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.

 

On Being an Art Snob

It's Written
It’s Written, c 1990s acrylic on rice paper (30 x 48″)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I studied Fine Arts at the University of Saskatchewan we made a sharp distinction between ‘fine art’ and what was often termed as ‘Sunday painting’. This university was very influence by abstract expressonism, especially the works that came out of New York in the 40s and 50s. A Prairie province, like Saskatchewan, coming late to the dominion of Canada (1905) and always tending to feel a little backward, embraced New York and it’s ideas with with a fervor we didn’t give Canadian artists.

The university had an off campus college at a northern lake (Emma Lake) and people like Stanley Boxer, Clement Greenberg and Barnet Newman (and many more) were invited to teach.  I drank it all in.

As a young sprout I wanted desperately make good art. But I had no idea about this kind of painting at all. What I wanted to do was make drawings and paintings like Rembrandt. But I learned. Iit was exciting to hear the theories of these men of (yeah, mostly men, but my painting above was influenced by Helen Frankenthaler) were exciting and nicely laced with high spiritual thought. Little by little I developed what Mr. Greenberg would have called taste.

And, though not intentionally, I began to looked down on those who could draw realistically and render. I made massive paintings using no method that you might call traditional.

Fishing with My Father

Fishing with My Father, above, was entirely built from bits of paper, glued down on a sheet of plastic, and poured over with acrylic paint washes. Then I added more bits of paper, string and whatever looked interesting, to come up with this final product. The painting is 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide.

Fast forward many years:  I still like abstract expressionist art very much, but I’ve found myself yearning to draw and paint recognizable people and things. I long to render and get lost in the minutia of the subject. And guess what I’ve found. There are so very many artists, from Urban Sketchers to Illustrators who do marvellous work, that I in my ignorant pretentiousness never looked at.

So here’s a thing I’ve learned. There are all kinds of taste in art. In fact because I’m a painter, I’m now pretty much a dinosaur because current tastes are for video art, sound art, and compilations of ideas that have nothing to do with the kind of esthetic taste I was taught to cultivate.

So, here’s some advice, younguns, listen to many teachers, stay humble and learn from everyone.  Here’s to staying open!

 

 

 

 

Reading and Writing

Fashion Week, 2017
Fashion Week, 2017 encaustic on panel 24″ x 12″

I write, here, more often about drawing, painting, or some life things, than I do about writing.

I’ve been writing fiction for just over ten years. In that time I’ve learned a great deal. For starters I learned that I hadn’t a clue about writing fiction when I wrote my first novel. I made all the mistakes you’d expect of a first timer. In the second novel I made some of those mistakes and a few more. All during this time I was reading everything I could about the art of writing fiction. I stuffed so many things into my head that I was afraid to hold my pen, for fear of doing it wrong.

One thing about writers, they write. And when they aren’t writing their preferred genre of fiction or non-fiction they’re writing about writing. There is no shortage of writerly tutelage on the internet or in book stores. I would like to say I read them all, but that’s not possible. A new blog or book on writing pops up every day.

There is a lot to know about writing fiction, just as there is a lot to know about painting figures, but at some point its necessary to quiet down all those words–often competing ‘you should’ words–you’ve read. It’s time to put them on the back burner and figure out what you think. That’s what I’m doing and I have nothing to tell people about writing that someone else hasn’t already said better.

I’m currently revising a novella entitled Hannah’s Hearing. It’s a story of an older woman who beset, as many elderly are with issues of failure, forgets to live large and enjoy life. That is until the man in the red fedora shows up in her bedroom and everything changes.

Reading

Aside from revising and drawing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In particular I’ve been trying to read books that will expand my knowledge and help me think. A moment on social media makes you aware that thinking is often left behind.

Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, is an excellent read and very encouraging, whether you agree with all Pinker’s premises or not. Alan Jacob’s, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds wasn’t as much help as I thought it might be, but I did learn that we tend to lump people into camps or tribes. Lumping similar things and experiences is natural and useful, probably even necessary, but we’re often wrong, and in the process we create an ‘us and them’ ethos.

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci, and I’ve got Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks lined up.

In fiction, I’ve somehow missed Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye, so I’m listening to the audio version of that while I draw.

Though I’m offering Amazon links, I want you to know your local bookstore deserves support and your library is a wonderful place. For instance I borrowed the audio book by Connelly from our local library through an app called Libby. Check it out.

What about you? What are you reading or writing?

Oh, and you’re wondering about the guy in black above? A bit of eye candy, nothing more.

