Friday, August 15, 2014

When Art Won't Sleep



What I look like after a few nights without much sleep! 
I cant sleep.  It happens sometimes.  I'm tired, but sleep evades me.  Laying in bed, my mind just thinks.  Its what minds do, I know.  But somehow, I always lay there feeling trapped in my mind and on my bed. Thoughts running along without releasing to sleep.

Its like something is left undone. Some tension. Years ago, I quit fighting it and started getting up and putting my thoughts, however random, to paper or typing them.  This seems to stop it and give me some kind of release.  Its like I empty my head onto paper or my computer.  Then, when my head is empty, I am ready to sleep. (no empty head jokes!)

It usually lasts for a few nights in a row until I break the pattern. I think, I have no proof mind you, its just a theory based on unreliable thoughts during sleepless nights, but I think I can't sleep because my creative side needs to be heard.  Does that sound strange?  Or does that sound perfectly logical to you?

So I empty the thoughts in words, of black and white.  Something almost solid. And here's what I usually hear/see: I need to stop and find a space in time to create something. What is so silly is I should be able to figure this out much quicker after all these years.  I guess I'm a slow learner.  More likely I continually underestimated the strength of my creative side and the need to express it. Even after all these years.  Its just not an option to NOT create any more.

It's harder these days to make time or indulge my creative self.  It's like an old friend I need to reconnect with.  But there was a time when that friend was silent and I was afraid I'd never hear from her again.  I'm glad she's back, even if it means I am awake at 2AM.

I will reread this in the morning to see if its just too wacko to put out there!  Whether the creative spirit abandons or calls and cannot be satisfied, I know enough artists to know we all have tension when the creativity is blocked for whatever reason.  You may experience it differently than a lack of sleep.  But take a look next time you feel frustrated and have no reason.  You may need to create to satisfy it.  There is art you need to make.

Tomorrow's going to be a long day.  And I know one thing that will be added to the "to do" list.  Make art.  And then I will sleep.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I've Got Time. Really.


How is your summer going?  Mine is going pretty well!  But it's going.  Really fast.  It's August already and my list of things "to do"and " to enjoy" has hardly a dent in it.  Life keeps getting in the way.  Unexpected things that demand attention. I try not to let them "steal my joy",  but they do steal my time.  No worries, I tell myself, you've got time.  But I never seem to have enough time.  Where does it go?  What do I do with it?

I think sometimes I worship my lists and am a slave to them and to time. Tic, tock, tic, tock.  I make these list and measure my day by how many things get checked off.  How productive I am.  I have many lists.  So much to do!  I mean, that's life, right?  Stuff to do.  People to see.  Places to go.  Accomplishment.  Something to show for my time. You can't waste time, right?  It's gone so fast and we must make the most of it.  Squeeze the most out of every second.

And it is gone fast.  And we do need to get things done.  I'm just wondering about all the striving.  And doing.  Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel.  Lots of motion, but not really going anywhere!  And where should I go?  There are volumes on living a purposeful life and self help.  The seven habits and all that.  I wonder.  If I just work and garden and draw, have a good laugh, is that enough?  

I don't want to be remembered for my clean floors or sparkling windows or even my art.  I want to be remembered for some kindness I may have done. For a comforting word spoken at the right time.  Maybe for my laughter.  For taking the time for others.  And ok, maybe I want to leave behind some decent art :)

Today,  I stopped and, well, just stopped.   Today I put down the list and drew.  I drew my dad.  Brushed the dog.  Picked some veggies.  Sat in the sun.  The world has not stopped because I didn't scratch six things off a list.

Forget the list.  Today, I don't have TIME for a list!  

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Art of Illustrating and Writing a Children"s Picture Book.

storyboard


It's been a very busy summer.  I apologize for the lack of posts here!  I have them in my head but no time to blog them.  I will get back on my schedule and be blogging again soon --

In the meantime, I've posted a link to a review I did for Empty Easel and Craftsy.  I think it was published two weeks ago, so the 50% offer on the class is over--sorry!  But I recommend these classes.  Good instruction for the price. 

