Nov 19, 2017

Project Sketchbook

defining adulthood sketchbook

 I just finished teaching a class at The Art Center about how to keep a project-oriented sketchbook. It
was a great education for me as a teacher and a human and an artist. The most important thing I learned is that when you don't know how to do somethinglike develop curriculum for an ongoing classthe only thing to do is to jump in and try, the world will forgive us if we miss the mark a few times. This is obvious to many of you but for me it's been a remedial lesson. It feels new and completely surprising each time I take a risk and survive.
 Originally I wanted to teach a 10 week class that would support students in developing and completing a project. I could not fathom 10 weeks of material and since I also wanted to teach drawing I decided to do a 4 week class about how to keep a project-oriented sketchbook. Half way through it felt a little like, How to Drive a Horse-Oriented Cart. Not backwards per say but a sketch book at its best is a means to another end, and having it remain the focal point of the class was a little cumbersome. 

This was exacerbated by the fact that I expected to have students who had trouble keeping a sketchbook because they don't like to draw in the traditional sense. I thought they could find inspiration using a sketchbook for specific purpose besides drawing. Instead I had students who love to draw, have no problem filling sketchbooks but struggle to complete projects. All the fun drawing exercises I had planned were redundant and I needed to switch gears and teach skills for planning and managing a project and overcoming barriers. A sketchbook is not a magic bullet for bringing a goal to fruition, it can be a great companion in the struggle though. 

color palette study
One of the best things about a sketchbook is that it is a safe place to do whatever one wants, to take risks, to not have to follow through on things that don't work out. To finish a project we have to leave that safety behind, to take the sacred pieces of our experiments and elaborate on them, polish them, develop them into a piece or a body of work that speaks to more than just ourselves. A sketchbook can be a fun refuge for working out the details; planning a work schedule, researching tools, supplies and color palettes, logging our attempts, working out failures and making revisions. It is also a place to gather courage when we fear the next step. And that is the magic bullet, gathering courage when we feel like stopping.

One week I asked my students what would be helpful for the next class and one said she would like to see my own project sketchbooks to see how I do it. This put me in a tiny panic because I dismantle my sketchbooks on account of living in small spaces that would feel like a rat's nest if I saved all my drawings and experiments.

sketchbook I reserve for new ideas
I looked through the remnants to see if I could conjure up a semblance and had to grapple with the fact that I am teaching something I don't exactly do. There is no harm in teaching a technique one no longer employs personally, but the fact that I wasn't clear about that when I started made me feel a little fraudulent. Also, I hadn't moved on to a better system; the project sketchbooks I cherished in school were replaced by a haphazard orbit of folders and piles and spirals and stashes that supported my general studio practice instead of specific projects. It would be sort of like taking all one's household tools, kitchen implements and toiletries then mixing them all together and randomly stashing handfuls in any available drawer.

remnants from a sketchbook studying text

Luckily I had a free weekend after this enlightening glimpse and I spent a couple days sorting out the mess and developing a system I believe will work for my process. Since I like to work on loose paper I bought a bunch of 3 ring binders to put everything in. I went out of my way to find paper covered binders as vinyl is not a very inspiring material, then I made dividers out of old watercolor experiments to keep my projects organized and make the binders more artsy. So far I like the system and I am really enjoying being in my studio since it no longer feels like a pending avalanche.

I think it is really important for artists to consider what system might work the best for them personally. Looking at sketches of the masters can be intimidating and give us cold feet about putting the pencil to work. Looking at contemporary sketchbooks can free us to find out own voice but can also make us pine for sketchbooks that are a work of art in themselves. That quest can hinder our development.

90% of my sketches are about this interesting
We have to be savvy in our relationship to photography because we are inundated with it. I checked out a stack of books at the library to see how other artists keep sketchbooks, it was inspiring but also problematic since we aren't seeing the whole sketchbook; book publishers are only going to choose the aesthetically pleasing pages. While there are some artists who have developed their style so masterfully that every page of their sketchbook is beautiful, most of us have to have many boring and awkward pages in between. That is something to celebrate; that is how we learn and acquire skills. We always have the option to make an artist's book if we want to make an intact and sublime artifact of our own work. Doing that can free our sketchbooks be very practical workbooks that fuel the risks we need to take in our practice.