Writing in Times of Sorrow

Elenora

I’ll tell you a story. It’s not a long story, and it is mostly not my story. It’s story about my kid sister Elenora who left this plane of existence this week. Above is a sketch I made of her. She was an eighteen-year-old beauty at the time. Her life has been rough and kind as are all our lives.

Elenora loved to come to the big city on day long shopping recursions with her big sister. It was a long day for me, I’d drive for most of an hour to an outlying town, pick her up, drive back into the city, spend the day shopping and lunching and then drive her home again before making my own way home.

On one long driving day we talked sporadically while we listened to the radio.

“Oh cool! Michael Jackson! I love him, don’t you?”

Maybe it was Thriller or Billy Jean, I don’t remember. I made some noises about not liking him all that much.

“Why?” she said.

I stumbled, not really knowing why. “Well, he had all that plastic surgery to change his face,” I said in an off-hand manner. It was a very foolish thing to say and if I didn’t know it then, I did a few minutes later.

Elenora was very quiet for a moment, then she turned to me, her eyebrows drawn together like they sometimes were when she had something important to say and she wasn’t sure how it would be taken.

“Didn’t you ever want to change something about yourself?”

“Ah, erm…I suppose so.” I was still floundering and I already knew how wrong I was, because of course I wished I could change things. Maybe a stronger chin, a less strong nose, maybe some get rid of some quirk that harmed more than it helped.

She picked at the hem of her coat for a moment, and then she said, “If I could change anything about me, I’d change it so I didn’t have Down Syndrome.”

We were both quiet for a long time then. I wanted to say, “you’re fine just the way you are,” but this wasn’t that kind of moment. This was a moment where the big sister had a lot to learn, and just maybe she did.

It is extra hard to write or paint when there is sorrow in your life. To all those struggling, hang in there. Know that you make a difference, and one day soon, you’ll create again. And Michael Jackson? I was wrong. Plain wrong about the music and the man who was trying to live in this world.

Calming the Storm

Sax Player

I am slowly going crazy, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Switch.

 

When I was in art school we were taught almost nothing about the business of/around producing art. This was university. This was art. Business didn’t come into it. You created and if you were any good someone would notice.

Wrong.

But that’s a topic for another week.

When I began to write I went to a class, then I joined a writers group and checked out all the blogs on writing I could find. Correction. You cannot possibly go through all the writing blogs on the internet in one lifetime. Writers write and they love to write about writing. And writers write about the business of writing. In fact, they are very vocal about this topic, and the number one go-to seems to be social media. You must build a platform on social media.

Dutifully, I joined all the social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest and later, Instagram.

At first, I liked Facebook. My children and their families, who I adore, live far away from me and this was a way to keep in touch with them. It was wonderful to see how the grandchildren were growing and the things they were doing.

Something unfortunate began to happen.

Let me say that I tend toward the naive, and I’m sure others would have caught what was happening much sooner than I did. I noticed it first during the last American election. The screaming and calling out, the unfriending. The writer community really got caught up in it. And I did too.

Then bit by bit I realized that everything had become a POLARIZING issue. I also realized that often in the slavering rants the facts had gone missing.

I find this beyond stressful and have had to step away.

So, what do you do when the world becomes too much? Too miserable? Too Awful?

Writer Chuck Wendig writes about it on his blog Terribleminds. He has his way and I have mine. I research. I make as sure as I can to have the facts. I do my best to be thoughtful and moderate, I listen to alternate points of view and I look for reason, and most of all I step away from the screen. I draw, I paint, I write, I read, and I listen to music. (right now, Endless Boogie, Vibe Killer. I know, stupid lyrics but I like the rhythm.)

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of interviews and reviews of Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now. It might not be your thing, but something positive is nice for a change.

Believe in Your Art

 

A few days ago I posted a drawing on Instagram, and a lovely artist, Laureen Marchand made kind remarks on my drawing ability. Laureen is a fine artist. Make sure you check out the beautiful art on her website.

A Caution to Mentors and Mentees

There was a time, during my studies, when my fellow students thought perhaps I relied to heavily on my drawing virtuosity. A stunning concept for me because I knew nothing of such virtuosity. The criticism was kindly meant, but I have to admit it left me floundering for some time. I didn’t, however, let it end my love of drawing, and my intuitive belief that some of the work I was creating was quite good.

A little warning to Mentors, take care with your words. Speak kindly and make sure your mentee understands. And you who have the good luck to have a mentor, remember no one knows everything, and you must not blindly believe everything you’re told.

Love drawing? Go for it. Love figurative work? Do it. Love the swirl of colour? Create it. You have a gift. Use it.