Okay, “hours” might be an exaggeration, but seriously. Have you ever written and re-written something, trying to make it look really good, but definitely hand-written? I thought I’d throw together a little quote poster. I saw one in a book I was given recently: Fifty Years of Illustration by Lawrence Zeegen and Caroline Roberts. It was by artist/illustrator Robert Massin. It intrigued me. (I started searching for it online so I could share, but it’s not coming up immediately and I don’t have the time to keep looking right now.) Anyway, I wrote the text over and over and over and was never satisfied. In fact, I gave up and then tried again days later, er… today that would be. So finally, in frustration, I just wrote and scribbled and wrote and scribbled. Not sure if it’s a look I’ll go for in the future, but it certainly is a breath of fresh air after what I’d been aiming for.
I read a book (I forget which) a while ago about de-cluttering your house. The problem of objects with sentimental value was discussed and the author suggested taking a picture of them and then getting rid of them. (The ones you can, anyway.)
I liked the idea of having the picture, and I don’t know if it was my idea or the author’s to write the story of where the object came from and why it was significant, but I decided that that’s what I should do with the things in my house. Well, as good as the idea was, I didn’t do it. Then recently, I had a mini-revelation: I could draw the objects. That way, I get some drawing in and I have something to share with my children about the significance of the objects around us. (I have not gotten rid of any of them!)
I’ve just finished Object #13.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This was said by the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. I’m not sure if it was this directly, or if I read something by someone else that referred to this quote when recommending the following practice: to write a list of impossible things.
When I sit down to write because I want to be creative, but then I can’t think of anything to write, I often start with this practice. I’ll write the heading “Five Impossible Things” and then I’ll try to come up with something. The first one or two aren’t so hard, but after that it’s remarkably difficult for me. Which I assume, like the White Queen says, is because I just don’t have enough practice doing it.
This makes me think of the memory palace method of remembering things. That is, in order to remember a list of items, pick a familiar place, then put your object (or whatever you are trying to remember) into a relationship of some sort with a surprising or unexpected thing/person in that place. So if I wanted to remember my grocery list without writing it down, I might visualize my house, then in my mind I’d walk into the foyer and picture Dolly Parton holding a gallon of milk, then walk into the hallway and see a horse grazing on raisins on the floor, and then walk into the kitchen and see Buzz Lightyear trying to eat crackers with his space helmet in place, etc.
Try this if you haven’t before, and tell me, is it hard for you to come up with those weird, out-of-place characters? I can come up with them, but not that fast. And I’m curious as to how quickly a memory pro, who needs to remember the order of cards in a deck for example, can produce all of these unexpected associations. Does one get better at it with practice?
The idea of being an illustrator always scared me to death. But when I recently wrote up a list of “what I would do if I knew I could not fail,” I put down “Illustrator.” I was shocked to see it written there. I’d been running from illustration my whole life. “No! I couldn’t do that,” I always said. I always thought that an illustrator has a picture in his/her head and then puts it down on paper. Flawlessly. The first time. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did.
So now that I’m thinking about it a little more realistically (I hope), why not be an illustrator? Wow, I would love to do that! I have always loved children’s book illustrations, spot illustrations, magazine illustrations. You name it. And it’s closest to what I do. Haven’t people been telling me, “Your work is really more like illustration, isn’t it? Did you ever think about being an illustrator?”
But it still scares me.
I am exploring illustration ideas now. My first idea was to illustrate poems that I like. I thought I could maybe do a dozen or so and then put them all together into a hand-made book. Might as well give it a try.
Please know before you look at these drawings that I am being VERY COURAGEOUS by sharing these. The first one is terrible. Truly terrible –and the reason why I’ve always run (screaming? yeah, maybe) from Illustration (with a capital “I”). I’m not too happy with the second drawing either, although it is an improvement. The last two are just small thumbnails to try out some color and slight composition variations. The second of these… sigh. I like it. BUT…
But what, you ask? Well. It’s a thumbnail. And I like it. And I’m afraid to try to do it again on a full-size (or even half-size!) sheet of paper. Because how can it be as good as the thumbnail? Okay, so the thumbnail is not a masterpiece or anything, and yet I’m attached to it. I’m too attached. I can’t seem to let it go. And that’s the problem right now. I need to let it go so I can make another. (And another. And another.)
Why do I find this so gut-wrenching? Is this normal? Do you go through this?
By the way, the poem is called “Saturday at the Canal” by Gary Soto, if you’d like to look it up.
