Monday, June 29, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 25 and 26

As I was working in this spread, I had a very clear epiphany about my future in journaling. After I complete my Snippets journal at the end of the year, I will not begin any new journal projects that feature collage as the primary medium. In general, I just don't feel that collage of images outside of my own hand speak best for me and this past week, that realization settled into me like a comforting cup of cocoa. I'm ready to move into focusing on sketchbook-style journaling (urban sketching/nature journals/illustrative journals...whatever you wish to call them) with my whole heart. I realized that I'm still collaging because I'm afraid to fully commit to the world as I see and can render it. More importantly, I need to move forward because my drawing abilities have an expiration date, a point in time unknown to me but there nonetheless. Eventually, Parkinson's is going to steal away my steady right hand; even now, my left side sometimes shakes so hard, it makes my motor control on my unaffected side complete trash. No matter how artfully I arrange a sticker, vintage photo, and a scrap of paper, it just doesn't interest me anymore. I feel a deep pull to go in a fresh direction.

The urge to draw became so strong this past week, I actually set this journal aside for a couple of days just to spend time in my sketchbooks. I was sick of gluing and craved the scritch-scratch of pen and pencil. There is simplicity, power, and purity in drawing what I see, no matter how imperfect the results. I'll keep working on projects currently in process, collage-based or not, but Snippets will be my last hurrah as far as collage is concerned. (I felt so relieved when I typed those words just now...sigh...)

I also want to note that the wonderful little girl leaping through the June 16th entry is by the one and only Mary Blair. I have a reproduction copy of the Little Golden Book she illustrated titled Fly and I just had to pair the cover image with that incredible poem "Wild Child" by Lauri Rose. I added the tiny heart sticker to Mary's illustration but beyond that, left it as it was. I thought those two works of art were destined to go together.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday How Do You...Get So Much Art Done? Part 1

Happy Sunday and welcome to the first installment of "How Do You..." in which I try to answer questions about my art and art life. These aren't technical questions such as "how do you make a stuffed armadillo" but rather inquiries concerned more with the philosophical and logistical conundrums of being an artist. I'll warn you right up front of two things: these articles will describe how I personally do things - they may or may not work for you. I'm aiming here to draw back the curtain for the curious on my approach to being an artist. Secondly, these posts may be long so if you're interested in such things, grab a cup of coffee or a spot of tea and prepare to read.

I'm beginning with the question I probably get asked the most:

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

(Briefly, for new readers, those "obstacles" include chronic migraines, bilateral Kienbocks Disease in both hands/wrists, bilateral fibromatosis in my feet, Young Onset Parkinson's disease, and the resulting chronic pain from all of these conditions and the 11 surgeries they have required.)

See how I caged the word obstacles in quotation marks? That's important because it hints a bit at my approach to life as I hope you'll see. This is a question that I think I will need to answer in three parts so today, I'll just begin with the basic things that define my level of productivity.

First of all, I have to say that, health issues aside, my life is less complicated than most. I have no spouse and no small children. My adult son, from a brief marriage in the early nineties, lives at home but the responsibilities and challenges that brings pale in comparison to the distractions a family would add to my life. Please know that I don't use the word "distractions" negatively; I'm just acknowledging that having a family - and doing it justice - necessarily takes time away from pursuing art.

My old marriage certificate, obtained and executed in the British territory of Gibraltar, lists me as a "spinster" and long ago, when my marriage ended, I decided to return to that life. At first, it was so I could devote all of my attention and resources to raising my son as a single mother. As he grew, I opted to remain unattached so I could follow my dreams. In addition, I work only minimally: I'm paid to teach art about seven hours per week during the school year and prepare for those days for approximately another seven hours per week. My health precludes working too much more than that so I have a lot of time at my disposal if I feel well enough to be up and around.

Time - and how I use it - is really the key to answering today's question. I manage to get so much done because not only do I have the luxury of free time, I manage that time ruthlessly. Each day of the week has its own posted schedule. I have one type of schedule for when I am working and one for summertime. I follow a strict set of rituals to begin and close each day (aided in part by a touch of OCD.)

After two decades of severe hand problems, I began something I call "extreme multi-tasking." I most often work at various stations set up around my home all at once. For example, I might art journal, edit blog photos, do the dishes, and prep canvases all within the same block of time. Each "station" requires something different of me: fine motor/detail work, using a mouse & keyboard, and large motor work while creating the serendipity backgrounds of my paintings. I almost always throw in a set of dishes to do because the hot water wash/cold water rinse acts like a contrast bath for my hands, soothing them before they get too weary from any one task. All those little bits of time add up and by not overworking myself on any one thing, I actually end up getting more done in the long run.

