Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: Year of the Doodle

My goal is to do something in the studio every day but that can be tough during the work week when my time and energy are necessarily focused on teaching. My heart always wants to make art but my tired brain sometimes refuses to cooperate. For the last few weeks, I've been working in Dawn DeVries Sokol's book Year of the Doodle (henceforth known as YOTD.) I'm delighted to say that this book is just what I needed to keep the art flowing when it might otherwise dry up due to an excess of exhaustion or a dearth of inspiration.

I have to say right up front that I'm usually not one to use art prompts. I typically freeze in the face of a prompt even if I am initially inspired on the first read-through. However, I am always hopeful that a prompt will do what it is designed to do so I decided to give YOTD a try.

In brief, YOTD features a short word, phrase, quote or visual prompt for every day of the year with space to work. Fearful of the blank page? YOTD pages have a wide variety of soft, unobtrusive backgrounds built right in and each section is numbered in ransom note style. You start in on this project at whatever point in the year that the book arrives on your doorstep. I began on February 5, 2016 which, coincidently, is also "National Doodle Day." I'll work through to the end of the year, turn back to the front and complete January 1 through February 4 in 2017.

Technical Details:
This book is a comfortable, portable size & weight; it is 8-inches high by about 6-inches wide and just 3/4-inch thick. My hands are especially sensitive so the pleasant, satiny feel of the cover and the rounded corners are worth noting. 

This book is bound with glue AND stitching which is important because over the course of a year, YOTD will be opened and closed countless times. A good sturdy binding means no pages fluttering to the floor after months of work.

The paper inside is of good quality that holds up to a broad range of supplies, including wet media. I successfully used crayons, colored pencils, Tombow markers (with & without wet blending,) watercolors, Stabilo Point 88 pens, Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, gel pens, Microns and Faber-Castell Pitt pens, Crayola markers, collage, and small areas of acrylics without bleed-through or significant wrinkling.

The paper does have a little bit of sizing, which hinders its absorption ability (hence the lack of bleed-through.) I advise not overworking an area when using wet media. I noticed that the paper started to "pill up" if I went over a doodle more than a couple of times with water and/or paint without letting the page dry in between applications. This has in no way undermined my use or experience of this book. All in all, I am quite happy with the paper quality (and I am the Queen of Paper Snobs!) The only media I would avoid in this book are permanent markers such as Sharpies and Bic Mark-It pens.


Usage Hints:
There are No Prompt Police:
I have found that the vast majority of the daily prompts are excellent but there have been a couple that were completely uninspiring. This is a matter of taste; what I find "blah" will be "Ah Ha!" to someone else. I don't have a lot of time to waste dithering over a response to a prompt so if I get stuck, I simply do something else in that day's given space. For example, you can see that on February 22, the prompt was
"The Perfect Cookie." That didn't spark anything in my brain so I decided to use that space to ink a large affirmation for myself as I faced off with a new work week.

As I said though, "lack of spark" hasn't been a frequent issue and mostly I try to work with what I'm given so I can push out of my comfort zone. In fact, some of those more difficult prompts have helped me develop ideas I would have never thought of without a wee push in a new direction. 

Make It Yours:
I add washi tape and doodles to the borders between days. I sometimes cover up the provided numbers with my own. I embellish the backgrounds. The pages of YOTD are just artsy scaffolding; you are in complete control of what you build from there.

There Is No "Behind": 
This is meant to be an enjoyable experience so please don't flog yourself if you miss a day. I have found that the space provided each day feels "just right," not too big and not too small. However, I have gotten a couple of days behind here and there. I just catch up when I can. I look forward to working on this project so enthusiasm for filling in missed days is never lacking.

In sum, Year of the Doodle has been a solid and valuable addition to my daily art habit. It keeps the inspiration flowing in times of stress AND it has sparked fresh ideas with a collection of fun prompts presented in a warm, welcoming format. This book just screams "USE ME!" I am happily obliging.

