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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Going Oldschool

Sometimes we get so caught up in our technology, it becomes a screen a barrier, something that stands between us and our creativity. We focus so much on the details of the technology that somehow the creative energy we had when we begins to dissipate. By the time that we have gotten the through all of the technical details, the creative impulse what we had the beginning goes away. We sit at the keyboard, our, fingers frozen in mid air.

This is not a rant against technology. Without technology you wouldn't be reading this at all. 

Sometimes, it is simply a matter of turning off the technology and going old school. Pencil, paper those antique tools of making our mark. Just as there is a thrill using new technology, there is also a thrill in the discovering the old technology. There is a certain visceral pleasure in the tactile and somewhat messy materials of  original art. 

I come away from my studio with hands that are stained with the materials of my art. I am physically marked as an art maker. 

I feel that we are living in a time of transition. And I am certainly happy to use technology to publish my work. I scan in Victorian lithographs, random newspaper clippings, and antique marbleized  papers. 

Modern technology can be a tool, or a trap.  May all your choices be creative ones.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rearranging the Crayons

Rearranging the crayons is what I do when I am seeking the Zone. I refill my palette, I clean all my brushes, I fondle the lovely tools of my trade. The simple act of touching my tools prepares me to be open to my creativity. My fingers remember making art, and that tactile memory triggers the creative process.

Have you ever rearranged your palette? Having the colors in the right places can be important, but sometimes we get stuck because we see the colors in the same old places, rubbing shoulders with the same old friends. Randomizing your palette can make you see new color families.

Some artists limit their palettes to three or four colors. This is usually based on color theory. What if you created your own new theory? I once did an impromptu portrait using three Crayola crayons in a restaurant which used brown wrapping paper as tablecloths, and which had crayons on the table for the use of children to draw while waiting for their meal. Well, I am a child, so I took the three crayons, and began to draw. But they were not colors which I would normally choose to make a portrait. They were scarlet red, violet purple and inchworm green. As I drew, something changed in my brain.

It was amazing. I did things in that drawing that I had never done before. And when I was finished, the portrait was possibly the most accurate capture of another person which I had ever achieved. Fortunately, it was the waitress, who comped my meal in exchange for her portrait. But that day I received something better than a free dinner...I turned on a part of my brain which has served me well ever since. Here's to rearranging the crayons!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Finding Mystery

Sometimes all it takes is picking up a tool. Sometimes the tool makes the decisions for you.

How does the magic happen? I have to tell you...I don't know. It is a mystery. The raw ability, the talent, is nothing without technique, and technique without talent is also nothing.

Much though I may rave about fIndng the right tools and materials, I must also admit that sometimes the art pours out of my hands.  I go away somewhere, to a place outside of time and space, and I disappear.  Somehow a connection is made between memories, perceptions, emotions, hands know what to do and they do it.

I downloaded an Android app called Magic Doodle, which allows me to draw with my fingers on my phone and tablet. I can paint with color and line. But that is not what I love about this app. Magic Doodle replays the sequence of my drawing in a video, so I can watch HOW I drew the image. And it amazes me...the choices which I make are displayed line by line. And you know what I find when I watch t1he video? I have absolutely NO idea how I do it. 

Art is a mystery. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Maps, directions and the road ahead!

Imagine you are on a journey. Imagine that your journey has an itinerary. Imagine that you have a set schedule of places to go and things to do.

Now imagine that the journey on which you are about to embark is a creative path into the unknown.

Arm yourself with your favorite tools and materials. Keep them close to hand so you can chronicle your journey at every turn.

What does a creative journey look like? It looks like you with your tools and materials close to hand, and your eyes wide open. Release all your expectations and preconceived notions of what the outcome will be. Surrender yourself to the moment.

I am embarking on just such a journey tomorrow. I will keep a new sketchbook for just this purpose. I will take time to write, to draw, to paint, to decorate the pages and celebrate the process of the sketch journal.

Those of you who know me know that I do this frequently. But this particular sketchbook will be very directed and focused on the next four weeks of my life. I will devote my energy to this focused process.