Here are my hand-outs from class.

Oct 24, 2017

Grief and the Story of Two Salesmen.

Teaching my dad to selfie
My dad passed away last month so I am more concerned with resting and grieving than making art. I am grateful I got to see him so often in the last few months of his life, he was a very loving person, it meant everything to see him light up and reach out for a hug when I walked in the room. I hope I gave him the same joy in return.

Grieving is hard. Nothing makes sense. Going to the day-job in the morning feels like being run over by a dump truck in slow motion. I feel fortunate I had a couple art classes to teach. They reminded me how work under normal circumstances is enjoyable and sustaining.

In one class we talked about the obstacles toward finishing projects. There are many of them but time is often the biggest. I overcome this with sheer perseverance, continuing to work a little bit week after week even though I only accomplish about 25% of what I mean to do.

plein air in Peavy Arboretum

My supervisor at one teaching job told me an interesting anecdote when she learned that I always put more on my to-do list every week than I can accomplish. She said there were two salesmen, one set a goal for himself everyday of making 3 calls. The other set a goal for himself of making 20 calls a day. The low-aiming salesman always met his goal and felt so good he continued to make calls everyday; he did really well financially. The high-aiming fellow almost never met his goal, he always felt discouraged and did not sell a lot.

This made sense to me but I am so personally attached to my goals the thought of only writing down three small things each week was not acceptable. Now that grief is having a say in my priority list I find myself adopting this approach. I'm curious to see how it goes.

waiting out the rain

I have been out for a couple of plein air sessions, one was in a rain storm which was great for my spirit, not so much so for my painting but I still like it.

rainy arboretum

Aug 26, 2017

En Plein Air

I'm on a week vacation from my day job. It is amazing. When I am at my day job I don't think, gee I wish I was in Hawaii right now. I think, gee I wish I was hiking or gee, I'd like to be painting. Hiking is sort of out right now--a foot injury limits me to short hikes on flat ground. I decided to paint 5 treescapes over my vacation. I figured I would get up early and head out to the arboretum where I could find lots of good spots to paint within a short walk of the parking lot. Morning is a really good time to paint because the lighting is interesting but mostly I knew if I didn't paint in the morning I would have trouble leaving whatever family activity was happening for the rest of the day. 

I'm really impressed with my paintings. I felt like I reached a new level of facility in my effort to simplify foliage which makes my paintings look more intentional. One thing I still struggle with is whether or not to use ink lines. I love ink lines, I love line. I always start with the line drawing but then a problem crops up where the rest of the painting gets a bit rigid and can feel like a paint-by-numbers. The paintings still look nice but they aren't as enjoyable to complete.

painting with no fine ink lines
painting started with lines

 The one painting I did this week without ink lines felt really good; I felt like I was painting, I felt like I was able to simplify complicated things with spontaneous brushwork instead of mapping out shapes. Next I'm going to try painting a value scale first and then add the ink lines in an effort to combine the two, we'll see how it works. 

This week was also the first time in a while I painted en plein air. Previously I decided to do my sketches outside and paint in the studio. Historically, when I paint outside I get bogged down with details and accuracy. I want every little branch and leaf to be in the painting and I want everything to be the exact size and shape and color that it is in real life. Realism is not my forte so this made it hard to make a good painting. The work I had been doing in the studio to simplify plant life gave me leverage to let that go. It was really great to be outside surrounded by nature and working from observation. I am eager to do more.

Aug 10, 2017

From Home by Memory: Sketches

I've been keeping a sketchbook in my purse so I can draw on my work breaks. I've been trying to draw things from my home by memory, it is really fun, these are my favorites.

Jul 14, 2017

The Allure of Shipping Tags

I am not sure why shipping tags are so visually appealling but I decided to make a book centered around them, here's a couple prototypes in-progress. My vision is that they will be little photo books but the photos will be on shipping tags one can pull out to look at in their entirety.