Thanks for reading and enjoy this amazing summer!  Above all, make art!  

Empty Easel Craftsy Course Review


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watering Weeds



I'm a gardener.  Every year, beginning in the earliest months of spring, the war on weeds begins.  Weeds are hardy little buggers.  Among the first things to emerge from the frozen earth, weeds signal the end of winter - long before the more desirable perennial and food offerings I've planted make their appearance.  Does a weed think "Gee, if I get a head start I have a good chance of holding this piece of earth over that pampered cultivated crap that human plants!  Can't she see the beauty I bring to the landscape?"  I'm very sure it does think that.  If weeds had brains.

But weeds don't have brains, they have a millennia of natural selection on their side. Weeds have something better than brains.  Weeds have  (millions?) of years of practice being weeds.  Adapting and multiplying.  Leaving seed that may be buried for eons only to be unearthed by some act of God (or my hoe) to rise again.  Sound a little like a horror movie?  Ah, "Return of the Weed".

Weeds are tough.  They tolerate very little water or too much.  They thrive on neglect and despise rich soil.  And weeds...well, weeds also propagate.  They are so efficient at seeding themselves that it boggles the mind of the humble gardener who just wants to grow some food, for Pete's sake!   

As you can guess, I've been weeding.  And weeding.  And even weeding some more.  I'm not a fan of weeding. But I find a satisfaction from ridding the soil of those nasty weeds, leaving tidy garden beds.  For a week.  Tops.  Leave weeding for two weeks and you have a problem of epic proportion.Why despise the weed?  They are just trying to survive after all!  But weeds crowd out desirable plants by multiplying magically somehow, so well that they actually take over the space and choke the garden plant.  A weeds roots greedily take up the nutrients in the soil meant for the plants that we grow to nourish us.  Essentially weeds rob other plants of the things necessary to grow and thrive.   

To help the plants I have planted reach their flowering glory, or my table as nourishment, I wage my war on the weed.  And I ALWAYS weed before I water.  I just can not water in good conscience, the weed.   Watering weeds is encouraging them to stay--and bring others. Watering weeds doubles your work load. "Oh, just this week?"  I might hear myself say.  "Those few small little weeds will not cause much trouble."  I can water them just this once and pull them next week.  Well,  I'm here to say that I have gone back out the very next day after watering only to find I need a machete and flame thrower to destroy what was a mere day ago just a tiny little weed!  NO! No watering weeds.  My mother always said "if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing well" or, don't water your weeds.  

As I was weeding yesterday I was thinking about a few comments in some social media threads I had read.  The general idea was that practice makes perfect.  We all know that saying and I'm sure we all understand its truth.  But what struck me as I was weeding out invasive plants that thrive in the fertile soil I cultivate, was that bad habits are like weeds.  Eager to fill the empty spaces and take over my carefully tended plot, bad habits can crowd out good intentions or lessons learned.  And once planted and heaven forbid, watered, they become monsters that are not easily dealt with.  

It is not enough to just fill a canvas.  While practice makes perfect and Malcolm Gladwells idea of 10,000 hours is admirable, this is only true if you practice good technique. 10,000 hours of practicing incorrectly means you have become very good at doing it wrong! So my thoughts are as simple as my vow to weed before I water.  If you are working hard at your art remember that you will not get better practicing the wrong things.  No, practicing your skills correctly will make your work better.  Doing the same wrong thing over and over will only water the weed.  

But if you are a novice gardener, how do you identify a weed?  How does the budding artist know if they are doing it right?  Well, good teachers can help with that. (wink, wink). But so can a book, video, or another artist whose work you admire.  The great thing about art is that you never arrive.  You are always on a journey to learn.  Your work is never finished and your painting never perfect.  There is always something to learn. And just like the garden, you must continually work to keep the weeds at bay. Keep your practice free of the things that want to crowd it out.  And remember, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How Is Art Like Riding A Bike?