Join me...The Sketchbook Project is a bite-sized, open ended international project which sends you a sketchbook which, after you complete it, you mail back and it will be exhibited around the world. There are many themes from which to choose, or they will select a random theme for you. Here's the website:

It can be as complicated or as simple as you like, your only constraints are the dimensions of the book, and the bar code identification label on the back.

I am going to make a hand bound book with handmade paper, and chronicle my journey back in time at Pennsic, which is the largest event of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Life is an interesting adventure. I am going to be led by my muses for the next four weeks. Come join me on my journey!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Escape Velocity

Some days, the simple effort it takes to cross the studio to my desk seems overwhelming. Other days, I fly.

What is it that allows my creative self to take flight and soar?

I try to keep a journal...random sketches and paintings, not huge masterpieces, just small visual notes of moments in time. I steal a few minutes while waiting for the watiress to bring my meal, I pull off to the side of the road near a river, I grab my paintbox and journal when I see that "certain slant of light". And so page by page I have a chronicle of what inspires me.

Sketchbooks can be intimidating or liberating. Long ago I surrendered my need to complete annual tasks, like New Year's Resolutions or daily journals. I admire people who can keep day by day every day journals. I cannot. So now I simply open the books ( yes, I keep several journals. One for paintings of rivers, one for paintings of light, one for paintings of places, one for flowers, one for sunsets, well, you get the idea.). I open them when I can. I make time, take time, for this creative act. I make the doing of art a sacred task. I make it a mundane task.I do it.

When I look back through a sketchbook, I can see the map of my creative self. Here a turning to the spontaneous, there an exploration of the new palette. One page is all about control, another is all about not having control. My work veers and detours, it meanders through the creative choices like a drunken butterfly.

Don't measure your work by anyone's work. You are unique. And in that state of being unique, you are not alone. We are all unique. Each of us has been formed, informed, by our experiences. The places where our experiences overlap is where we meet, and there compare our unique journeys. We are all different, we are all the same.

Where's that new paintbrush? I must capture this texture, right now.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Running with Scissors

Sometimes it is so quiet in the studio that I swear I can hear the paper rustling in the files.

Sometimes it is so busy that it looks like the aftermath of a tornado. (and having lived through a tornado and seen the aftermath, I know whereof I speak.)

I always carry with me notes on my current projects. I always travel with art supplies. You never know when you will need them. And I want to be ready when a new idea strikes me.

Isn't that an interesting idea hits, or strikes. Like a bolt out of the blue.

Art can be a dangerous thing.

I fret sometimes when I don't have enough energy or time to work on a project which is calling out to me. But I suspect a worse danger would be to ignore the call of inspiration, because there may come a time when I can't hear the call if I keep on ignoring it.

Artists have always lived on the edge. The Garret of Starvation is real.  It  is Hunger which drives us to create, a lust more powerful than procreation.

Run with the scissors. Live on the edge. Be the Artist. It's gonna be okay.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Waiting for Spring

The crocus is usually the first flower of spring where I live. Small, unassuming, low to the ground, hardy, and on the first warm day, vibrant. All the promise of summer is held on these tiny flowers.

Sometimes a sketch is like a crocus. It may be something you dashed off on the back of a napkin, or doodled in the margins on a newspaper, or even fingered in the condensation on the window while waiting for the light to change. It may not seem like much, but somehow you just know it is important. There is something in it...a line, a place where two lines intersect, a shading, a shape, something that is in your personal shorthand which only you can read.

I have a special box where I keep these important sketches. I write notes about them...where I was, what I was doing, time, how I came to draw it. And most importantly, what I think it might be useful for in the future.

When I embark on a major project, I line the walls of my studio with these notes and the sketches. I make sketches of sketches. I elaborate, I simplify. I expand, I condense.

And in the end, if I am reallllly lucky, the finished product will have the initial enthusiasm and joy of the sketch. Because the sketch, is, after all, like the crocus, the promise of good things to come.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Pursuit of the Perfect Paintbrush

You know it exists. You've seen ads for it in magazines. You may even own one or two yourself. But now upon embarking on a new journey of creativity, you, for reasons which are never quite clear, have lost the all important tool without which the whole project comes to a complete standstill.

