The Power of Sketchbooks

Kraft Sketch Book openWhen I was an art major in college I hated sketchbook assignments. Monotony overwhelmed me as I looked around my banal dorm room. How many times could I sketch my roommate Koko’s worn black socks draped over her sturdy shoes without throwing my charcoal stick out the window? I was the kind of artist who liked to invent what I created. That’s why I loved photography and printmaking. Those mediums allowed for serendipity, happy “accidents,” and magic.

Decades later, you won’t find me sketching my son’s white threadbare athletic socks draped over his running shoes. You will however hear me singing the praises of the act and art of keeping a sketchbook.

As an artist, writer, and a journal keeper, I group sketchbooks and journals into the same category. They all chronicle our lives, just use different ways of expressing it.

Last year, I met a sculptor in his studio/gallery in Northampton, MA. Samuel Rowlett made these cool, life-size stretched canvases. He attached them to his back and made self-portrait photographs in remote natural environments. As he and I chatted I remember him saying that sketchbooks saved his live. I recall he had been a new dad, an at-home house husband and father. He was used to creating big 3-D projects, but was limited to a small, two-dimensional notebook in his new role. Sketching was his saving grace.

I’ve experienced similar rapture, not from sketching what is I front of my face, but from writing in my nighttime dream journal, or participating in an international sketchbook project. The top shelf of my closet holds year’s worth of journals in all sizes, colors, textures, and shapes. My journals and sketchbooks aren’t the diary type. They don’t list the weather or what I had for dinner. They document transition times in my life. My hopes, fears, wishes, loves, passions, mistakes, and yearnings. My entries are self-portraits from a moment in time. The act and art of putting something down, in an intimate, hand-held form, that I can refer back to, is validating, instructive, and profound.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Brush off your old journal or start a new sketchbook. You never know where it may lead you.

2013 in review: Thank You

Three cheers and Happy New Year to my readers, followers, friends, and fellow artists and writers, creative types all! The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Check it out! I just had fun on the “Crunchy Numbers” page by clicking on the pictures and scrolling through them to find blog posts that way. Here’s to a great 2014!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Navigating Times of Change

autumn_leavesHearing dry autumn leaves crunch beneath my sneakers, I’m reminded of the seamless process of evolution. As artists, writers, parents, friends, lovers, and grownups we are expected to weather change fearlessly. However, if we watch nature closely, conversions happen slowly over a long period of time.

In this season of gratitude, of closing windows and hunkering down for the winter, I appreciate the following quote. It inspires me to allow for shifts to happen at their own pace.

“Transition is the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the points of the path of growth. Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations: Things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to change — until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins. With us it is the same although the signs are less clear than in the world of feather and leaf, the functions of transition times are the same. They are the key times in the natural process of self-renewal.”
– William Bridges

Creativity and wellness message: For this season, allow transition to be the way in which your life unfolds.

Artistic Endeavors: The Dirty Work

IMG_20130506_074956We are used to seeing the end result of artistic pursuits: listening in a concert hall as the orchestra plays the finale; mesmerized by viewing a painting in a still, quiet museum; or watching the curtain drop at the end of a play. The other day, however, I found myself immersed in the polar opposite of the finished product. I was in the dirty work in the middle of creation.

At 6:00am I was standing on the cold cement floor of my dank basement, in my pajamas, doing the messy part of creativity. Since taking a Clay Matrix Printmaking workshop I’ve been so excited to begin using my newly discovered art technique. Part of the process is keeping the clay matrix I use as my printing plate, moist.

Gathering supplies for the last few months has kept me focused on making sure I had everything ready. I also made sure the clay matrix was damp at all times. My teacher taught us to spray water on a synthetic towel, keep the slab in a clean plastic garbage bag, and check it every two weeks.

