Category Archives: studio blog

Collage party aftermath

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guardian angel

In February I hosted a collage party, as I have for several years now. It’s a great excuse to spend a day with friends doing arty stuff. To prepare, I have to really organize my studio and break out old my magazines, calendars, and scraps of decorative paper.

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healing old wounds

Sometimes it’s hard for me to warm up to making collages in just one session. I don’t have any direction or focus, and spend the day just looking at paper and images, maybe collecting piles, maybe adding to some older pieces. When everyone is gone, over the next few days it’s time to sort through everything and tidy up. That’s when images start landing next to and upon each other. It took me almost 2 weeks to finish the cleanup this time, because I kept finding one more picture I wanted to make.

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fashion shot

I think one of the great things about collage is playing with colors and images that appeal to me, working in a very intuitive way. I have very little guiding idea, especially when I start out. Ideas may emerge out of the process, but I hold them pretty loosely and try to stay in playful visual space, which keeps me from getting didactic and overly critical.

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how we are together

They end up feeling like conversations, or jigsaw puzzles with no defined picture or point of completion. It’s a satisfying thing, and in the end my studio is in much better shape than when I started!

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triton’s daughter

18 February 2017-Annual Collage Party

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Every year since I think 2009, I’ve hosted a collage party sometime in the depths of February. The germ of the idea was an impromptu anti-valentine’s day session around a friend’s kitchen table. Soon after that, I took a workshop on using collaged images to make your own divination/inspiration card deck.  My friend and co-conspirator Emily Cavin instigated a followup session, which became an annual event.

I have an embarrassingly large collection of old magazines, calendars and decorative paper scraps. On the chosen day, some friends come over and spend a large chunk of time playing with images and materials. We also chat and share snacks, and admire each other’s work. It’s completely delightful.

Last year we started making a group collage during the party. A piece gets started, and moves around the room from person to person, as many times as it takes until everyone feels they have nothing more to add. Here’s the group collage from this year’s party:

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Emily Cavin continued work on her deck of divination cards, and gave me permission to show them here:

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I didn’t get much done except the water/snake image at the top. But I’m pretty content with that. It can take me a while to get revved up for collage, if I don’t have a project already going. I spent much of the day just going through images, and collecting piles of stuff. I’ll have to see if it leads to anything else when I go back out to the studio today to tidy up!

The studio stayed relatively tidy this time, due to very considerate friends with ample space to spread out. Here are a couple shots of my workspace and the supplies just for grins – a happy mess.

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It is a tremendous gift to share time with friends for creative play. I hope you are able to do something similar from time to time,  in whatever medium feeds your spirit.

Back to Bookbinding

At last I can report that I’ve been in my studio long enough to work on projects other than the daily drawings. It’s not much, but it’s a step in the direction of shifting the shape of my life.

I trained as a hand bookbinder for a number of years, but have not actively worked at it since my children were small, a couple decades ago (yikes!) One of the reasons I’ve been so happy about actually having dedicated studio space now, is that I hope to get back to doing at least a few book-related projects. It’s taken a while, but here’s some movement in the right direction.

I took in this book to mend an embarrassingly long time ago, and finally finished it. The Sacred Harp is a songbook of music in mostly 4-part harmonies, written in shape notes. It’s at the heart of an active community of people who use their books, often every week. People take notes in the margins, collect information from friends, note songs they love or have led on the end pages. The books basically get loved to death. It’s been a dream of mine to return some of them to active use, and I hoped this project would nudge me in that direction. Now I feel more wary, given how long this poor book sat on my workbench, but there’s still satisfaction in seeing it ready to go back to sings.

Maybe someday I’ll even fix my own copy, which is showing signs of giving up after many years of use. For now, I’m enjoying the sense and the space of clearing an old project off my workbench. It feels like settling an old debt.

 

 

 

 

 

The small hands of anxiety

This is about the part of my process in which I have no idea where I’m going with a drawing.