What makes us obsessively cling to our tools as if they alone created the artwork? Why do we allow them to have such power over us?

"I cannot possibly paint with out that particular paintbrush." 
"This is the only paper I use, none other will do."
"If I can't use those pencils, it just won't happen."

One of the most liberating exercises from art school was when we had to bring in our favorite pens, then leave them in our bags. Instead of pens, we had to draw a realistic drawing, from a live model, using a piece of string, a thing with no fine point and no stiffness or control whatsoever. It dripped, it flopped, it blobbed and rolled across the paper. After fighting with it for an hour or so, suddenly I gave in, and allowed the tool to be what it was, which was certainly not a pen. I began to explore the innate nature of the string, and allowed it to be a string full of ink and I began to draw, really draw, with a lovely freedom of expression because I no longer had preconceived expectations from my tool. I let the tool be itself, and somehow that released my inner artist.

Now, I am not saying to discard your favorite pen, or to chuck your best paints out the window. Tools and materials are very important, and you should always use the best you can possibly afford. The reason for this is that you don't want to spend all your time struggling with crappy tools and materials. But the lesson of the string taught me to allow the tool to be what it is, and simply that.

Yesterday I was painting as I waited for my meal in a restaurant. The lighting was dim, but there was just enough for me to draw and paint by. But the table was small, and so I had barely enough room for my little box of paints and my tiny "Here's where I ate today" sketchbook. So I had to grab the first drawing pen I could, rather than reach in and fossick about for the my favorite one. This pen was on its last bit of ink, sometimes scratchy, sometimes very faint, sometimes dark. I had to accommodate myself to this very rebellious pen. After a few moments of struggle, I started to understand the nature of this almost dead pen. I used the faint lines and the scratchiness and the sudden darkness with skill, trusting that my inner artist, who can draw people with ink laden bits of string, knew how to get the best effects from a faulty pen.

Yes, pursue the best paintbrush. But if, when inspiration and opportunity coincide, do not halt the process looking for it. Just grab any old bit of string and be the best artist you can be!

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The tap is on. I hear my muse, and my response is to throw my whole self into my work. I surround my self with the tools, materials, resources, inspirations, and the beginnings of the actual work of art.

I reserve judgement. I hold my critical mind at bay, and work without heeding the analytical voices in my head. I ride the current.

I work all day long. I breathe, eat, draw, paint, shit,sleep, dream, contemplate the work. It is all I do, all day long. I have freed myself from the mundane...this is red alert, this is full status, this is a situation, which if analogous to mundane critical events, requires key personnel to leave their families and homes and devote full attention to the crisis at hand. This is the marathon 26 hour surgery, this is the week-long diplomatic mission.

Think about it for a moment. The governments of the world devote billions of dollars to the arts...museums, cultural sites, historic places, universities and libraries. They know the importance of culture. Whether they are as enlightened as Japan is where artists are accorded the exalted status of Natural Treasures, or in cultures the aristocratic awarding of honors to artists whose contribution to society elevates them above the ordinary folk, or the spiritual reverence given to people whose creative gifts connect the average person to the is all the same thing. ART MATTERS.

So in this manner I honor the artist within me. I surrender myself, I immerse myself, I abandon myself to my work. It is my vocation, it is my holy calling. The talent I have is a Gift of God. The Muses speak to me, and I listen. I create.

Being an artist is more than a job. It is a Vocation, and I am the High Priestess of my Art.

Does my physical infirmity impair my ability to create? NO! I refuse to allow my disability to limit me from doing what I am meant to do. I work within the limitations, to be sure, but I push push push the physical boundaries, make accommodation for that which makes it difficult. I embrace my limitations and then fly above them.

I am an Artist. I am Making Art. This is what I do. Now hand me that pencil. I have work to do.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Irons in the Fire

There is a time in the creative proceess where I must stop and simply think. I get very still, and let the work sink deep into my mind and heart. I cogitate. I let the pot boil.

