Art/Author Blog

Morning Pages and Magic

The Spell Card2
Dragon, 2018 Digital An, illustration of a scene in The Spell

Years ago, while going through a tough patch, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I began to write Morning Pages. This, in case you don’t know, consists of writing three full pages, in cursive, about anything that comes to mind. The idea is, I think, to help you introspect, to figure out what you think, and believe, and if those beliefs and thoughts are true to you. They are meant to give you a voice, when you’re voice has shrivelled up and gone away.

Morning Pages are what started me writing fiction. Two things happened. I got very tired of my whiney daily litany of misery. The repeat, repeat, repeat pathos made me dispair. One morning I wrote three whole pages of Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

One day, I ended up writing in third person, and made my first attempt at writing fiction.  Here is the first chapter of The Spell, if you’d like to see what happened. The Spell is young adult fantasy fiction. An dark plague has come to Erdry, and young Averil, third daughter of Doft the Mender, must create the spell that will destroy the darkness.

You know how, sometimes, there seems to be more than one person in your head? There is the smart wise person, the endless nag, the I know better than you guy, and the mouse that is the daily you? Sometimes, in the drivel that showed up under my pen, someone else spoke. Someone who was like my dad, wise and caring, but not my dad.  Bit by bit I found out “D” was a dragon. Uh, huh, my own personal dragon. Not the indiscriminate terrorizor you read about in some books and comics, more like John Hurt in the TV series Merlin.

I still talk to “D”. Here’s what happened this morning after a whine about how a medication I’m taking isn’t doing enough:

D: I would roll my eyes, dear, but dragons don’t trouble themselves with eye rolling.
Me: [sticking tongue out at D] You’re a right bastard today. Go breath somewhere else.

A little conversation, not nearly as wise as some, but it reminded me not to take myself so seriously.

 

Judging Improvement

celmissia_coriacea
Celmissia coriacea, 2002 Digital Drawing

One of the hardest things in the making of art is judging improvement in your skills. We talk about the necessary 10,000 hours of practice that make you good at something. We think about that and decide maybe it isn’t 10,000 hours of practice that is needed, but instead, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make you a master.

I’m old. I’ve had tens of thousands of hours of practice in all manner of things, and I don’t think I’m a master of anything. There are things other than practice that make you a better artist. An intimate familiarity with the things of music are a necessary tool but that knowledge alone doesn’t make art. What is necessary is an openness to experience, and an understanding that experience in one domain has an echo in another. That somehow, curiously, everything is fractal and this is that. This is a hard thing to practice.

So how do you judge? Sometimes you know you’ve reached a point of excellence by the reactions of others in your creative domain. Sometimes you know because one day you find that you, yourself, know that this thing you made is good. And sometimes you have no clue at all. You just keep doing it because there is something more to be said and something more to be proven, or understood.

My son enables my passion for new technologys. In 2001 he gave me a Wacom Graphire II. One of Wacom’s tiny digital drawing tablets. With the use of the included pen and a software that supported the hardware, you could make a painting direct to digital.

I made the painting above with this little Wacom tablet, in a software called GIMP. (I was all about Linux in 2001, and still have one Linux only computer). The lines are wobbly, but, art-wise, this painting is no worse than many I make today.  In this case, I have no clue as to whether I’ve improved, so I’ll keep on keeping on until I do. Hmmm, how did I get that watercolour like look…

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Harvest
Harvest, 2005, Olympus point and shoot,

Above you see a harvest from my garden. I took this photo in the first few years we lived here.

It’s a holiday here in Canada, and though my weeks aren’t straitlaced by a nine-to-five job, I have decided to take the day off. Today is a fill up on gratitude day–oh, and turkey, and roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie, and…

Have a good day!!

Inktober

Androgeny
Androgeny, 2016, ink and collage on paper

At six this morning, I was lying in bed wondering what ink drawing I could make to illustrate #1 on the Inktober calendar: Poisonous. In a couple of drowse cycles I had it. I’d draw a tarantula. Right, and baby sitting next to a tarantula, and the baby is holding a baby bottle with a skull and cross bones on it.

And that is how too many projects are born.

Inktober, now in its 9th year, was a projected dreamt up by artist Jake Paker. The idea is to make an illustration that tells a story for prompt-word assigned to each day in October. It’s fun. Many artist do this each year. You make your drawing and post it to social media. I love social media in October. (And no, I don’t love it all the time.)

After giving it further thought, I’ve decided not to do Inktober this year. I really should, it would be such good practice for my visual storytelling, but the proliferation of projects can derail progress in your creative work like nothing else. I currently have 5+ things that I am serious about and want to complete. I am fortunate not to have to fit in a day job, but even without it, 5 things, and a family leaves something short-changed all the time. You never reach a momentum on anything.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize that I was doing this project pile-up thing. I didn’t realize it until I read Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills early this year. Jessica’s book is about finding creative focus in your life. One of her best pieces of advice is to lose all those projects you collect and that drive you crazy with their demands. Focus on one project at a time. ONE. One ’til done.