The other night I had the opportunity to play with some Sculpey. I made these animals. Started with the (easiest) snake, then made the crow and jackal, then the rabbit because it seemed easy and finally the squirrel, which I originally wanted to make into a monkey, but I just couldn’t find the monkey in it. Three of these animals are characters in the story I’m writing, which since I’ve begun it, I’ve been calling “Crow Woman and Jackal Man.”
I have not talked about my writing much, if at all, because it seemed like I might jinx myself. But, I am pleased to say, that it is almost finished. That is, I finished a very rough draft, and I am now through my first major revision of it. Hooray! At this point, I feel I can finally reveal what I’ve been doing to more than just my family.
Next step is to ask my daughter to read it and give me some feedback. I hope she recognizes the import of my decision, that I’m entrusting her with this mewling and puking “child” of mine!
So my Coursera class on the history of art is just about over. I really enjoyed it and learned much more than art history. I think the assignments were the most helpful in bringing enlightenment to my own work, not because of the artwork created, but because of the evaluations and the evaluating process. Feedback is always welcome (when it’s constructive), but I learned that giving feedback can be just as helpful. The final assignment of the course was to write a reflective essay on just that. Here is mine:
The very first required assignment of this course opened my eyes to the need for me to question what I’m doing in my creative work and why I make the choices I make.
The first required assignment had to do with objects and the frame of presentation. I sit near a large bay window when at my computer, and it is divided into 15 squares, or “frames.” I had a flash of inspiration that somehow it might be interesting to include one of those frames in my picture, because it would work as three frames: a frame for the submission, a frame for the objects I put there , and a frame for the yard behind it. I have to admit, I didn’t really think much beyond that. I decided to include my hand holding one of the objects and make it a sort of symbolic self-portrait, but honestly, my choices were not that carefully considered.
When I gave feedback on the assignment, I enjoyed seeing the different ideas submitted, and I really liked looking at them carefully enough to ask questions or to verbalize what I noticed first and what I noticed only after further consideration. The part of the feedback where I had to describe exactly what I saw, though, that seemed kind of pointless… until I read how others described what I had submitted.
Reading the descriptions was a little bit like seeing a photograph of a scene you took and noticing all the extra stuff you didn’t mean to get, or realizing that something unintended was the focus rather than what you’d been trying to capture. So I discovered how helpful that feedback was after all.
Then the questions, the things people noticed (or didn’t)… well, that gave me a much clearer idea of my intention, or in this case, the lack of intention. Why did I put those items together as I did? What did I want the audience to see? What was the point?!
Which now takes me to our first sketchbook assignment: What is art to me, as it should be? and what is it to others? I believe that after this course, I am clearer in my own mind about maybe what art should be –what my art should be. First and foremost, it should matter. It should have a point. It should be considered enough to where everything is intentional. When I sit down to make art, I should have at least a starting idea of what this exploration is. As I am writing this, I am running through my mind of things I’ve made in the past. Was it as unintentional as I fear it was? Perhaps not. But perhaps the more meaningful work did have rather more intention. I am not sure yet. This is a question I am going to ponder further.
Why haven’t I posted anything lately? Well, I didn’t want to just keep putting up drawings from the campus figure drawing group. And I’ve been doing more knitting and I had the idea to make a video, for which I’ve already shot the video but I have yet to put it together as I envisioned it. And, I’ve signed up to write 50,000 words in the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month.
When I finish the video, I’ll put it up. Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to get to all of the things I want to get to each day. Not that that’s anything new! You know how there are periods when you have ideas and more ideas and not enough time? It happens occasionally, doesn’t it? This is one of those times. It often coincides with kids’ days off from school and long holiday weekends for some reason. I really don’t know how I’m going to write 50,000 words with a whole week of Thanksgiving vacation after already having a 4-day weekend this past week. (Thanks, parent-teacher conferences!) But my goal is not so much to write 50,000 words as to write this story that’s been in my head for over a year now. The good news: I am writing.
I had a conversation last night with my art group about showing work and why we should or shouldn’t do it. I have shown my work (two times, at restaurants) and I told my friends that, even when everyone seems to like it, I come away feeling really awful.
The terrible feeling of showing my work was fresh for me this morning, because I showed my recent figure drawings to the group. Even with such a safe and supportive group I feel bad showing it. And they liked the drawings. So what’s going on?
Writing in my journal this morning I had an idea: The feeling I get from showing people my work is a fear that they will think I’m showing off or fishing for compliments. When I get a compliment, I have the automatic reaction: oh, she is being polite; she feels like she has to say something nice about it. And immediately after that comes the fear that she thought I was only showing it so that she’d say something nice. That’s it, I’m sure of it. Because as I sit here and type it up, my insides are squirming.
