The thing that made me want to be an artist were the illustrations in books. No one I knew had paintings on their walls when I was a kid, but the pictures in the Sunday school books were amazing. I wanted to make drawings just like that.
Fast forward to university, where “illustrations” were not a part of my fine art studies. I learned to disregard this kind of work as not serious.
I’m past wanting to be considered a serious artist, and I can finally look again at the story illustrations that enthralled me as a kid. I still love them, especially the older, complicated, many-mark kind. Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) pushes all my delight buttons. Above is a drawing I did based on one of his (mine has a rat with a crow, rather than a baby) and then I painted it in gouache, a wonderful medium that sometimes rewards you by creating a glow in your work.
Here’s another gouache painting, with more than a few problems, but some of that glow is there.
I thought of listing some of the things I accomplished this year, but depending on how you look at it, it either sounded like a brag, or not a big deal.
One brilliant thing that happened this year was that I began to get used to being unemployed. My identity of being a competent and useful worker bee took a serious hit when I first left work, and it began to feel too late to accomplish anything with my creative work.
It was brilliant, when bit by bit, I began to realize there were positives. I didn’t have to stick to what I had been doing. I could look at things I really wanted to do when I ten, or 20, or 30. I love making abstract paintings, but when I was a kid, I really wanted to make realistic drawings in intense detail. I went back to my sketchbook, and forward to digital work. I didn’t stick to any one medium or any one style. I explored it all and my plan is to continue doing so.
I spent the whole of 2019 in revision hell. Some writers love to revise, but I don’t—didn’t. I like it a whole lot better now. I revised two novels and a novella and managed only one short story of new material.
I found a little book called Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith, and man, that book made a difference to my confidence as a writer. It felt so good to hear that someone else writes as I do. As though they are reading a story. I’d never heard anyone else describe how it was for me, and I’ve read a zillion writing books. My first drafts were what is usually called ‘shitty’. Which is what made the revision so trying. I have some new tools to deal with that now. It’s called cycling. Write about 500 words, revise, continue. How is it I didn’t know that many writers do that?
I’m contented. For me it was a very good year. It was best when I didn’t listen to the news too much, though even that eventually boiled down to a bit of perspective.
Take the long views, my dears, and go forth with courage. Happy 2020.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been making changes. Changes in my environment. No, I’m not moving house. I’ll leave the rooms where they are, but anything inside those rooms is in danger of being gone, or in another room entirely.
A few weeks ago I painted the walls in the little room I call an office most of the time, my study when I’m being pretentious. The walls are now a lovely deep grey.
Then in the middle of last week, I noticed that the hardwood floors in the living-room were taking a beating from my dog, Caro’s, nails. Down I went on my hands and knees and scrubbed the whole floor, moving each piece of the furniture at least once, so I could get every corner. I then used a renewing product to make the floor look better.
But the dog’s nails will abrade the hardwood all over again if I leave it as is. No problem. I moved the area rug from the family room downstairs, gave it a shampoo, and carried the 10′ x 12′ carpet upstairs to roll out on the living-room floor. More moving of furniture.
So why did I do all that? Does my little office look so much better after I shifted all the furniture again this morning?
The simple answer, my gloating answer is, because I can.
Yes, because I’m old, and I can. If you’re under fifty, you probably don’t get that, but believe me, carrying a slightly damp 10′ x 12′ carpet up twelve steps to unroll in another room isn’t so easy when you’re almost seventy.
This will sound like a digression, but there is a link. Here goes.
I’m all about good news and I was delighted to read that bias against race and sexual difference are on the wane. But as I continued to read I saw that while people may more tolerant toward others of differing race and sexuality, they have become more biased against the old. Well yuck!
I had already noticed bias against the old. Heck, I do it myself, often barely restraining a heavy sigh when some elderly person ahead of me at the grocery store counts out their coins for a loaf of bread and three bananas.
Now I’m the old one, working hard to prove that I’m still relevant.
You see how complicated things get?
If you’re lucky you’ll get old, and even if you have always been in the right group, the admired group, a time will come when you’re not.
The above painting is in it’s beginning stage. I’ll continue by adding darker and lighter greys. Colour might happen and I think I might call it: “It’s Complicated.”
This painting is from my student days in the eighties. I thought it was pretty good at the time, and I’m surprise to find, that it’s still pretty good.