I’ve mail-ordered supplies such as a pizza roller (used as a brayer when making the prints). Stencils were found either in nature or I spotted them in everyday kitchen and household goods stores. Utensils like spatulas and fly swatters will be used to create unusual textures. Where to order clay and pigments was next on my list. All these tasks have been clean ones, and every two weeks, just like my teacher taught me, I wet a towel draped over the clay. Over the last few months I looked repeatedly for a synthetic towel, not finding one, I thought a cotton towel would do. An old, red, frayed cotton one.

Not  having a dedicated art studio, my slab is sitting on top of a pile of cardboard boxes, next to my laundry baskets, in my unfinished basement. Watching the second-hand tick on my watch, knowing I still needed to walk up two flights of stairs, shower and then drive to work, I was determined to stay in the basement. Because the clay matrix has to be kept damp, I’d quickly opened the plastic bag that morning, after switching a load of laundry. To my surprise, I found black, spotty, growing mold. My art slab was in jeopardy because of an old, red, frayed cotton towel.

Using the top of my washing machine as a make-shift studio table, I scraped dark mold and mildew off the wooden matrix frame. My thumbnail became my steadiest tool. Gently flicking mold off the clay itself became a sort of meditation. I had to do it slowly or else I would gouge the clay. After my labor of love, my matrix salvaged, I was satisfied and determined to find a synthetic towel that would eliminate the molding problem. If I was able to create prints and use the matrix daily or weekly (in my dreams!) the mold would not have had time to grow.

However, I did return upstairs, from the underground studio, elated. I was happy because, before going to work, I claimed time for my artist self. I also knew I had to find that synthetic towel. Soon I would have a new monoprint to hang on my walls.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Like a pig in mud, wallow in the dirty work, the behind-the-scenes of creativity.

Making Art Fun: Step 9 – Stop When Done

stop-signHello to all my amazing followers! Thank you for joining me on this creativity and wellness journey. Participating in the 2013 Sketchbook Project inspired me to write down my 9 steps in making art fun and in keeping your creative spirits going. As a seasoned artist, I’ve had my ups and downs in the art world.

Like fine wine, as I age, perspective seeps in. I notice the challenges of working, raising a family, and sustaining a multi-decade, long-term and committed relationship. Keeping up with family, friends, volunteering, and still claiming time for my professional art and writing is a steep order. Yet, I find happiness in inspiring endeavors. Seizing the day keeps my inventive juices ripe and flowing.

Like in baking a cake, you have to know when it is done. Some people use their sense of smell, others, set a timer, or stick a toothpick in the center. We all have our techniques. It’s the same in any innovative project.

Today, I’ll finish this series of posts about making art fun. I’m done! I know it because I’ve said everything I want to, about this specific topic. Being able to share what I’ve learned with you, has been a pleasure. Now I’m satisfied about wrapping this series up, and I am anticipating what I’ll write about next time, here, on my blog.

You can click on each link below to read the last 8 posts in sequence. To recap my barometer on making art fun, and to reiterate, “if it ain’t fun, don’t do it:”
1. Keep it simple
2. Use what you have on hand
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel
4. Lighten up
5. Delete your inner critique
6. Be playful
7. Listen to your inner voice
8. Allow for happy accidents
9. Stop when done

Ding! Ding! My cake’s done!

Creativity and wellness message for today: Trust your own sense of timing. Then share a slice of what you’ve made with others.

Making Art Fun: Step 8 – Allow for Happy Accidents

0709_serendipity_Jacqueline_TribouHere’s my next post on how to make art fun. Today I’ll talk about trusting serendipity. As you know from my last posts, I recently had the pleasure of attending an inspiring printmaking workshop. Due to my busy schedule at work, it was weeks before I had the chance to unpack my sturdy, large, nicked, and scarred black-leather portfolio.

Strewn across my oak kitchen table were newsprint pages I used during the workshop to blot up pigment residue. They were not the actual prints themselves, but they were too interesting to throw out at the workshop. As I unpacked them I saw how fragile the pigments were; there was no way to save them. Quickly pulling my cell phone out of my back pocket, I snapped photographs of them, thinking I might use the photographs in an art show.