As I've detailed in a previous post, my everyday motto is simply "Onward!" I aim, every single day, to adapt and persevere no matter what sunrise begins. And every day is different. Some days, my PD tremor disrupts my fine motor skills to the point where my handwriting resembles the finest doctor's scrawl. Many, many mornings begin with a migraine creeping up the back of my skull (anywhere from 6 to 20 days per month.) Those will be days where I just create backgrounds. In fact, I lean a lot on serendipity and organizational work when detail work is out of the question due pain, tremor, or migraines. Much of project prep includes skills that require no precision or heavy thought; indeed, certain projects benefit from an injection of the random, sloppy, and spontaneous.

When I feel bad, I rarely just quit. I merely adapt and adjust my stride. (Not surprisingly, I often feel better staying busy with light work rather than collapsing on the couch to wallow in my misery.) Do I have pity party days and/or days where my loftiest goal to to browse my Netflix queue? Ab-so-frickin-lutely! I'm not a robot! However, I do, even on the darkest day, cast my eyes towards the horizon and resolve to get back on track. I do that by beginning with little projects. I might spend a day simply pulling an art book down from the shelf to scan or by clipping words from magazines. I organize my clippings by letter and by parts of speech so an off-day could be spent mindlessly shifting words into piles. Later on, all that time I spent will save time when I'm trying to create a found word poem for my journal. As I said, it all adds up.

Lastly, I am an explorer. I play in lots of different arenas: journaling, painting, drawing, illustration, found object sculpture, clay, sewing, crafts, book arts, jewelry-making. Not only does this give me lots of options when I have a health issue to work around, it keeps me engaged in my art life. I'm never bored and as disparate as all those pursuits might seem, each medium informs my vision and skill in another. The more I sculpt creatures in clay, the better I become at drawing them. The rigorous fine motor challenge of jewelry-making keeps me in shape for my illustration work. My daily journal exploration sparks ideas for things to put on canvas.

None of this is easy. I have plenty of days where I rage at Fate or surgeons or weak bones or shaky hands. I worry a lot about the future. In truth though, all I can do is control the now. Today, in this moment, I can do what I can do and I'll just have to trust that it is enough. Interestingly, in terms of Parkinson's anyway, studies have shown that patients who practice regular fine motor activities and physical exercise (no matter how difficult) more often experience a slower and gentler progression of the disease. The sooner a patient begins these things after diagnosis, the better. There's no drug in existence that can accomplish that. So all those little things are enough and the more I do them, the longer I'll be able to do them. And in the maybe three decades I have left, all that time, adaptation, perseverance, and exploration spent in the pursuit of art will equal a truly comprehensive and curious legacy for my family to hold onto once I'm gone. It is a bit of immortality crafted a day at a time.

In my next "How Do You...?" article, I'll approach this same question in a different way by trying to detail a typical art-making day by the hour. Remember, this particular feature will be alternating with another called "Serendipithon Sundays." Whether I'll be able to manage consecutive Sundays remains to be seen (that's the best laid plan) but however things shake out, those two themes will always post on a Sunday. Mondays and Wednesdays will be art posting as usual and the third Tuesday will eventually become "Tech Tuesday" for those more nuts & bolts art questions.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Blog Changes Coming

So now that teaching is over and I am fully immersed in the wonderful free time afforded by a work and surgery-free summer, I'm making some changes here at Lost Coast Post. I started this blog in 2006 right as I stopped production of my handmade zine, The Ephemeron. I wanted to find a wider audience for my thoughts on art, life, and the artist's life and I wanted to make the process much less laborious. Handmade zines are fun but time-consuming to make and really only practical in small batches.

Over the last nine years, I've tried to offer a mix of inspiration, philosophic musings, and technical information, aiming for an electronic zine of sorts. I'm going to continue to do that with a bit more organization. During the summer, my goal is to sort some of my posts under specific themes that post on certain days so that my readers know what to expect throughout the week. When fall and the new school year starts, I'll keep those features in place but probably extend the time between posts to accommodate my busier schedule. If you have been a reader of LCP for any length of time, you are already familiar with how I flex the posting schedule as work, life, and health demands. 