Postscript: This is an unsolicited review. I just bought the book, tried it out, and thought I'd post my findings. The links to Amazon are affiliate links; if you purchase the book through my blog, a few cents trickle into a gift card reward I get about every six months from Amazon. I only include links to stuff I have personally used and loved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Story: The Word for the Rest of My Life?

These are just a few of the books that sustained me throughout my youth. The Disney book is actually a replacement copy I discovered in a local thrift shop; I had loved the original copy right out of existence. The other two are first editions with text blocks just barely connected to their spines. The paper is yellowed, the pages creased, the covers worn smooth along the edges where I held them repeatedly. I loved fairy tales growing up and as I head towards my fifties, I realize that my art is slowly, surely leading me back towards the beloved characters that accompanied my childhood. I'm making the acquaintance of new friends as well, creatures and critters of my own making that have nestled quietly in my mind for years, waiting for the right moment to push forward into my consciousness.

My word/theme of the year is "story" but I think I can safely say that "story" might turn out to be the word for the rest of my (art-making) life. I don't have to remind myself about my word; I don't have to periodically check-in and see how my life is aligning with "story." I feel like I am inhabiting "story" every day. All of my current projects connect (mostly directly) with story. All those story threads that wove themselves through my past work are coming together and I want to spend time - lots of time - examining and embellishing this thrilling tapestry that is my life. I want to be a storyteller always, revisiting classics and birthing new tales in paint, paper, ink, cloth, and clay. I'm going to take it a year at a time (I want to remain open to change and unexpected insights) but right now, the word "story" feels like it could really have a long-lasting impact on my art.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Gang's (Mostly) All Here

I thought it might be fun to take a group photo of all the sculpted characters and creatures I've made so far. Most agreed to have their picture taken without much complaint. They bustled around awhile this past Sunday afternoon, each trying to put his/her/its best face forward. I had to take several photos as it was hard to catch the flying pigs paused in flight and the tiny owl kept getting lost behind his much bigger friends. My birds are all slightly uppity and much feather-soothing was involved. With a bit of patience though, I was finally able to capture my clay menagerie on film. 

The robot army is not represented in this group photo as they were on maneuvers guarding the studio and they take that duty very seriously. Huck and Puck (Huck's on the left in violet) are also not present. Several months ago, Puck left to live with a friend of mine but unfortunately perished (literally) in a freak fireplace accident before he could even meet his new owner; after that, Huck squared his shy shoulders and bravely left my studio to take Puck's place. I'm so glad I took this picture of those two beastie buddies before they departed.

I love painting, illustration, journaling, and crafting but sculpture...sculpture is the most thrilling. The feel of clay on my fingers as I shape and smooth the form is a wonderfully tactile experience. I also enjoy the challenge of pulling a nebulous image from my imagination and building a real, solid representation in my hands. At times, it feels as if the creature or character coming to life is in charge and that I am simply the conduit. I am still refining my technique and it is fun to interact with the beginner's mind. The possibilities are limitless, problems to be solved still present, and the results often surprising, making sculpture a very dynamic, engaging medium. In the coming months, I will be expanding my exploration of sculpture as I delve deeper into my word/theme/guiding light - "story." More thoughts on that coming on Wednesday...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Embracing a Wild Notion

My 800th post since May 2006:

I don't do a lot of two-page spreads in my journals but here's an exception. This is from my "Tribe" storybooking journal, an obvious homage to Red Riding Hood. This is a pretty standard entry which evolved in a fairly normal, predictable fashion except for one little unplanned detail that delighted me to no end, a fabulous incident of serendipity that made me shout aloud and sent my son running upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

I had the roof for Grandma's house cut, ready to fashion the standard kindergarten house: a rectangle topped with a triangle. However, I wasn't totally thrilled with the paper pattern I had chosen so I was aimless digging through my cigar box of scraps just in case something else caught my attention. Sure enough, my eye spied an illustration from a vintage encyclopedia entry on illuminated manuscripts. Oooh! That little arch looked like it would be perfect as a roof for a wee cottage. I quickly clipped and glued and moved on to finish the rest of the spread. It wasn't until much later when I saw what was hidden in plain sight in that medieval arch. Do you see it? Does it look like it could possibly be the wolf patiently waited for Little Red to knock on Grandmother's door? That image in the roof is just barely 3/8ths-inch wide so it completely escaped my notice initially. I LOVE when things like that happen, moments of delightful surprise that arise when I respond to my gut instinct without delay or thought or judgment.

