Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Extraordinary Destinations

When I journal these days, it is mostly in what I call the "Mini Unexpected Convergences" journal. There was a full size "Convergences" journal once upon a time and I liked that one so much that I decided to do another one in a smaller version. This journal is different from almost all other journals I have in progress because it is non-compartmentalized; it doesn't have a set theme or goal. I slather extra paint onto its pages and then when I get around to the embellishment/journaling part, I just do whatever comes to mind in the moment. The spread was really all about experimentation and practice, just a day playing and meditating with art supplies. I used to write exhaustingly in my journals but I think somewhere along the way, I said most of what I needed to say to myself. Thus, my art journals are more art than journaling. That's okay because the beautiful thing about art journals is that they can be whatever you need/wish/want them to be. Sometimes I need a focused, goal-oriented project and sometimes...okay, a lot of times...I just need a playground.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Busy Days Ahead

After a stressful week split almost equally between teaching and doctors' offices, I stayed close to home this weekend to treat myself to lots of uninterrupted art time. I got a lot of necessary chores done too but mostly I puttered about the house and studio, slinging paint and binge-watching Netflix. I didn't leave the comfort of home until late yesterday afternoon, heading out to the local zoo to celebrate "International Red Panda Day." There were entirely too many people for my taste and it was blisteringly hot but it felt good to get outside. When there aren't so many people to get in the way of seeing the animals, our little local zoo is crazy inspiring. This small jaunt was just about getting out of the house, chatting with friends, and enjoying some beautiful weather. That mission accomplished, I returned home and spent the balance of the evening on the couch. Today I begin another work week. The kids are all in the middle of their Great Expectations comic books now, transferring their rough draft sketches into the final draft. They have two weeks to work on this project in earnest and then it is onward to travel journaling to prepare them for their trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. For my part, when I'm not teaching or recuperating from teaching, I'll be preparing for next weekend's "Pastels on the Plaza." My show, Figmenta, goes up early next week...busy, busy days ahead. 

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. 
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