On Mondays and Wednesdays, look for the usual posts on what I'm up to in the studio such as the ongoing Snippets journaling process, show prep, sculpture, ICAD, illustration, crafts, and so forth. On Tuesdays (once a month for now,) the new series "Tech Tuesday" will debut, featuring short how-to articles, product reviews and recommendations, tips...stuff related to the nuts and bolts part of art-making. I think the third Tuesday of the month might be good because that's easy to remember.

On Sundays, you are going to see two different features alternating from week to week. First up is "How Do You...?" Here I will answer questions that I get about my art life. People often begin a inquiry with "How do you..." and this will be where I delve into my personal approach to common dilemmas for artists: organization of time and supplies, finding your voice, and so on. 

Finally, I'm also starting a regular feature called "Serendipithon Sundays" which will focus on various ways to bring serendipity and a unique, personal vision to your work. I already schedule regular tool and supply-making sessions throughout the month for myself; now you'll get to see the what, how, and why of that process.

Big plans...probably fueled by the heady warmth of lazy summer days...but I'll never know if something is going to work until I take the leap.

You can help by submitting questions in the comments section of this post. If you have a specific supply you'd like to know more about or if you have a "How do you..." question about my art life, speak up. My mind-reading skills are deeply lacking so I'll rely on you all to pop in and let me know what you want to read more about. I have several posts already in mind for each of the above-mentioned features but the more interaction I have with my readership, the more in depth this blog/electronic zine can become. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

ICAD 2015: Cards 15 - 21

I spent almost the entirety of this past Sunday completing this set of index cards. At one point, I looked at the clock and thought "I can't believe this is taking so long!" However, if the size of my work space was any indicator, I had a pretty darn good time. I don't know about you but my actual working space shrinks in proportion to how much fun I'm having and as you can see, towards the end of this marathon session, I had only about five inches square left (on a 3x5-foot table!) In addition, in past years, I would have spent the entire day on one card rather than seven at once so it's all good.

I am just very finicky about how I finish cards up. I want these cards to be complete pieces that can be used later in other works so I spent a lot of time trying out various focal images. It is one of the reasons I sort of despise collage. I find myself really dragging myself through the process. It just takes so damn long. I hate wasting time digging for the perfect image and worrying about copyright. I've never had a large collection of images to use in collage work so I always feel like I'm repeating myself. And yes, I know there's no rule that says I have to collage on my cards. I just wrestle an insistent internal voice that tells me that's the best way to finish off these backgrounds.

For this year's ICAD challenge, I have become very attracted to layering black and white images from Dover publications (copyright-free reproductions of vintage lithographs and etchings) onto all that colorful random painting. I love the contrast this technique creates. I also love all the layers in these cards. My goal is to have each card hint at a story or convey a message. Please know that if you read up on the guidelines for ICAD, there is no rule about how you make your cards. This is simply how I choose to approach the challenge and I realize right up front that this makes a little more work for me. As long as I don't get so far off into the weeds that I can't do other things, I'm OK with spending a day here and there immersed in index card art.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dialing Back the Color

I've been working intensely on my new Sparks of Madness series since teaching ended the first week in June and oh! the luscious color I've been using! Just look at that delicious palette! As you can probably tell, I am madly, deeply, wildly in love with color. However, sometimes all that color gets overwhelming, as if I'm on sensory overload. I also know that color-soaked art isn't everyone's cup of tea, so when I'm preparing for a show, I almost always do at least one piece with the same techniques but a more limited, sedate palette.

"Sir Stanislav the Stalwart" - SOLD
This time around, I decided to split the series into two separate technique styles and color palettes. First and foremost, I'm painting a bunch of monsters in screaming color but I'm also going to produce several pieces in mostly black, white, gray, and cream with small touches of color. This series within a series also features creatures and critters created from pieces of collaged found papers on canvas. This stalwart feathered fellow is the first in my limited palette pieces. I worked in this style briefly in 2013 (for example, there's this piece I posted back then) but this time, instead of working on mat board, I'm taking the technique to canvas. 

By switching things up, I'm able to avoid burnout, stretch my supplies (that fine art paint is expensive,) and create a show that can appeal to more people (which I need since a monster theme already narrows my audience.) A few "calmer" pieces will also give viewers a place to rest their eyes after taking in all that fantastic color.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

ICAD 2015: Cards 8 - 14

With the posting of these seven cards, I'm all caught up in my ICAD posts for the 2015 challenge (the cards have been done but I was behind in posting due to my blog break at the beginning of June.)

