces to his simple rhythms and poetic lyrics, the thoughts are starting to roll.

For me, a big part of any project is the hunting/gathering stage.  I'm pretty darn good at collecting and I suspect many of you are as well.  However, there is a dangerous comfort in collecting, an insidious, seductive illusion of accomplishment.  I've lost count of how many times that a Big Idea has seized my brain and subsequently, my pocketbook.  When the pursuit and purchase fever has cooled, I'm left with a grand pile of supplies and little else.  In the aftermath, I chastise myself for all the wasted money, time, and energy.  My self-loathing eats my imagination for dinner and then I can only wait for the next burst of inspiration and hope I can rein in the collecting compulsion.

For my upcoming artistic adventure, I have vowed to use ONLY what I have on hand; I will NOT cast even a single eyeball towards new papers, paints, pencils and so on.  I will NOT gaze wistfully at all the new doodads and doohickeys that are sure to hit the stores this fall.  If I am craving an infusion of fresh supplies, I need only dig through my swollen stash; I'm sure to discover things I forgot I have.  I WILL jump off the mad, mad, mad rushing train of consumerism I think is running down so many artists.  I will try to dodge the pitfalls of product worship and avoid the dead energy of pre-determined materials. 

I am not advocating a return to charred wood and rock walls.  But let me say this: the greats didn't spend their time in art stores.  They had their heads down in the studio, worshipping story and image, not the next big CHA release.  Packing provisions for my next project will be as simple as turning to the left or right in my studio and as I simplify the baggage, my ideas will finally be able to take wing.  Sweet, indeed!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Voice Lessons

The Girl with Hair in Her Stars
Every new venture, no matter how well-planned and how eagerly anticipated, begins with a measure of nervousness and self-doubt.  The voice trembles, the hand hestitates, the heart questions.  It is in simply moving forward anyway that ultimately shakes loose the grip of fear.

Realistic, edgy, and/or dreamy portraits of people aren't one of my artistic strengths.  I think I could get better at it over time if I practiced and I used to think that's what I wanted to do (it is sort of a trend after all.)  But my sketchbooks are filled with something more akin to cartoons, characters and critters not quite of this earth.  These oddball beings are clamoring to be heard; they want to materialize from the mists of my imagination into a world that may or may not look kindly upon their appearance.  But things are getting sort of loud in my head.  It is time to listen, no matter how scared I might be.  It is impossible to sing if I never open my mouth.  Pure cacophony may come pouring out (especially at first, so consider yourself warned) but in time, certain pleasing melodies may emerge. 

Over the next few weeks, part of my processing will include experimenting with different face styles, practicing shading.  What head shape do I like best?  What type of eye seems most expressive?  Do I need to add a mouth?  Basic cartooning was one of the most popular classes I've ever taught at the middle/high school level and I am going to take my own advice and practice, practice, practice!  Or in the vernacular:  Doodle my brains out!  I'm looking for something that starts coming up consistently, a style that suits the subject.  I want to look at a portrait and see somebody or something familiar looking back at me.  And in that moment, both the artist and the idea will have found their voices.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Thought with Legs

As indicated in previous posts, I've decided to pursue a fresh path in my art.  I'm not stomping off into entirely foreign provinces, just launching a more thorough and impassioned expedition into the world of whimsical illustration.  It's certainly not that I'm disenchanted with my previous work; I just want to venture into the most authentic, rewarding, and frankly, challenging territory possible and when I surveyed my past artistic forays, I discovered that my most personally satisfying work contained lots and lots of hand-generated details.  For me, collage with magazine clippings or vintage photos often feels forced, awkward, impersonal.  And when I sat quietly, going further back into my creative origins, I remembered that I've always loved to create characters; I even did a fair amount of fiction and poetry writing once upon a time.

So, after a period of intense reflection, the necessary journey became clear, as if a heavy fog had lifted.  My head is flooded with ideas and I'm falling in love all over again.  My bags are packed with all the tools and techniques I feel leave the most authentic fingerprints.  I'm processing, researching, doodling, planning, and notetaking like mad.  I actually have a very specific adventure in mind and more will be revealed on that topic over the next few days.  I hope you, dear readers (a small but fierce contingent), will follow along with the creative caravan soon departing the Lost Coast for destinations unknown.  

Friday, August 6, 2010

There Be Monsters Ahead...If I'm Lucky

Hand-drawn monster ATCs
All my downtime in recent months has generated some unintended but utterly vital introspection about my art, past and present, and that quiet deep-thinking has revealed a bold new journey ahead.  With my days so often limited in terms of energy and physical capablities, I discovered that when I do make it into the studio, I desire two things: a feeling of childlike joy bubbling over in everything I create and an authentic, personal relationship with my creations.  Looking back through a ten-year portfolio and reaching back even farther into the mists of my childhood, I had an epiphany of sorts, a realization that is shaping up to be a huge whirlwind of new energy and exploration.  When reviewing my work, I paid attention to those pieces and processes that caused a flutter in my stomach, a smile in the corner of my mouth, a giggle, a deep sigh of contentment.  I asked myself:  What am I in love with?  What stands in front of me as a mirror, not of my outer self but of my shy, long-neglected inner persona?  What art flows from my hands and soul like so much spun gold? (Not that it is easy to do but that it emerges from me sprinkled with whimsy and light.)  It took awhile, this process of review and reflection, but common threads started to emerge and those threads are going to become the weft and warp of a grand, magical carpet destined to carry me off on fresh artistic journeys and personal expressions.  Some of those paths are actually old ones that I abandoned to the choking weeds of self-doubt.  A few are avenues I pondered but avoided because I was so damned intimidated by others who have gone before me.  Now, however, I look down at this carpet woven with all that makes me happy and wonder what's the harm in stepping on and seeing where it takes me?  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

May the Dawn Break

Re-entering the world after an extended absence is so very difficult, especially when there is no guarantee that it won't be necessary to disappear all over again.  Even the computer screen feels uncomfortably bright.  But re-engaging the world is necessary and good and lovely so I'll make another attempt at doing so for as long as I can stand the light.  Coming to terms with permanent disability is a monumental mental task and in adjusting to the notion that my life may forever have a different path than what I imagined, I let all other extraneous pursuits fall by the wayside.  Becoming comfortable in my own skin, accepting my body for what it is, appreciating it for all it has already given me...these thoughts have loomed large and needy in the forefront of my mind.  Acceptance is, by no means, equal to acquiesance; giving in doesn't mean giving up and so I type these words as one sort of portal to the world.

Throughout the past several months, I've journaled on and off.  Sometimes, just keeping up with the mundane demands of life was enough challenge for days on end and art often got shoved to the side.  Most of my journaling was done in a book I started just for private ponderings; I've been pretty relaxed about publishing my pages but I felt I had to have at least one journal just for me.  Even in that journal, there are some pages I won't mind airing out in the open.  And when I wasn't actively doing art, I spent time thinking about art, weaving a sort of nest of dreams to contain my unsquashable hopes for an full-fledged, wildly satisfying artistic career.  Of course, growing working wings is an awkward, ugly process, all full of stubby, half-realized beginnings.  The trick is to believe that all those unfinished starts have the potential to continue to grow and transform into something really beautiful and useful.  To do that, I need patience, perseverance, and the courage to brave the light when the darkness has been so comforting.
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