Last summer I bought a bike.  I haven't really ridden much since I got rid of my old bike.  No time, other things to do.  But I've always loved to ride.  There is something about riding a bike.  (and swinging on a swing--)  I love being outdoors riding with the wind in my face.  So what does riding a bike have to do with art?  

Well, I hadn't ridden in quite a while.  But I was never worried that I couldn't ride again.  You know the expression "its like riding a bike-once you learn, you never forget."  So I hopped on and off I went.  Have you ever taken a few months or maybe a year (or many ) off from doing art?  Did you forget how to do art?  No, it's like riding a bike!  You might be rusty and a little wobbly, but it all comes back to you.  You might need to ease in by exercising those creative muscles slowly back to their former strength.  Your physical muscles have memory and so do your art muscles.  They will return with some work.

And what happens if you take a fall?  I recently took a spill that hurt my ego much more than my body. Joggers and traffic all witnessed as I stopped short and went over the handlebars.  I have a nice imprint of the skid resist sidewalk on my thigh, a sore hand and other minor injuries.  But what hurt more was being witnessed!  I haven't talked to a biker yet who hasn't had an accident.  Get back on the bike!   Staying in a safe gym on a stationary bike takes me nowhere.  I may get exercise, but there is no scenery!  No sunshine and blue skies.  

The same goes for your art.  Do you fear being witnessed?  Afraid to paint in public or show your work?  Afraid to fail or hear critical comments?  Just as every biker will experience an accident, every artist will have a critic and a painting (or many) fail.  Just understand and accept that it's going to happen.  Knowing this takes some of the sting out of it.  Others have gone before and done the same.  Get back to the art!  There are experiences out there you won't know until you get out of the studio! 

What are your goals?  At first, I wanted something to get me out of the house, give me some exercise and relieve some stress.  After that initial period, my goal was leisure and pleasure.  Soon, I amped it up for cardio.  Now, I'm riding with others and it is a lifestyle change I hope carries into retirement since you can ride at almost any age.  Biking is an activity many take up as they get older.  It's much easier on the knees but can still give the benefits of other forms of exercise.  

When I look back on my growth as an artist, I noticed those goals changed over time also.  I took classes to get out of the house and away from a toddler.  Mental health was the key here!  I enjoyed it and did well.  Then I amped it up and began to show and join art groups.  I began to teach and win awards.  Today, I'm finding other artists to interact with and have realized that my art can be taken anywhere I go in life and during any stage and any age. I may not be doing my art for the same reasons today, but it is something that enriches my life.  

Exercise helps us with balance, which we lose as we age.  Riding a bike is great for this since you literally balance the whole time.  Excercise helps relieve stress and gives us a feeling of well being.  I notice my art balances me too.  I sometimes don't realize how much balance art brings to my life.  Art is an outlet for me and if I neglect doing it for myself, for fun, I become unbalanced.  Exercise and art balance you mentally and physically.  But your Art can become unbalanced as well.  When our focus becomes the finished product and not the process.  Or when we paint for sales or ribbons. Maybe we get in a rut and don't challenge oursleves.  By exercising our creative selves and getting out of our comfort zone, we find balance.

Equipment.  Enough said?  Do we need another reason to shop?  First it was the bike. Then came the  stuff.  My husband teases me about my biking gear.  I have the helmet, gloves, glasses, clothes and heart rate monitor.  I didn't get it all at once.  I added to it as I found the need.  But I'll tell you what, I'm glad I had that helmet and those gloves the other day!  My glove looks a little mangled and while I didn't hit my head, it reminded me how quick accidents happen.  You need to be prepared with the right equipment!

If you are just starting to make art, take a class and invest in some good materials.  It certainly makes the job easier and art making is hard work!  You need the right equipment.  Why make it harder with limited skills and sub standard tools?  You don't have to buy the best.  But you are making ART, you are an artist!  It is important.  Whether for your mental health, personal enjoyment or to show, make the best art you can with the best materials you can afford.  Having said that, a standard 2B pencil and a sketch pad is really all you need to make art.  But you can make a lot of different marks with a lot of different pencils!  