I’ve had enough time most days the past couple of weeks to spend 2-3 hours on a drawing. There are at least 4 in the past couple of weeks where I spent much of that time trying to push in and pull out an image that I felt was finished enough to post.

I have been playing with variations of layering on and scraping off wax and ink. To make a really strong and successful drawing of this type, it really helps to have a plan from the very first mark. This is at odds with my stated intention, of approaching the blank page in an open state. Sometimes I get a really clear vision right off the bat, but a lot of the time I just start making marks and hope that my intuitive visual mind knows what the heck it’s doing. Then, the whole process turns into a kind of conversation between my analytical mind which wants there to be recognizable forms, and the part of me that just wants to play in the mud and look for pretty rocks.

This back-and-forth makes an opening for a different kind of inner critic that the ones I’ve mentioned before. This one is a quiet but persistent anxiety. She doesn’t speak loudly, in fact hardly at all. But since she’s so quiet, I sometimes forget to send her off to that other room while I draw. I hardly notice that I’m not experiencing the joy of making, but rather a kind of muted dread that it’s not going well.

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I started writing this post and wasn’t able to finish it the same day. That evening I made the above drawing (1/12/17). I tried to really get a look at this particular personal bugbear. I was feeling the wringing hands and hidden face. I found it amusing and revealing that I’d drawn the hands so small in proportion to the face. That somehow seems correct, though I would never have thought to do it on purpose.

This is part of what I like about the unplanned process I’m using. There have been many times when I learned something about the way I’m thinking or feeling as a result of something I drew. It might be something I never would have thought to say, or even knew that I was thinking. But once it shows up on the paper I may begin to tell myself a story about it, and learn something that a part of me already knew, and just hadn’t articulated yet.

But it’s not always that deep. Sometimes it’s no more than a visual song, with lines and colors that captivate my eye and tug at my feelings. Maybe that little Anxiety critic needs a hug more than banishment. Maybe then she would become a good playmate. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a critical edge focused as you work, as long as it doesn’t drain you of the pleasure.

 

Here are the drawings I posted since my last studio blog:

Housekeeping

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I’m not inspired to write today, or often actually. But ‘practice’ means honoring your intention, whether you want to or not, whether or not you feel inspired, whether or not the results will be worth showing anyone.

I’ve been thinking about housework lately. I had a house full of people over the holiday, which is a shift from the mostly quiet, peaceful routine I enjoy. I was reminded of my mothering days, with all the chores of making the house a functional, healthy, appealing place to be for my family. Housekeeping is an art. I’m not talking about the fancy magazine stuff, just the basic practice of noticing, paying attention, constantly figuring out how to make things work smoothly and happily as possible. Managing time and resources continually. If you’re lucky enough as I was not to need a full time paying job to make ends meet, your home can become a manifestation of your creative energy.

I think about this now, as I’ve had a few years of the freedom to prioritize getting into my studio every day. A friend of mine has a plaque over her sink that reads “Art Before Dishes”. It’s a good reminder for a busy person to make sure they give themself that time. But doing the dishes is part of the art of keeping the home healthy, safe, welcoming to others. It’s always a balancing act.

Unlike with the practice of housekeeping, where the work goes unnoticed unless it’s left undone for too long, I’ve chosen to basically show all the work of my art practice, posting my daily drawings. Whether or not I was inspired, whether or not the results are anything to be proud of. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ve probably seen plenty of misses, and seen times when I rework things different ways, runs of various themes, stretches when I focus on something and then points when I take breaks from that focus. I suppose it’s like being in the house while someone practices an instrument. Every once in a while you might hear some real music, but there’s an awful lot of awkward working through phrases over and over until they become part of a song.

I really hope that showing my work will at least be interesting; everyone’s journey is different, and I often wonder how someone got to where they are with their art. As I try to be open and unapologetic about what I’m doing, maybe it will encourage someone else toward dedicated exploration of their chosen practice.