There’s also the possibility that the person seeing the art will say nothing. The question then pops up in my head: doesn’t she like it? Does this scenario mean that I am fishing for compliments? Is it so uncomfortable because it’s true?
There’s no denying that I would like people to like my work. I would like to be thought of as an artist, not as a pretender, not as pretentious. But how do you know what you are? How do you know if your work is worth anything?
I thought about other things that I do that I have no problem with showing. My knit socks for one:
There’s no problem showing socks. It’s a craft and I know that they are good when the knitting is even and the size is correct. When people like them, I’m happy. I don’t feel any of the same qualms with my knitting as I do with my artwork. Why is that?
There is also work that I do completely for myself, not to show:
I showed my art journal to my art group and what they thought of it just didn’t even seem relevant to me. It’s not something that’s there to be liked or not liked. It’s outside the judging realm. It’s for me only. It’s not that I didn’t feel anything when they looked, but that I dismissed it immediately because this is not artwork whose value has any sort of dependence on what other people think of it.
And recently I had submitted some graphics to the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival Pattern Project:
Two of them were used (along with many other submissions) to make a gorgeous backdrop for the concerts on the main stage. For some reason I didn’t feel blah when I was complimented on them. Why not?
And, finally, this blog:
For some reason, I don’t feel bad putting my work up here. Perhaps that’s because I’m pretty sure no one’s reading my blog anyway. (Okay, I know of one person – Thanks, E!) But of course it helps that I’m not seeing my blog visitors face-to-face, it’s clear in my own mind that I’m not putting the work up for compliments but as a motivation for myself to keep working, and I don’t even have the post comments turned on anymore. I suppose it’s a kind of practice in letting the work be seen without the dangers of feeling bad.
I’m sure I’ll be working through this latest revelation of mine in the coming weeks. Let’s hope I find a better approach and attitude to showing work, because I believe that creative work should be shared and I want to feel good about sharing mine.
Remember writing? Yes, I still write. Always. In my journal. Lately I have been working on a story, but it is really hard for me to sit down and write fiction. I have an outline of the story, but that has not helped me as much as I’d hoped. Today I was revising more than writing. That’s dangerous, because I can nitpick away the hours. But it led me to pick up a book I had not looked at in years: The Elements of Style (2nd ed.) by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. What a book! You might think it’s just a book of grammar rules, but I found it very inspiring. It made me realize how much I enjoy playing with language and how satisfying it is to write a clear sentence.
After reading it for a bit, I wanted to write essays, stories, articles. But the day was beautiful and the dog had not had an off-leash run in days. When we got home from the woods, I read the book from cover to cover. It’s not every day I read a book in one day –especially a book of rules.
I may have mentioned that I’m taking a songwriting class from Pat Pattison of Berklee School of Music through the free online course offerings of Coursera. This is now the final week of the class and I have one more assignment to go. This past week my assignment was to write a whole song (yikes!): lyrics, melody and even a bridge. Well, it is done.
I have to say the lyric writing wasn’t too bad — it’s like writing poetry, so I felt pretty comfortable with that part. But writing music itself is not something I’m qualified to do. Fortunately in this course, you don’t have to be able to play an instrument. You can use music loops provided by the instructor. There’s a variety: drum loops, ballad loops, reggae loops, etc. I made my song to a rock ballad loop. It seemed to fit best.
I’m going to share with you the lyrics, which I’m pretty happy with:
Shedding Skin – 2nd draft
My faded canvas pants and shoes–
Echoing this dermal crust
This armor that I’ve learned to trust
–Are comfortable but no excuse
Don’t wanna shed my skin
The me that hides within
But in my heart I start to itch
Something restless underneath
My soul commanding me to breathe
Apprehensions come unhitched
Can’t keep on like I did before
Gotta let go what I have no use for
The me inside I can’t conceal
The light of me warps and diffracts
I need to let it shine intact
Manifest what’s pure and real
Ready to shed my skin
The me that hides within
I’m nervous about posting the recording, but I will as long as you understand that I’m a complete amateur at this.
You will probably be able to see my last recording, too, which was only a verse and a chorus. Wasn’t planning on sharing that, but I know I have a sympathetic audience, right?
Whew! This is one time I’m glad I have so few blog followers! Even so, I’d love to hear from you. Words of encouragement are always welcome! Constructive criticism is mostly welcome. (Gotta be honest –it’s not always my favorite!)