Give yourself the gift of making art.  I started riding again for the reasons I stated above.  But right away I noticed when I rode my bike I left the responsibilities and care of others behind.  For a time, I was alone and in my own world.  I was enjoying this time carved out of a busy life, just for me.  That's the mental health.  I was relieving stress but also getting much needed exercise.  I don't need to go into the health benefits of regular exercise.  I'm sure, unless you live on another planet you've heard.  Physically and mentally, it is a win, win activity.  

Making art is another win, win activity.  Have you ever noticed that you lose track of time and go into a "zone" when you are creating.  Studies show that making art improves cognitive function and memory and reduces common symptoms of dementia.  It strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills. Creative activities reduce stress and depression.  Creating increased blood flow to the brain by 10%, especially to the pleasure centers, similar to falling in love. Studies on people with chronic illness show that helps balance their loss and gives them relief from the illness for a time.  Making art produces a meditative effect.  Heck, making art is just good for you! 

So, I hope you either get your bike down out of storage or dust off those old art supplies.  Preferably both.  If you are already actively making art, think about how you can change it up and exercise a different muscle group by joining a group, having a paint date with a friend, taking a class, buying that new easel.  Keep it fresh and fun.  But above all, do it for you!  




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning to Draw and Paint Flowers




I'm starting my series on Flowers in Watercolor.  This is the first one explaining how to draw a cup and bowl shaped flower.  You can read it at Empty Easel.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time With Dad



         


So, along the lines of the Bloom Where You're Planted post, I've found a few new blooms on the bush.  Some time with an old friend painting in the park was just the ticket last week.  Angela and I have been painting together for many years, since I moved here almost thirteen years ago.  She, a speedy oil painter alongside me, a slow watercolorist.  We both like to paint the same things and always enjoy each other's company.  But these last few years we haven't gotten to do it much at all.  Hopefully we can do this with some frequency since we both found a little time in our busy schedules.

It's funny, I had almost decided to just give art up entirely.  Gasp! Art for me has always been a joy and an outlet. Other times when I had a rough patch I may have quit painting for a time, but I never felt as though the artistic spirit had left.  Maybe it took a backseat, but I knew it would return, front and center.  And it always did.  Before.  It's hard to explain.  But as time dragged on and I just didn't enjoy it, I figured maybe it had run it's course.  That happens, right?  There are other things.  Pursuits and interests I haven't gotten to yet.  Maybe I would find a new passion?

So I resolved to just give it a year.  If, after a year (plus the past year) my attitude had not changed, I would just move on.  In the meantime, I didn't force it.  I left it alone almost entirely.  I have never done that in 25 or more years!  But I guess I needed a break.  And time. Time to give priority to other things. 

The second bloom to open was this recent nagging thought that I need to sketch and paint my dad.  One of the things I tell students is to paint what is around them.  Anything and everything!  Still, I really was in no mood to paint or sketch beyond my obligations until the last few months anyway. But time, that measurement of minutes, hours, days, months and years.  It changes things.  Time moves on and you can't stop it.  Once it's gone, it's gone.  I realized I had an opportunity in time.  Time with my dad.  How could I best use that time with my dad?  As I thought about that, it was pretty obvious what one of the opportunities here is!  Bingo! 

And so, as time marches on, I have so many opportunities.  Small gems hidden, barely visible.   The task is to mine these gems each and every day.  The other night, it was fishing.  I sketched him and painted as he watched my husband fish.  The painting was awful because of the paper in the journal I used, but what a time we had!  We roared with laughter while my husband "fished" his lure from a bush!  The other was a sketch done from a photo I snapped the other day because I loved the light against a dark window.  

So, as I think about fathers day I realize I've been given a gift. It's not the new inspiration or the art spirit come back that is the gift.  It is this time with my dad.