I wonder where it is. Over time paintings have been given away, sold, and stored in every available space in my home. It’s hard to keep track of it all. A few weeks ago I photographed one box of paperwork. There were over 260 drawings in that one box. You can image that years of work can pile up.
Every once in a while a long lost piece pops up, and it was pretty good when you made and it’s still pretty good. That’s a nice feeling.
I don’t often talk about writing on this blog. I have nothing to tell you about writing and the process of writing that others don’t do better. I have a certain sense of confidence in regards to my visual art, confidence that generally eludes me in writing.
Nevertheless, I’m going to offer you a scene from The Chronos Project today. The Chronos Project is a time travel story. Young Ethics Enforcer, Anna Wasser shifts into 1940 Germany to apprehended a suspected cross-time art thief. When Anna first shifts into 1940 Berlin she is aided by Christoph Mueller, a troubled writer.
This is Christoph’s first scene. The tone is important to me in setting the scene and developing character.
Berlin, Germany, 1940, Christoph Mueller
Light came reluctantly through the grimy pane of the door at street level and picked out the edges of each step, all six of them, to the floor of the room Christoph called home. It laid a pallid patch on the rag rug at the bottom where his boots stood, side-by-side, their tops listing toward each other. If Christoph had not set them so carefully on the mat, if he had tossed them carelessly or just let them fall as they will, the holes in the soles would have been evident along with the cracks and breaks in the much-polished leather tops.
As though the struggle had already been too much the daylight petered out, not offering more of Christoph’s dwelling to the eye. It didn’t matter much. There wasn’t much more to see: a narrow iron bed in one corner, and a dresser he’d bought for a few Gröschen from a man standing ready with a sledgehammer to knock it into kindling. It slanted badly to the right and the drawers stuck until Christoph found a small block of wood to stand it on a more even keel.
Beside the dresser was his table. It held his pens, his notebook and a battered Stoewar typewriter, its ribbon so old it made ghosts of his words. He needed to buy a new ribbon. He’d meant to last week, but the editor had shorted him on a story because he’d submitted it handwritten.
Christoph sat on the edge of his bed and pulled his blanket tight around his shoulders. The recent spate of cold weather enjoyed his damp little cellar. He took his cane from the end of his bed, rose and took the few steps to the table, where he fumbled for his box of matches and lit the tiny paraffin stove, next to it. Only an inch of paraffin remained in its reservoir. So, what would it be, paraffin or a new typewriter ribbon? He sighed. It would have to be paraffin. His lame leg could not bear the cold and he could not give up his morning cup of tea.
He shook his kettle—there was water enough—and set it onto the stove then pushed on to the small water closet at the other side of the stairs.
The mirror, inexplicably, was fastened to the wall over the toilet and Christoph stared at his shadowed face as he released his bladder. A shock of over-long hair fell over his forehead obscuring one worry smudge eye. He shook himself dry, took the half step to the basin, filled it with the frigid water that came reluctantly from the spigot, gritted his teeth and splashed handfuls of the icy stuff over his face and hair. Blind, he groped for the thin towel hanging on a hook beside the sink and rubbed his face and head. When he looked again into the mirror a fresh colour disguised the pallor of his skin and livened his eyes.
He set his tea to steep, limped over to the door, picked up his shoes, made his way back to his bed and before sitting heavily on its edge, pulled his trouser from beneath the mattress and pulled them on. Christoph lifted his weak leg and swung it over his good knee, pulled on yesterdays socks and reached for his boot. He’d have to replace the paper in the sole tonight. It would be worn through by the end of the day, especially if it rained again. Foot encased in his shoe he reached for the steel and leather brace hanging at the foot of his bed. He placed the metal bit under the arch of his shoe and fastened the first set of leather straps at his ankle. A steel shaft came up on either side of his leg, hinging at the knee and extended to mid-thigh. Christoph stood, and buckled another set of straps just below the knee, and pull his trouser leg high, buckled the last at the thigh. Not bothering with his other boot, he walked in a short jerky motion to the table and poured a cup of tea.
He drank it while he continued to dress. He dunned his worn coat, tied a woollen muffler at his throat and put on the elegant leather gloves he’d been delighted to find among Frau Casal’s second-hand goods. Finally, he picked up the large envelope lying near the typewriter, opened it, perused the first few lines on the page, shook his head and pushed the papers back into the envelope. There was no time to rewrite and he doubted he could make it any better. With the envelope under his arm and cane in hand, he climbed the six steps to the door at street level.