I love creating index card art this way because I'm never behind. Instead of crafting a card-a-day (which I get tired of after the first couple of weeks,) I work on a week's worth of cards all at once for six days, adding background bits and bobs here and there as my fancy takes me and then, if I want, I finish the cards off with focal and accent images and clipped words on the seventh day. (The backgrounds themselves could become the "finished" card to be used in the future as is or embellished as needed.) I estimate that I work on the cards about 5 minutes total each day. On my "finishing" day, I can work anywhere from an hour to four depending on how easily ideas flow that day. In the end, these cards have lots of layers and interest with relatively little work. By turning over a large part of the process to serendipity, I lessen the stress that can arise from trying to keep up with the challenge. 

I do admit that sometimes, I add my leftover paint to the cards in a carefully considered fashion; I make deliberate brush strokes and color combination decisions as I work and as the backgrounds build. For example, if a card has a big splotch of yellow from a previous palette cleaning, I might balance that with the addition of magenta or purple marks when those colors are leftover from a painting session. Lots of tiny marks? I'll balance that with a long swipe of paint. I suppose this sounds like it would take a lot of time but I work very, very fast, making rapid-fire decisions. That little remnant of magenta might be added thoughtfully to two cards and then haphazardly smeared on three others. I might also stop to scratch into the paint while it's wet (remember some of the cards I'm working with are glossy) or collage on some scraps of paper that are cluttering up my table.  

My primary reason for participating in ICAD is to generate mini artworks to use in future work such as journaling. I believe that the more you use your own work/materials in your projects, the more unique your work becomes to you. This means using paper I've hand-painted, creating my own collage sheets, photocopying old journal pages, carving my own stamps, cutting my own stencils, hand-lettering, using my own photos. There's too many fabulous goodies out there for me to be 100% free of outside sources but over the years, I've developed my own look by repurposing old work into new work and by creating some of my own tools. Does it mean more work? Yes, initally. It is much easier to go shopping, fill up my basket with the latest and greatest manufacturers think I need, and then....well, honestly...then I come home, store it away in the appropriate container, and forget I have it. I'm a gatherer; I love new ideas and I love the potential I see in new supplies. I adore starting things but finishing? Not so much. That part takes real effort. By creating my own materials and tools, I stay more focused and invested in the project and as a bonus, more of me, my hands, head, and heart are visible in the work.

And speaking of hearts...that sacred heart index card (top left in last photo) is probably my favorite ICAD ever. I hand-painted a stamped flaming heart that I carved years ago. Then, as I was sorting through a pile of clipped words, "LOST" randomly fell across the card and I said "Ohhhh..." So perfect. That simple card holds so much meaning for me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Index-Card-a-Day 2015 Begins: Cards 1 through 7

My plans to make this year's Index-Card-a-Day challenge (aka ICAD) work for me have turned out even better than I hoped and I'm wondering why I didn't approach this challenge this way in past years. It is so much easier to have ICAD run concurrently with my painting projects rather than consecutively. I spend six days adding all the studio leftovers to seven cards (index, recipe, bingo, library, playing and flash cards) and on the seventh day, I finish the cards off with a more focused work session.

In the first six days, the cards get loaded with daubs of paint, scraps of paper, bits of washi tape, and random rub-ons. In addition, I clean off my stamps and stencils onto the cards. If I need to test a pen to see if it works, that little doodle goes onto the cards as well. If, at some point in those six days, one or more cards ends up with a background I love, I set those cards aside to await finishing and use the remaining cards for all my leftovers. It is a very spontaneous and organic process and the resulting cards are richly layered and visually intriguing.

