Sometimes the drawings that start out the most frustratingly aimless end up going somewhere that I rather enjoy. It can be really hard to hold space open to trust that something worthwhile will emerge. I ought to do plenty of intentional, observational work to expand and refine my drawing/painting “toolkit”, but the point of this daily practice is to not let any deficiencies get in the way of exploring this visual space of dreams and play.
A dear friend of mine, who knows about my fondness for tying sticks together with twine, commissioned me to make a sculpture for her gardens.
My friend gave me a piece of driftwood bark, which you can see on the far right side of the above photo. The other sticks in the picture were potential supports that I didn’t end up using; they were too stubby and I couldn’t configure them to display the bark and keep it up off the ground.
This branch, trimmed and turned upside-down, ended up giving me the base I needed.
Below is my original mock-up of the sculpture. I liked that it resembles a heron standing alert and attentive.
For some time I had my eye on a beautiful root attached to a stump across the street from my house. Last winter, a snowplow knocked the root loose and I was able to collect it. That made the perfect stabilizing base for the bird-like legs, and the whole piece finally came together.I treated the wood with a consolidating finish, which made the bark tougher and put a weather-resistant coating on it. This is my first outdoor piece, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how well it survives.
I’m so grateful to have friends who are willing to support my work, and encourage me to try new ideas and directions!
I’ve started experimenting with ways to display my drawings. I participated in an Art Salon in February, for which I framed three pairs of drawings. I chose paper to edge and set off the drawings, and covered the frames themselves with a contrasting paper. This worked well enough for temporary display purposes, but is not a very durable presentation.
Another idea I had was to make leather-covered frames. So I tried that out on an older drawing, and was pretty pleased with the result:
Just recently, I sold one of my drawings and the buyer asked if I did any framing, so I showed them my earlier attempts. They asked if I could make a leather frame and protect the drawing with glass. Here are some process shots and the result:
It was fun to apply my bookbinding training and tools to this challenge, and I’m pretty pleased with the result. Though I don’t have any formal training in framing, I believe this is reasonably archivally sound. The drawing only touches acid-free paper on the back and edges, and is suspended away from the glass. It won’t be hard to take apart and remove the picture, should that become necessary. I’m looking forward to getting feedback, and maybe eventually making some more frames for more drawings!
Looking at the work of other watercolor artists, most notably Margaret Parker Brown, I was encouraged to break out my old watercolors. The tubes that were still use-able gave me a limited palette but it included several greens, and enough other colors to make a go of it. (You can check out Margaret’s blog, http://yubagold.wordpress.com/)
These are postcard-sized paintings, done quickly. I’m showing you all that I haven’t already given away, even the one I don’t like so much because it’s too fussy. Because the purpose of this blog has always been to show my art journey, not to prove anything about my putative talents!
I made one other larger watercolor puddle, but am not sure it’s done. If I feel like it, I’ll add it to this post later.
The lake was beautiful, the weather gave me clouds and sun so shadows played on the mountains. I hope you all get a chance to restore yourselves someplace beautiful and inspiring this summer!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Emily Cavin continued work on her deck of divination cards, and gave me permission to show them here:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.