Friday, May 24, 2019

The Weekend

It's a 3-day holiday weekend in my country. Some will be heading out for the first camping trip of the season. Others will be heading for cemeteries as the holiday is meant to remember our war dead. Still others will be taking advantage of the ubiquitous sales that are now the standard of any holiday in this country. Me? I'll be getting this batch of carefully chosen plants into pots that reside on my deck in anticipation of the joy and smiles their blooms should bring me throughout the summer and into fall. And I just might tackle shampooing my rugs as well . . .

Maybe you will find yourself with a little extra time for reading, so I'm providing some links to articles that have caught my eye recently. First, I'll direct you to an interview with David Bowie titled David Bowie Offers Advice for Aspiring Artists: “Go a Little Out of Your Depth,” “Never Fulfill Other People’s Expectations”, which really is the perfect summary. It includes a video of an interview from the 90's with Bowie but a good text read as well. Two things that stood out for me: "Never play to the gallery." and "Go a little bit out of your depth. When you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” I'm pretty much working on both of those this year.

A Painter's Key letter entitled Self-delusory Avoidance Activity has some advice that seems similar to me. It starts off with “What happens with you when you begin to feel uneasy, unsettled, queasy?” wrote American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron in her 1996 book, When Things Fall Apart. “Notice the panic, notice when you instantly grab for something.” For artists, we may make sense of the discomfort of creative inquiry by giving it a name and influence. A genuine self-delusory avoidance activity is better known by its power-handle: “Block.”, then continues with ideas for getting beyond it. "For one month, tell no one what you plan to make." and "Set no production goals." are two at the top of the list. Again, I think I am on this track, doing some of the things in this list, not so much because I feel blocked but more because I sense something lacking in my work, something that could make it better and more satisfying. Looking at this list, I can see how some of these things would take me a little bit out of my depth.

Finally, here's an article that's been making the rounds on Facebook, Annie Albers on How To Be An Artist. I should be but am not very familiar with her work and nearly did not read this. Yet within it I found some interesting viewpoints I could not argue with. I was particularly drawn to her advice to listen to your chosen material. I so often feel that those working in textiles do not do that, try to force the medium to do things it's not best at and ignore the things it could do that no other medium can. The more subtly we are tuned to our medium, the more inventive our actions will become,” she wrote. “Not listening to it ends in failure.” And I'm sure she was not thinking about quilting in particular in this next quotation, yet I immediately thought about the long war that wages between traditional quilting and techniques through to the most modern of art quilting: The more we avoid standing in the way of the material and in the way of tools and machines,” she wrote in “Design Anonymous and Timeless,” “the better chance there is that our work will not be dated, will not bear the stamp of too limited a period of time and be old fashioned some day instead of antique.” There's a whole section following this where she discusses embracing new technology and tools in our exploration of the raw material we work with and where it can take us artistically. I realized she was right and I often push back against the newest thing, only to find a way of embracing it later.

It's all a journey. And I've given you plenty of material to keep you busy and thinking over the long weekend. Hoping it will ring bells or offer solutions for wherever you are on your creative journey.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Why I've Been AWOL (mostly)

Do you remember Toro the Bull from the Bugs Bunny cartoon? That's what I saw in Carla Sonheim's exercise of reading sidewalk cracks, and how I envision my dear readers might be feeling as they wonder where I've gone. Yikes! This is my first post this month but I have an excuse, sort of. I signed up for a free Sketchbook Revival course through Sketchbook Skool that started at the beginning of the month. Thirteen consecutive days of presentations geared to help you start or revive a sketchbook practice, possibly a daily one, with ideas for warming up, tips on how to draw various images and more specific instructions about using various media and supplies. I can do this, I thought. Better yet, I need this information, and how can I pass up free?

Because I am a sucker for buying supplies I know little or nothing about and then doing little or nothing with them once they are in my possession. This sketchbook is a case in point. I bought it sometime last year I think, when I found myself frustrated with the sketchbooks I did have that would not take wet media. Time to buy a mixed media one (and I also got the watercolor paper version at the same time) and then I won't feel constrained when I go out to sketch. Yeah, right. I never got farther than to do the recommended testing of different media on the opening pages. Well now I had a reason to get this out and people who would help me fill it up.

What I hadn't counted on was that we would be sent an e-mail each day with a link to not one but two video links featuring two different teachers. Miss a day (which I did) and one quickly got behind. Maybe they thought people would pick and choose which lessons they wanted to work through so this was a good thing to give as two each day. But I wanted to watch them all, do almost every one, even if I couldn't work up the exercise on the same day as I watched the video (I took copious notes.) What an opportunity to work with all these things on hand (and yes, I had nearly every suggested supply), like the Art Graf water soluble graphite cakes that I substituted for watercolor paint in Tamara Laporte's Quirky Happy Houses warm-up.

The lessons ranged from "intuitive" practices using a variety of media on the page (here we were encouraged by Iris Fritschi-Cussens to try layering acrylic paint, gesso, gel pen, colored pencil, watercolor paint, markers and anything else on hand which for me was Maribu's Art Crayon I'd gotten for free in a promotion) to more traditional structured approaches. Each had their merits.

For instance, Anna Bartlett's lesson was on how to use acrylic paint in a sketchbook rather than the more popular watercolor paint, using the sketchbook as a place to work things out (like composition and colors) before moving to an actual piece. I doubt I will be using my acrylic paints to work up "realistic" sketches like this, but I really appreciated the time she took explaining the many marks you can get with a flat brush, working with shadows and how much detail you can leave out and still get across what you are capturing with simple shapes and highlights. I did this rather quickly and didn't quite follow all her steps properly, but still surprised myself that it still looks like a bouquet of flowers in a jug! Plus I got to try out some new acrylic colors added to my collection over the last year. Yes, I do let my supplies sit. Then again, I've purchased acrylics for use on fabric, primarily in stamping, and haven't done much of that lately. 