Speaking of listening to my gut...this week, I played in the studio, cleaned, organized, and got caught up on things that have been simmering patiently on my mental back burners until I had the time and energy to pay attention. The more I relax, the farther my imagination expands and the more fearless I become. On impulse, I embraced a wild notion for my upcoming October show, an idea has been rattling around my subconscious since my robot army debuted almost exactly two years ago. Typically, I worry incessantly about a show's theme and content, spending months second-guessing myself even after I've started the work, but this time around, I feel completely at peace (and crazy excited.) I have just about eight months' time to manifest my idea but I'm still in the "nurturing the seed" stage so I'm not going to say too much more until I'm ready. All will be revealed in good time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Warning: Cat Pee & Philosophical Musings Ahead

Note: Every so often I get the urge to do a "soap box" style, picture-less post so consider yourself warned. Feel free to click away at any point the following becomes tiresome. This blog helps me hear my voice and so I'll commence mumbling to myself...aloud...for the whole internet to hear. You are free to listen...or not.

I've spent these first few days of my Presidents' Week vacation refeathering my nest with some long overdue DIY art studio projects. I'm planning an open studio the first weekend in April and I've been thinking about how I want my space, my personal sanctuary, to appear to other people.

And then this morning, when I went to do my usual duty of cleaning the litterbox, I discovered that one of the cats had peed on the floor. This has happened before and it is not a deliberate act but rather the consequence of a kitty bottom not quite hovering in the box as peeing commenced. It is an accident I despise dealing with as any cat owner will tell you there are few things as foul as cat pee. (Hairball vomit is a close second.) There's a "catch-all" mat under the box which fails to catch anything; in fact, most often, the pee just wicks under the mat, concealing a huge pee disaster which gives me shivers of "ick" when I lift it up to clean.

Invariably, Marley (my big marmalade boy) suddenly needs to use the box right as it is in the middle of maintenance so he paces back and forth outside the bathroom, looking all the world like a little boy in serious need of a restroom. Tuscany (the self-absorbed, manipulative, tempermental but secretly-sweet calico) just sits imperiously beyond the site of the offense, blinking slowly and staring as if to say "About time the janitor got to her business." Completely grossed out and irritated beyond measure, I was grumpily going about the business of mopping up the cat pee disaster when for some strange reason (Low blood sugar perhaps? Ammonia fumes maybe?) the whole situation began to strike me as funny. As in a can't-stop-giggling-make-a-weird-snorting-sound" funny.

Here I had been all worried about what strangers would think of my studio and in reality, it was just an everyday apartment, full of the usual everyday stuff, including cat pee. And yet, it is also a strange and wonderful place where magic happens. In a cozy, inspirational, supply-stuffed space, I get to create whatever my beautiful, crazy mind can think up. It is my sandbox and apparently, on some days, my cats' sandbox as well.

I've always shaken my head at the gauzy studio photos that frequent some popular art & design blogs. Even more everyday blogs are sometimes stricken by this syndrome: piles of pretty, perfectly lit and posed pictures of plants, idyllic scenes of pastoral bliss, the ubiquitous duo of painty hands and shoe-gazing photos. Just once, I wish someone would show - or hell, just talk about - the possibility of cat pee and ugly art and dirty dishes and carpet in need of a good vacuuming. I can be knee deep in housecleaning and beauty at the same time. I am not a lesser artist because my studio furniture is from the thrift store or gleaned from the supermarket across the street as it changes displays. No, I don't have flat files or vintage oak card catalog cabinets or perfect lighting or fresh flowers in every corner. Painty those but also paint flecks in my hair, my eyebrows, that long-suffering indoor/outdoor carpet, on every decent shirt I own, and even the cats. Yes, I gaze at my shoes but sometimes, this very morning in fact, I am standing in cat pee. And then, I turn around and go make something.