A clever blacksmith keeps several pieces of iron resting in the fire. While you work one piece, the others sit there getting hot enough to work. When the piece you are working on grows too cold to form, then you place it back into the heat, and pick up another piece, and work on that one. And so on, and so on.

My mind, my subconscious, my heart, the inner I, these are the fire where I keep the pieces on which I am working. Sometimes it is good to just let the pieces rest in my mind as the heat of my creativity makes them ready to work on physically.

Sometimes it is good to lay down my brush, stop gathering my materials, and simply allow the piece to form in my mind.

This requires, like all other aspects of the creative process, great trust in my ability to let my mind work, to set free the reaches of my creative being. I trust that I know unconsciously more than my waking mind reveals to me. Sometimes I dream the piece, wake, and then make a physical reality of what was in my dream.

So today I will sit back, and allow my work to permeate the depths of my creative self.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Valentine Garland

Here's a simple and fun garland to make for your special Valentine!

Time: 1/2 hour to 3 hours, depending on number of hearts and length of words.

With pinking shears or other interestingly edged scissors, and textured card stock, cut out hearts. Random Hearts, my two are ever alike.

With a red crayon, oil pastel or watercolor bar scribble a Slightly Shady Background. No Heart is Perfect, so do not worry about it. Work quickly, have snappy music in the background to put a little dance into your drawing.

Using alphabetic rubber stamps, in purple, write words which Speak your Love. If you don't have rubber stamps, use a purple magic marker.

You can string these up like the Christmas stars...especially useful if you are like me and haven't taken down that particular Christmas tree yet.

Or you can glue or sew them onto sheer red ribbon, and then cover the words with a sheer ribbon of a different color. Or colors.

You can glue the hearts on ribbons onto a card...and then give it to Someone Special!

This project can be very simple, or really elaborate. You might want to write in pink ink a very explicit love letter as the background on each heart. You might want to sew them vertically onto many ribbons, and use them for a curtain to your bedroom.

Enjoy your Valentine's Weekend....the holiday is on Monday, which gives us Friday, Saturday and Sunday night to celebrate.And Monday too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fueling Your Inner Fire

So here I am...surrounded with the bits and pieces of my new project.

I select a commodious bag and carry them with me where ever I go. I keep a selection of my favorite tools handy also. I give myself permission to work on this project whenever the muse calls to me.

Sitting in the car...(not driving it) and later in a restaurant. I am soooo past feeling shy about the stares of people around me. I am an artist at work. This is what I do. I don't give the waitress or the fellow at the checkout the hairy eyeball when they are at their work. But the sight of an honest-to-goodness dyed-in-the-wool in person artist at work does attract attention. I don't care. I am at work. This is what I do.

So what if I fill the table with my art supplies and sketch journals? Other people are reading newspapers, books, laptops. I am painting.

I stop in the middle of the supermarket to make a note in my journal. Perhaps the woman next to me thinks I am checking my shopping list. Perhaps not.

I am immersing myself. Abandoning my self into my art.

Whoops....I have been working at it for hours. Well, most people work an eight hour day...don't they?

I prowl my studio, pulling sheets of paper here, fetching a book there, finding the elusive .03 leads for my favorite drawing pen.

I give my self over to the process of creating this art. I passionately fall into it. I have a pact with my family...I am making art, so I may not be as attentive to them as I would be if I were not making art. And that is how we live. We give each other permission to create.

I gather more fuel for this fire of creative energy. Burn, baby, burn!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Assembling the stage

What joy when the tap is open! How does this happen?
The other day I found the tap, and turned it on. Here's what happened, Something I read suddenly just went"click" in my brain, and I had a vision of a finished body of work on exhibit. Simply that. I knew that what I read could be visualized, so I wondered, if I were to visualize this writing, how would it look?

I had to assemble the stage. I needed props. Now those of you who are familiar with my book "Artist Afloat - A Sketch Journal of Britain by Canal" know that I adore sketchbooks, journals, portfolios and other collections of works created over a period of time.

This piece of writing needed (to my way of thinking) a sketchbook, naturalist"s field notebook, and a collection of notes which the fictitious character creates on her journey.The original writing described such things, and I knew that I must make the author's words into a physical visual reality.