Collage has been nibbling at the edges of my interest for a long time and I had two chances to work with it in two very different ways. Not only did I get a chance to work more with my water soluble pencils (the basis for the face) but who knew drawing a face could be so easy? At least, Tony Burt made it so. I want to do more of this, getting a bit better at adding the color and bits of collage over the top.

The other collage method by Laly Mille is more what I'm used to seeing and have been collecting images, text and papers for. She uses it as a warm-up and as art journaling so adds printed text as well as writing over the top of her work. The photo above shows mine at the arranging process, before anything is adhered down with matte medium, a product I'm still getting used to using instead of glue or paste.

I was quite fascinated with Karen Stamper's technique for creating a background for future sketching using what she calls mixed media mark making that includes elements of collage. Her instructions went against the grain of what I am generally comfortable with but because she was using regular inks and India ink which I have in abundance (and that India ink has only been out once), I was game to let loose. This was day 7 of the daily e-mails and everything leading up to that had helped loosen me up in general and see the sketchbook as they were describing it - a place to try things out, make mistakes, see what works. There was way more "working" than I anticipated so sure, let's glue down some odd paper pieces, sticky labels and masking tape and start soaking the paper with ink, sprays of water, runs from tipping the paper, texture from blotting areas. Mine is really too dark, but there are ways to lighten it up before I start sketching into it. In the meantime, I liked this so much and now knew I needed to dilute my regular ink more, so I did a better one on the back of this one.

So, you can't draw, you say. Well, more than one teacher showed us that's just not true. There are tricks to that trade, as illustrator Nina Rycroft showed us. She stressed really studying your subject (as did several other teachers) and suss out some general shapes. This fun beagle started as 3 circles for the head, shoulder and rear, and then it was a matter of connecting the shapes and adding on snout, ears, legs and tail per the reference photo. And then she continued with showing how to change the subject's position and add a little action. Observe, observe, observe, draw, draw, draw, was her encouragement.

Julia Bausenhardt also showed how easy it is to draw (and then paint) a very realistic bird starting with a couple of basic shapes, this time a circle for the head and an oval for the body. I especially appreciated her information on which brushes to use on this sort of watercolor rendition, and how to use the smallest one to make tiny strokes mimicking feathers. Prior to this, about the only watercolor instruction I'd seen used big brushes and broad strokes to create washes.

On the last day, Leonie Norton presented a class on Travel Sketching with Pen and watercolor wash, and all I could say was YES! I've been dabbling with a panorama of city beach off and on, trying not to feel out of my depth as I pencil sketch in areas before adding color. Leonie made the process from pencil sketch to adding watercolor make sense and seem pretty easy now. Plus she used two sizes of waterbrushes, which I have and have used but not with much assurance. Now, working with her video, my confidence is much higher.

I also had ample opportunity to work with the many brush pens I've acquired while working through warm-up exercises, mark making exercises and doodling exercises (like Rachel Taylor's Magic Motif Creation above). These were all ways of generating ideas and images without specifically setting out to do so. Not meant to be great art. Not even meant to produce results every time. But pretty fun and eliminating the usual pressure to create.

I've gotten a little carried away with Richard Armstrong's Random Word doodling practice. He recommends you doodle a word a day (spending 10 to 15 minutes on it) for at least 30 days in order to start getting results. I've been working through his free e-book on the subject and find his observation true that some days are good, others are not, but about half way through the 30 days you will come up with a winner that you can take further (this happened on day 12 for me). Mostly, I end up doodling characters or stories that highly amuse me, tapping into my quirky side I think has been too locked up lately.

The moderator of Sketchbook Revival 2019, Karen Abend, wrapped things up with the final session of Staying Inspired. She encouraged us to think about what it is that we love about where we live and look for daily inspiration for our sketchbooks there, taking quick photos to use as references once home. She noted how the longer we are in a place, the more used to things around us we get, to the point we stopped seeing them. I know what she means. So I sat there thinking, mountains, lake, these are why I am here, but I wasn't feeling inspired to sketch either. Then inspiration struck as I remembered that the syringa bushes had just started to bloom, and I always look forward to this brief flowering of my state's official flower. And I knew I had reference photos right on the very computer where I was watching her video. This seemed like such a perfect ending to the journey she had taken us on, and I found I could take things I'd learned from different teachers in the series (26 of them!) in creating my final page.

Ahem. What about those missed days, yet to be watched videos and yet to be worked on lessons? Sketchbook Skool had issued a sort of pardon for us struggling to keep up daily, assuring us off and on that the videos would be accessible for another two weeks, and so these last couple of weeks have been spent catching up and re-watching a few videos. I can't say enough good things about this free class, can't really relate the many little things I learned about myself, about my supplies, about my preferences, about how simple some of this was to do now that I knew the steps and tricks, and that the eye-rolling sometimes turned out to be unnecessary. Some of this I'll not do again, some I may do now and then, some I want to do more of and hope I can keep up some momentum to do so. The sketchbook is nearly filled (and I have ideas for those last few pages including some freebie lessons offered by individual teachers when you signed up on their website) and is now a great resource to refer back to. I'm not totally sure how, but I sense some of this experience will turn out to be useful in my textile practice when I return to it more avidly. Perhaps the biggest surprised was how empowered I felt at the end of it all. It's been a great way to spend my May. And now I may need to order another mixed media sketchbook . . .