I guess my point is: don't wait for perfection. Don't linger in the artistic Edens of others. Create in your Now, no matter how messy that might be. Do just what has to be done for hygiene's sake and then get to work. No one ever lies on their death bed and moans about all the lost opportunities to clean house.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the Path

The past few days, I've been seized by fresh energy, inspiration, and motivation. My creative side tends to pick up steam as I slide towards an extended work break of some sort. I LOVE teaching art but it doesn't leave me with enough "oomph" at the end of the day to focus my own work. It is just a factor of my physical status...not enough "spoons" to go around.

Anyway, my head is buzzing with new ideas and renewed enthusiasm for the many, many projects-in-process that crowd my brain and my studio. Maybe it's because the planets were all in alignment recently or because the reality of Parkinson's clarifies my vision and priorities...whatever the reason, I have this incredibly confident sense that I am on right path, that I am finally headed in the direction I was meant to go. It is hard to find words to describe the feeling without getting mired in woo woo-sounding lingo and impossible optimism. And yet...

Ultimately, I don't believe I have to articulate what I'm feeling for it to be real. I don't need the understanding or validation of others (although that's nice.) What I'm experiencing exists for me and that is enough. It is so fabulous and even when I don't have the energy to explore where this feeling can take me, I just sit back and enjoy the knowledge that great things are going to happen when I do have time and the wherewithal.

Note: I would be neglectful here if I didn't send out a huge "THANK YOU!" to all the readers of Lost Coast Post: whether you read along silently or pop in with comments (or even tip jar donations!), this space and my art are that much more rich with you in it. As I pick my way down the path of purpose, I feel so lucky that the sidelines are packed with such a supportive bunch as yourselves!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Looking Forward to Some Down Time

Just four days of teaching stand between me and 10 days of vacation thanks to Presidents' Week break! While at work today, I'm going to try really hard not to seem too eager for this upcoming deep breath and blessed down time. Some serious renewal awaits me in the studio. I need it. I have big plans for some long overdue refeathering of my nest, a little spruce up and reorganizing of the space that keeps me sane. I did just a little this past weekend and already I feel re-energized and inspired anew. Contemplating a wee open studio this spring, virtual or otherwise...

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Snow White and Rose Red

After the page titled "The Caterpillar" in my Tribe storybooking journal, I promptly created a page that is more rightfully categorized as pure illustration. All the pages in this vintage children's encyclopedia have been prepped in advance with a thin layer of acrylics. In addition, I add a collage layer a few pages at a time so I have the ability to begin anew once I finish an entry. When I completed the caterpillar, I flipped to the back and found that I had a mostly white page as my beginning substrate. I immediately thought of the fairy tale "Snow White and Rose Red." The ideas came so thick and fast, I forgot to journal in the background, a component that marries illustration and journaling in this "storybooking" idea of mine. No matter...I love this page in its simplicity and symmetry and it perfectly complements the story in my brain and the images in my mind's eye.

In other random ramblings, I am still dealing with that terrible congestion (and companion hacking cough) on and off, although (cross my fingers/knock on wood) it seems to be on the tail end of its assault. It must be a thing because a couple of my coworkers have been beset by the exact same set of symptoms. My doctor thought perhaps I had battled my way through a sinus infection and while I have a round of antibiotics in house in case I change my mind, I have convinced myself I'm on the upswing. In work news, I am muddling my way through, having started a new semester. My hours shifted more toward mid-morning, ending around 2pm rather than late afternoon. I thought that might make a difference in my fatigue but if anything, I'm more tired. Many days I fall asleep on the couch by 6:30 and sleep till my usual wake-up of three or four a.m. I have some new responsibilities at work, including working one-on-one with a special education child, so I think this constant state of grogginess might just be my new normal until I can get a few days off in a row. Fortunately, that will come soon in the form of Presidents' Week break!
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