I scavenged my admittedly too large stash of blank notebooks, and my equally cherished collection of hand made papers.

Do you believe in fortune? I believe that fortune favors the well prepared. Some months ago I purchased a blank leather journal ( similar to but different from the leather journals which I offer for sale at Pennsic.) This blank book spoke to a place in my creative mind that knew it might need it in the future, for some as yet unknown project. So I bought it, TRUSTING in the inner intuition which has never failed me as an artist.

I attended an SCA event called "The Marketplace at Birka" this past weekend at which there were hundreds of vendors of replicas of medieval things. And there it was...the leather portfolio from my vision. I trust my artistic visions. I listen to my muses. I leapt into the unknown.

Part of my process involves giving in to obsession. I know we live in a day when obsessive compulsive behaviour is seen as aberrant and something to medicate and control. And for some people it does. But for the creative person, those Magnificent Obsessions are what make the Magic happen. Ironically, yesterday I watched "Lust for Life", the intense biographical film of Vincent van Gogh's life. I sat surrounded by the bits and pieces of my own project, carressing the leather of the blank journal, the perfectly scaled portfolio, the luscious hand cast papers. After the film was over, I went to the books which inspired this project and read them quickly, flagging pertinent passages which I will use for my work. I got another sketch book and began taking notes to plan the work.

Will I sell it to the publisher of the books which inspired it? Or to the author? Do I need to attach a remunerative goal to this project. NO!!! That will limit my impulses, control my flow. I can exhibit the finished work at many venues. It is a project being created for love, not money. Well, if they want to publish it....I won't refuse. But the work is a labour of passion.

I assemble my tools, my props, my materials. I make my notes, and plan plan plan. I begin preliminary sketches.

The tap is open, I immerse  myself in the flow.

Never ignore the quiet nudging of your muse. Listen to it, abandon yourself to your work. There is nothing else.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Finding the Place

 Where do you create? What happens when you open the door to your creative space? Do you enter a place where your art flows to completion or a place where you are met by the obligations of unfinished projects?

How easy it is to listen to a new creative muse, and then stall or get sidetracked into other projects! How do you organize your creative flow?

I am a great lover of trays and flat baskets. I have ELFA systems with wire drawers in my studio. I use them to house projects in process, as well as the tools and materials of my work. This frees up the white counter space so I can easily find room to start something new or finish something waiting.

Sometimes the key to finding a place to work consists mre in finding a place to store the stuff in your studio than in finding a counter space. 

A few questions to ponder when planning your studio:

Do you prefer uncluttered places or places filled with inspiring objects?
Do you need a large work surface or a small one?
Is natural light important to you, or do you use artificial lighting?
Do you need absolute privacy and control over your environment or can you work in a commonly shared space?

The door to your creativity is not always the physical door to a studio.

Monday, January 3, 2011

To Resolve or Not to Resolve.

New Year's Resolutions!
How quickly we promise ourselves the impossible!

Not every one can live up to the commitments they resolve to achieve. There are many promises we make ourselves which end in disappointment and feelings of failure.

How many New Year's Journals have I started, with all good intentions, which fizzled out somewhere in February!

This year, I am not going to be unrealistic with my self. I am going to commit to carrying my portable art supplies with me every day, and also toting a sketchbook or three along with them. If the mood strikes me, I commit that I will listen to my muse and take the time there and then to make something in the sketchbooks. But I will not beat my self over the head if I do not. It is an open-ended kind of commitment. I will make the opportunities possible by keeping my tools and materials at hand, but if I do not use them, I will not grieve or feel guilty.

There is a place in the learning experience where a Drawing a Day (do do do look up the website) is essential. And even the act of daily recording thoughts and ideas has its place in the maturing of the creative artist. But to be a slave to allow it to fill me with guilt...that serves no creative purpose.

A new year which is created by an arbitrary cultural calendar can be meaningless except to measure the passing of time.

Let us arise from the tyranny of daily exercises if they tyrannise us.

Listen to your muse instead.