Here are my daily drawings since my last studio blog post:

 

another post, another critic

 

In the past couple of weeks when I’ve had enough time, I’ve been continuing experiments in layering ink over crayon and scraping back into it, trying to gain more control. Especially I want to have bright, jewell-like colors set against the darkness. Sometimes I wonder if I should just be painting on black velvet.

I’ve had a piece off to the side to work on while I wait for the ink to dry, it’s finally done enough to post.

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In the rest of my life I’m learning more about how to speak up as an activist, as so many of my friends feel suddenly called upon to do. There’s a sense of urgency and at the same time unreality that permeates the outer sphere of my awareness, the part that connects to the big world of national and international news.

In the smaller sphere of my local, tangible life, I’m spending much time with good friends belting out songs that speak of hope and of getting through the tough times of the human condition. There’s this stark dissonance between the comfort and relative ease of my little life, and my awareness of so many who are cold, hungry, threatened by war, suffering indignities. I’m one of the very privileged people, and have some resources to spare. So one of my inner critics tells me, this is no time to be drawing flowers and dancers. What good to the world is this practice of mine?

I really don’t know if there’s an answer to that.  I tell that critic to get out of my way go join the others in some other room,  while I sit over here and work on whatever this silly, useless thing is. It absorbs and satisfies me. A friend tells me that seeing my drawings posted brings her joy. And I think it probably doesn’t harm anyone. Maybe that’s enough for now.

Here are the drawings I’ve posted since my last studio blog entry. The final rehearsals  and the shows over the past weekend occupied much of my time, so there are a few quick and sketchy drawings in the middle. Coming out the other side it’s felt good to have more time to spend, though I’m still not satisfied with how my experiments are coming out.

colors under the dark

It seems to me that my dive into wax resist drawings has a darkness that’s suited to the mood of the times. The layers have a metaphoric resonance. First the hard pencil lines engraved into the paper provide the drawing with a structure. The next layer is colorful wax crayon, mirroring my deliberate embrace of optimism. All is then covered by the black sludge of ink, which needs to sit and dry till it forms a shell. Crappy stuff happens in this big old world, and it sometimes overwhelms everything. But then I scrape that darkness back off, finding the colors beneath, which glow all the more profoundly when they are offset by the dark.

It doesn’t show up in the scans I post, but I’m using fat glitter crayolas in almost all of the drawings, so they have a little sparkle that reminds me of the cheesy advent calendars for which I am a sucker.

My studio surfaces are getting cluttered with stuff dumped and not sorted. I’ve spent the past week and a half staying connected with my various communities as well as I can. It’s a very good time to check in with the people you care about and make sure they’re doing OK. I don’t think there’s much I can say that hasn’t been said better elsewhere, but if you’re reading this, I thank you for being a part of what has kept me going on this daily practice. Sometimes bad stuff hits where you live, and you just have to do your best to take care of what you can, fix what you can, protect what you can, and do whatever makes life worth living.

Here are the drawings I posted in the last week:

I can’t resist resist

I lately stumbled back into playing with wax resist techniques in my daily drawings. It’s been a while since I dug into this, and my daily drawings are giving me a chance to do some more focused exploration into how to get the results that I like. I’m still a ways from satisfied, but the journey is great fun. I took some snapshots as I went along on one of my recent drawings to give an idea of my process.

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The first layer is colors ( I think water colors in this case) and lines drawn with hard (8h) pencil. A layer of Neocolor I crayons (the non-water-soluble kind) and/or oil pastels goes over that.

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That gets covered with ink. In some drawings I use watercolor instead.

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The ink gets scraped off after it’s dry. This is the “uncovering buried treasure” part of the drawing that I enjoy so much. Sorry about the unfocused photo!

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In this drawing I wanted to play with scratchboard techniques, so I went back over some parts with more ink.

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Here is about where I ended up.