That seems impossible to me. I write fiction and make visual art. So at the very least I always have two creative projects going. Add family life, and life in general, and I’m plenty busy.

However, if you find yourself with an itch to draw and your projects are finished, sign up for Inktober. I’m looking forward to seeing your work on social media.

P.S. Jake Parker, Lee White and Will Terry host a podcast called 3 Point Perspective. Listen, you’ll learn a lot about the business and art of illustration.

On Inspiration

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Blue Moon Rising, 2018, acrylic on panel

I read books on creativity all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because I, somehow, want to be assured that I’m creative, or whether I want to understand what goes on in that process. Either way, one thing that comes up time and again, is the admonition not to rely on inspiration. In fact talent and inspiration are two terms that almost everyone disses.

I understand it to an extent. Talents aren’t share equally among everyone, and we don’t want to make anyone feel bad because they were born with a little less of a particular talent than someone else. And there is in the creative community this idea that the talented rely only on their talent and don’t work hard. That’s wrong I think, but I’m going to leave that for another time.

Another thing that books on creativity disparage is inspiration. I’m not saying you should sit on your duff and wait for inspiration before you attempt your creative project, but for heaven sakes if it comes along grab it with both hands and enjoy the blessing.

In my last post I noted that I’d finally painted something I didn’t hate. I made a tiny beginning. Then a day later I had the opportunity to visit Lorenzo Dupuis’s studio. What a wonder! I still feel all melty inside when I think about his luminous work, and I was/am inspired. For months and months I’ve been feeling as though I’m repeating myself or taken what wasn’t mine from others. Now, there is a path, a way to learn, a voice to find and I’m going to follow that inspiration. And surprise, surprise there are hints that I’ve been moving in this direction for some time. Yes, I’m worried that my work will look too much like Lorenzo’s, and guess what, he worries that his work looks too much like someone else’s. Creativity is a funny circular thing. Accept your talent, your inspirations and make something of it!

Tiny Paintings, a Tiny Beginning

It’s almost too soon to write about it, and too soon to show these tiny paintings to you, but I’m taking a chance.

Some time ago I wrote, on this blog, that I was unable to paint. I’d been working in encaustic for years, and everything I did felt like a rehash of something I’d done before, or a poor imitation of something someone else had done. The downward spiral began after my last exhibition, which was a number of years ago. I pretended it wasn’t happening and I kept spinning my wheels until early this year, when I decided to stop trying to make paintings.

Instead, I made drawings, both analog and digital, and I did an occasional watercolour where drawing was more important than painting. I enjoyed this immensely, especially when I was able to set aside the pressure to be good. This pressure is something almost all creatives experience. It’s intrinsic pressure, not pressure put on you from an outside boss. We’re our own worst critic. This is a necessary thing, but it can at times be crippling.

Last week I told you that being social isn’t only a human necessity, it is important to help you see the world afresh. I’d had a week of socializing. A long time for an introvert, and I thought I’d need a week or more to get back into to doing my work, both writing and drawing.

It rained on Monday. September is a weather turning-point in Saskatchewan and it was cold. The last thing I needed was to make myself unhappy by trying to paint, but for the first time in months and months I wanted to.  I pulled out a tiny panel, and some oils and painted. The next day I made another tiny painting, and so it’s begun. Already, I see where I have connected to my past work, but I’m seeing it in new light. It has possibilities. It’s like seeing a few feet of the path in the dark forest.

It’s too early to judge but I see that I will discard some of these beginnings, maybe all of them, but one…one, even in this tiny format, might be the seed of a new painting phase.

Being Social, Being Creative

Visitors
Visitors, 2014, encaustic on panel

As a creative person I find I have two major modes: the inner mode, which is the one that rummages around in my mind looking for patterns and divergences. And the outer mode that engages in the world and socializes with other people.

For me those two ways are very distinct. When I’m in a creative groove I’m inner focused, sometimes to an extreme. I do not want to be disturbed by disturbing things, like the wrong kind of news, the wrong kinds of sounds, the wrong kinds of light and people.

But, soon enough something curious happens. Idea generation begins to stagnate, and boredom and self-doubt set in.

It is at this point that being social, meeting with people, and being outwardly focused is the thing I need. Now, as an introvert, I find it difficult to breach that ‘being social’ barrier. I go kicking and screaming into socializing. When I, finally, capitulate I have a wonderful time. I forget all about creating things. I don’t have solutions to a paintings in my head. I don’t connive ways for my story characters to find their way out of a difficult situation. In fact, I don’t think I could do those things if I tried. It takes me days after a social period to get back into my head, and into a creative mind-space. I make tentative attempts. Again I doubt myself. But little by little, I move back into that inward space, and lo! All those things I experienced during a social time well up and become energy for something new. And the cycle begins again.

We all need social connections and community. Some of us need more than others, but everyone needs at least a little and if you do creative work you’ll do well to remember that you need it more than most. Think about it. Without input there can be no real output.