The sun still shone, though it had abandoned his small window and moved on to accommodate other, more promising ones. Christoph sniffed. There was sunshine now, but there would be rain before days end.
The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted across the street from Mme. Lemieux’s Boulangerie. His stomach growled and his mouth watered. Coffee and a fresh baked roll, what heaven that would be. He gave himself a shake. Not now. Maybe later, if there was anything left from his pay for this essay on the artistic merits of the new film by Liebeneiner.
He pulled up his collar and headed toward the city centre. It would take him almost an hour to walk there. By that time the offices of the Berliner Morgenpost would be open. Maybe he could talk that miserable editor, Kost, to read his essay right away. He entertained himself with the thought of having so much money that there would be enough for sausage to go with the roll. He would not order coffee. The tea was better. Food, paraffin and a new typewriter ribbon! What riches. So immersed was he in his daydream that he didn’t notice the group of brown-shirted youth crossing the street toward him.
Yes, that happened this weekend, and lo, the birthday came with an excellent realization.
A year ago, in January, I retired from my day job. I think I may have mentioned this before, and also that it was my—umm third retirement. I kept trying, but it just wouldn’t stick. I wanted to spend all my time writing and painting, but when push came to shove, I always took another job. Part of this is because I like feeling useful, and part of it was that I enjoyed the indications from my employers that I was good at what I did. You can work long and hard in the creative fields, and often you don’t know if you’re doing good work or not, especially when you aren’t noticed by the movers and shakers in the field.
I’ve been a whole year without a day job, now. I thought after all that time I was prepared but a new thing hit me hard. I had a very strong sense that I was irrelevant as an artist and a writer. Older people are often overlooked. Not complaining, but it’s true…well maybe I’m complaining a little.
At one time my cohort expected me to make some sort of bang in the art world. I, expected to make a bang in the art world. Now it all seemed to be too late.
This realization hit me hard and I spent the whole year feeling as though I didn’t matter anymore. This sense left me feeling down at times, but it also had a positive results. I stopped worrying so much about making the “right” kind of art. Instead, I’m making the kind of art that interests me. What a lovely gift that is!
In this year, I also made a new friend with whom I can discuss writing. You have no idea how good that is. And all through this year, below the surface, something else grew. I began to see possibilities again. Retirement isn’t the end after all. There are things I can still achieve! Whoo Hoo!
This new realization, this new belief is the most wonderful gift I received this birthday. The material gifts, dinner out, and birthday cake were sweet too!
Seeing things through another artist’s eye can inspire like nothing else.
In 2018, I joined Debra Eve in her The Artist’s Way Book Club .
I’d read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a long time ago. It’s what turned me on to writing Morning Pages, a practice I continue to this day. Morning pages are three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness writing. The reasons for doing these are many, including an aid to building a creative habit.
Debra Eve, who is the writer behind the website Later Bloomers, posed thought provoking questions, and offered encouraging words, images and video to aid our rejuvenation as artists. One such video is this one created by Erin Faith Allen with the artist Anne Bachelier. Great Video! Enjoy!
Last week, I wrote about how it was that I began to writing fiction. This set off a chain of introspection and emotion. You see, despite all the years, and the seven novels and various short stories later, I still write in complete obscurity. I have not been published and I’m concerned about self-publishing because frankly I have no idea how good or bad my storytelling and writing ability are. I know I am a better writer than I was at the beginning of the process, but I don’t have readers, and they are the final piece of the whole writing gig. Mostly, you only know yourself by looking at your community and seeing how or where you are alike or differ. Approval and appreciation, or the lack thereof help you know where you stand.
I can poke you in the eye with a bright image from my visual arts portfolio, every now and then, either here or on Facebook and Instagram and I get appreciative responses, but writing doesn’t enter your perception all in one go like images do. A reader is a more equal and intentional partner in the process.
So much mulling things over in my mind. Of course, the blues ensued. The upshot is that I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from writing to see what happens. It might be a wonderful relief, or maybe I’ll miss it so much I’ll be back at it in no time. We’ll see.
I’ll continue to post here every Monday morning, but mostly I’ll poke you in the eye with an image I’ve created. [picture a sticking-out-tongue emoticon here and then a smiley face]
Years ago, while going through a tough patch, I picked up Julia Cameron’sThe 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.
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…