My latest effort to make more time for artistic endeavors has been a one-week-on, one-week-off approach. I'm not very good at following schedules so for a week I spend all my free-time making art and writing. The next week I make fun, exercise, errands and socializing the priority. It's been working pretty well. This week I have not been doing either because my dad is in the hospital but that certainly deserves the time devoted to it.

In other news I got to hang a couple of my Nature Saint paintings in the Neville Building on Samaritan's campus.

Studio Holiday

getting ready for a workshop

Today is the fourth of July. This is not my favorite holiday. I don't get excited about fireworks or potato salad. I don't drink beer or soda pop. I do love my country but I feel ingenuine celebrating our independence from Britain when we are not exactly granting all our citizens their own freedom within this democracy.

I'm not good at debates or providing sources but I see so much evidence that our free market economy has been legislated into siphon that is creating a lot of poverty and struggle while making just a few people rich. Why are banks allowed to make money loaning money they believe they will have one day? Can you do that? I sure can't but it sounds nice especially if the gov is going to bail you out when you make a mistake.

Why are corporations beholden to make a profit for their shareholders but it's OK for them to pay their workers so little they have to apply for public assistance? Why does our justice system fail so blatantly to protect the rights and lives of minorities as equal to whites? I have only scratched the surface but those are the kinds of questions that make it hard for me to be patriotic even while living in a country that I love and feel extremely grateful to be a part of.

I have a four day weekend because of the holiday and I decided to spend it in my studio. During my normal work weeks—being a dutiful element of the siphon, providing a means for insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make a ton of money off people's health issues—I think about how I want to be creating. I look at my accrued PTO and dream of taking a week off to just to work on art and then I think about how I also need an actual vacation to enjoy my human-self and I feel a little discouraged.

Clearly I am fortunate that this is the worst problem occupying my personal sphere besides a large pile student loan debt and indigestion so I decided that on this weekend I could spend 3 days in the studio and still have one day off for relaxing. It was glorious, these last three days. I finished and illustrated a poem, started a couple new paintings, sketched at Jackson-Frazier Wetlands, got ready for my next Artscare class, worked on a couple writing pieces, learned how to use a new tripod attachment so I can get better photos of the paintings I want to reproduce.

I don't want it to stop but I know I need to spend time relaxing and tending to life outside the studio or I will get burned out. I think its very misguided when people have this romantic idea that creative people only care about their work and don't let mundane life in the way. That is one of those ideas society pretends is true to maintain control. If you can keep artists from enjoying their humanity and other humans from enjoying their creativity there will be little visionary art that inspires change.

There is no one right path for creative work. Anyone who touts an adage of a true artist...blah blah blah is full of hot air. We don't need to maintain this siphon that gives a few creatives status and promotes this insidious idea that others shouldn't try, that what they make isn't worth while. We need people engaged in life to talk about that life creatively.

Most of the artists I know are over this stereotype and have fairly balanced lives. I still meet lots of people who feel they couldn't possibly be artists, or performers or writers though. If you are one of them I invite you to try a new way to express yourself and trust that you have things of great value to share.

Jul 2, 2017

Poem: Migrations.

This evening is larger than my thoughts,
possibility buzzes in each shadow
as if trees are swapping molecules with the street
in the moment between a summer day and a rain storm
when the wind feels like thunder.

I am riding my bike down the back streets toward home
 after a presentation about butterflies at the library.
About how humans, in all their folly, can restore things.
About inmates tending to rare flower plantings or caterpillars —
how they cherish it.

Imprisonment is its own tragedy,
each heart in its trajectory—trying to live,
to right poverty or subjugation—
can loose its place of rest
like the dwindling monarchs.

But to learn how the human heart longs
so much
to tend to something precious,
to be tender in the harshest circumstance —
this is everything.

On my bike in the shifty dusk
all my plans are gone,
none so precious as this choice
to tend to the quiet in the wind,
my feet pedaling, the gray street.

Butterfly lecture by the Institutefor Applied Ecology which is involved with many ecological restoration projects involving men and women inmates.

Did you know that 1 in 100 Americans are incarcerated and only about half of the people in prisons committed violent crimes? Bill Moyers has some excellent articles about this problem.