One side effect of my recent run of resists is that I got time to finish up a drawing I started last summer, while waiting for the ink to dry. I was looking at “zen tangles” with my sister-in-law, and drew a couple  of line drawings to fill in with patterns. More dancing princesses!

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…..And… here are the drawings I posted in the past week all in a bunch:

 

 

Princesses are Blockade Runners.

For a while I was embarrassed about drawing pretty girls in fancy clothes. One of my inner critics insists that this is schoolgirl doodling, not Serious Art. This well educated voice informs me that Art should be intelligent and provocative. My unpolished splats of drawings do not really count. I should not show anything unless it could rise to some level of professionalism, and I could write an essay about it that would be worthy of Art Journals and Galleries.

If I listened to this critic, I would just give up. What they want is not even something I want to do, never mind feel capable of. This critic informed me for years that I would never be a Real Artist.

My Princesses are blockade runners.

Sometimes they help me get a drawing done when I’m stuck on the blank page. They remind me to get over myself and purely have some fun with the drawing. If I’m thinking that Art is hard and Artists have to be a lot smarter, more focussed, more talented than I am, a Princess can remind me that the task at hand is not to be great but to get something onto the paper.

Princesses emerge to please the child that loved The Princess and the Goblin, The Rose and the Ring, the Blue Fairy Book, The Secret Garden, The Silver Curlew.

They please the little girl who wanted to be a vallerina, and dance, and make everyone happy, happy, happy. (Which is the origin of my secret fascination with tutus – the kind that stick straight out like an Elizabethan ruff).

They remind me not to take myself and my drawing practice so seriously. That little girl is still in me, wanting to dance and laugh and sing all the livelong day. These days she’s trying to keep her joyful presence where I can always reach it, even through the anxiety, fatigue, pain, sorrow and irritation that seem to be such ready companions.

Here are my drawings from the past week:

Tricking myself into carrying on

Over the long weekend I went to a gathering that I’ve gone to annually for a number of years now. Attendees spend the weekend in “clans”, using focused activities to do whatever personal work is in front of them. In 2009 I was in the Otter clan, working with the idea of establishing daily practice. That’s when I formed the intention of making a drawing every day, and actually did the first drawings.

One of the earliest obstacles to daily practice was facing my own expectations. I got to the end of a day, exhausted and just wanting to go sleep; didn’t think I had a drawing in me. My husband observed that I never said I had to draw something excellent, just that I had to draw something. Even if it was just a circle on a page. Don’t let myself off the hook for doing something each day. As it turns out, some of those 30 second doodles are wonderfully amusing or evocative! A thing I tell myself at the beginning or early stages, when I’m faced with a blank page or something that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is that there is always something interesting to see, wherever you are. There’s not really a way to fail.

Soon after I started the practice, I decided to post the drawings as a form of accountability. I made a decision early on not to apologize or self-critique the drawings I post. I’m simply showing what I came up with during my drawing time, not exhibiting polished and finished products. The odd bits and shortcomings I might see are actually a part of what I’m trying to convey – they show the process, point out places I might want to explore. This is part of what I tell myself when I post drawings I’m not especially pleased with or proud of. Sometimes I post drawings I really feel are throw-aways, but get comments that show me things I didn’t even see I had done. So much of this practice has been about finding tricks that help me to get out of my own way.

It’s been seven years now, which seems like a good number. That’s long enough for me to see some contours of the journey. I’ve had time to watch myself deal with resistance and discouragement, and time to develop some confidence. It’s also long enough that I feel this is a part of my life now, it’s just one of the things that I do.

My drawings from the past week. I brought limited drawing supplies along to Twilight Covening, which often prompts me to stretch a little. Being out of my studio sometimes offers the chance to do more observational work, but it turned out that I didn’t have much time to focus or be alone. I took time where I could, often while listening to conversations among friends. What came out on the page is memory, dream and mood.