In the video of life, fast forward to me submitting to the art show, pause on me realizing that one of the images I knew I shot, was missing. I fumed for a few minutes. The concept for the artwork had been brewing in my mind. Then I allowed the fortunate mistake of the missing photo to adjust the image in my mind. Instead of two different images, I modified the design to more of a yin/yang type.

Problem solved, artist happy, artwork ready to submit.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Save time, energy, and your artistic sanity by inventing in the moment. Trust those happy accidents.

Making Art Fun: Step 4 – Lighten Up

We can all take ourselves too seriously, in life as well as in art. One of the secrets to happily navigating both is to lighten up. Recently I had a professional opportunity that required scanning a lot of my paintings, prints, photographs, mixed media collages, and graphic design projects. Work that had been completed over several decades. Once I viewed the images on my computer I was struck by the fact that what I thought to be my best original art didn’t represent that strongly in digital form. In a quandary, with a deadline looming what was I to do? Lighten up!

I put on completely new eyes. Gave myself an attitude adjustment and became enlightened. I surveyed my work from one perspective only “What graphically shows the best.” I made selections from that sole point of view. Boy, did it simplify the creative process! No longer did I take time remembering the success of that piece or reminisced about what collector bought it. No longer was I seduced by my own feelings of yummy art memories, lightening up became practical, efficient, oddly enjoyable, and freeing.

Artworks that I would have considered not so good, showed me their strengths in digital form. I was educated anew to the value of my work, it was like a refresher course. Once the project was complete I even had fun making a video out of some of the art and design, the different viewpoint sparked more creativity.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Be surprised at the increase in your rate of production when you lighten up.

Making Art Fun: Step 2 – Use What You Have on Hand

Door_4_a_TeePee_copyright_Adair_Wilson_HeitmannIf you stay in the art business long enough you start to see patterns. I’ve been an exhibiting professional artist for decades and I enjoy tracking the methods of my artistic madness. In my last blog about making art fun I wrote about keeping it simple. Today I’ll share Step 2: Use What You Have on Hand.

Several years ago I was asked by the gallery owner of Bell Gallery, one of my, then, premier exhibition spaces, to create a work of art for herself and her boyfriend. They made a tipi to travel with and camp in during the summer. They planned to stitch the gallery artists’ paintings to their nomadic abode. Having very little time to focus on the task I used what was on hand. In my studio I found what I considered to be a scrap, a test cloth of photo-sensitized fabric. I quickly glued and sewed it onto a square of un-primed canvas, and drew directional lines to blend the borders. I then stamped fun symbols and wrote a short spontaneous sentiment with rubber letter stamps encircling the central image. Voilà! A work of art that was not premeditated, not drafted out, not sweated over. A work of art that seized what was on hand and let that momentum build the creative expression.

Darryl Norem, the gallery owner and Guenther Riess loved the painting. They were so happy with it that it never made it onto the tipi. They rigged it on two standing poles that flanked the door opening to their temporary home every time they put it up. Their actions surprised me at the time, because I thought I just threw the mixed-media artwork together. I was honored that they put my art in a place of recognition, yet I couldn’t see the value of it as much as they did. Looking back on the piece years later I now see the spunk and liveliness of the canvas. I appreciate what they saw then, a work of art with creativity, heart and soul. Something that delights and intrigues the viewer. This was a lesson for me. What I thought was just a quick creation was actually something of far greater worth than I realized.

Fast forward to 2012 and 2013, when I had fun with art and participated in the world tour of artists’ sketchbooks called The Sketchbook Project. In both years I followed Step #2, had a ball and completed the projects on deadline. The pattern is that when pressed for time, what I create right out of the gate by using what’s at hand, without my ego getting in the way, makes the best art.

Creativity and wellness message for today: Cage your inner critic and use something on hand to ignite your creative spark.

My Blog 2012 in Review

Thank you to all my 2,300 readers and 494 followers!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.