So why not use index cards exclusively? First, I love bits of text and imagery showing through the paint that I add (and it is so much easier to start with a card that isn't completely blank.) I have gathered a rather embarrassingly large collection of cards of all sorts over the years and it's time to use them. Secondly, some of the cards I'm using are glossy and when I add paint, I can scratch in the paint to make some very cool marks. Most of the cards are either already standard index card size or have been cut down to that size. Some of the flash cards are slightly bigger and the playing cards are approximately half the size of a regular index card. I like the variation in size because it gives me more options later when I repurpose these little works of art in other projects.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Snippets: Weeks 23 and 24

As I said in my previous Snippets post, I was experiencing some mid-project fatigue with my Snippets 365 journal so, in order to change things up a bit, I challenged myself to create a character-a-day from June 1 to June 14 in the spaces I had designated for each day. I tried to craft characters and creatures in a wide variety of media and methods including gouache, acrylics, colored pencils, collage and sumi ink. I love the resulting spread! I don't think I could keep this up beyond these two weeks but I will certainly play with other themed weeks throughout the remainder of the year. It is fun to have a challenge within a challenge. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Taking a Very Brief Respite

"Capt. Monkey Shines"
Happy Friday Lost Coast Posties! Here's the latest in my Sparks of Madness series...this rather demented-looking primate - I assure you he's harmless in spite of the fangs - is still unnamed. I haven't had much time to listen to my creatures once they appear so until I have some real free time, they must carry on with such non-specific designations as "Sparks2."

Today is my last day of teaching for the 2014-2015 school year and while I consider this to have been one of my best years for teaching, it has also been my most exhausting. I am thoroughly worn down and in my fatigue, after recovering from the stomach flu, I managed to acquire a nasty summer cold that makes me sound like I belong on a TB ward. I need just a touch of down time so to that end, I'm taking a wee blogging break until Monday, June 15. I'll mostly certainly be working on journals, blog and show-related stuff behind the scenes but I'll not be back to regular posting until that date. (For me, "regular posting" means two or three times per week depending on how much I have to share.) I typically try to post more often during the summer so stay tuned. In the meantime, take care of you and yours and make some art!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Making ICAD Work for Me

It's June 3 and the uber-fabulous Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) challenge, created and hosted by the equally fabulous Tammy Garcia at Daisy Yellow, is already underway. I've participated in ICAD three times. In 2011, I shunned index cards all together, pre-cut pieces of watercolor paper, and created a strict schedule of themes for each week. That "index card snobbery" set me up for disaster because I now faced an intimidating "precious" surface and self-imposed rules that strangled my creativity. I completed a measly 18 cards that first year. I felt like a complete failure.

In 2012, I gave ICAD another shot and this time...mission accomplished! I followed the challenge exactly, creating cards in small series, only occasionally utilizing the multitude of prompts provided. Then in 2013, I tried again and created 26 cards. I didn't feel so bad about not completing the challenge as I loved the cards I did create and I participated as much as I could given a heavy show prep schedule. Almost all of the index card art I created in those three years has since been color-copied or cropped to reuse in subsequent journaling work. 

The summer of 2014 was lost to major foot surgery so here I am: ICAD 2015. I've gone back and forth about participating this year. On one hand, I'm intensely focused on preparing for late summer and early fall shows. It is extremely difficult to paint when I'm teaching (simply no energy) so summer break is prime time at the easel. On the other hand, index card art is a valuable image resource for journaling and my stash of completed cards is getting sparse. For me, ICAD isn't really about developing a daily art habit (already have that) or completing a challenge. I just really love the instantly available bits of art when I'm journaling in a hurry.  What to do?

My solution once again diverges a bit from the ICAD guidelines in that I'm using a few other things besides index cards. I gathered a variety of cards: all are approximately index card weight and with a few exceptions, all pieces meet the 4 x 6-inch requirement. From my stash I pulled old bingo cards, used and new library cards, playing cards, photo organization cards (come in photo boxes,) various types of flashcards, new and vintage index cards, junk mail inserts, and vintage recipe cards (typewritten recipes on very old index cards.) I wanted to work with cards that had a little of type or imagery to peek through my work.

My plan is to pull 7 cards each week and to keep those cards on my studio table while I paint or journal. At the end of the week, I'll either complete the cards somehow by adding a focal point, clipped words, stamping, washi tape, and/or paper scraps OR I'll just leave the cards as is if I've created a background I love too much to cover up. I'm hoping that this way, ICAD can be completed as a complementary practice while I focus on painting as opposed to being a project that requires lots of specific attention. 

Keep in mind that ICAD doesn't really have to take up that much time for most people and cards can be as simple or complex as desired. Beyond the substrate and size requirements, there's really no rules.  I'm just at a place in show prep where I need to keep my eyes on the prize and get enough pieces completed to make a decent-looking display. My studio is already like a carnival midway, all sorts of shiny, tempting projects and supplies beckoning "Play with me!" Hopefully, this approach to ICAD 2015 will work for me.
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