Sunday, July 27, 2014

Learning to Let Go

I have this compulsive tendency to compartmentalize my journals:  I like to keep techniques, themes, and sometimes even color palettes consistent throughout a single journal.  This is why I have more than a dozen journals in progress.  So when I started this sketching journal, my first impulse was to fill it only with sketches - no playing around, no experimenting, no sampling - this was going to be my "good" journal.  I planned on putting all that other stuff in a less important, less precious book.

Luckily, being confined to the couch made it impractical to have stacks of journals next to me so I had to set aside my discomfort and just make use of the journal I had in front of me.  Does it bother me to have these artistic digressions alongside my "pretty," completed pages?  Well, admittedly, it is hard to loosen my iron grip on the content and "look" of my journals.  However, I am continually striving to relax, to let go of that drive towards perfection.   In all aspects of my life, I absolutely need to reduce the amount of pressure I put on myself; my health circumstances alone demand it.  I think my journals are a great place to begin working towards that goal.

This kind of sketching also lends itself to less-than-perfect pages.  I have thrown out the notion of pencil "predrawing" and draw only in pen.  If I bobble a line, I either ignore my "mistake" and proceed blindly onward or I add the "correct" line right alongside the oopsy one.   And let me just say, that credit for this change in approach goes directly to Mary Ann Moss, headmistress of Sketchbookery and many other fabulous classes.  I've never been very good at fearlessness in art but Miss Moss has taught myself and many others to just begin, to stumble along joyfully, and to trust that all will be well in the end.  I am hoping this mindset will spill over into other areas of my life as I doodle my world in my journal. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sketchbookery: Keys & Tubes

I'm on the "no walking" restriction for at least another week (and perhaps more if the incision continues to balk at staying closed) so I am still tucked in at home, drawing on the couch, art supplies covering every available surface within arm's length.  I've been unsuccessful at convincing my son to gather stuff from outside for me to draw so as of now, my Sketchbookery sketchbook is filling up with renderings of inorganic objects.  Luckily, my studio has yielded a treasure trove of odds & ends for drawing practice.

I've realized that I particularly like to draw collections of similar objects.  This page of vintage and modern keys took three days to complete and more than a few curse words slipped from my mouth as I worked on rendering the varying shades of metal, from shiny silver to tarnished brass.  All the work was worth it in the end as this is probably one of my favorite drawings ever.  I did give myself a bit of a scare at the end though because when the page was finished, I impulsively decided to splatter the page with a paintbrush and a drippy watercolor crayon.  Literally, the second the paint began flying towards all my hard work, I regretted my impulse.  However, by some miracle, nothing got obscured by a rogue blob of color and my neighbors were spared the cries of rage and sorrow that surely would've resulted.

This second page is my version of a color wheel.  Ever since art school and its seemingly endless string of "Create-A-Color-Wheel" commandments, I involuntarily groan aloud when a color wheel assignment crosses my path.  Color wheels (and knowledge of color relationships) are valuable tools and in fact, I reference one almost every time I work but I am deeply tired of making them in the classic format.  This page is my way of adding some challenge and variety to the standard color wheel project.  And again, I like drawing different versions of the same object.  Some of those paint tubes ended up waaay out of proportion but Miss Mary Ann Moss has done a great job of teaching me to keep drawing no matter what the evil critic voices are screaming in my ear. 

PS...Under that scrap of ledger paper on the "keys" page is a HUGE lettering error.  I tried some kind of crazy, triple-shadowed, boxed-in Roman capitals and it wasn't even remotely readable.  The ledger paper cover-up solution worked better for the page overall anyway.  So, don't give up if something goes sideways!  Just adjust your direction accordingly and keep on sailing!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Couch Art Days

As of today - Sunday, July 20 - I am just a couple days shy of three weeks since I had my foot surgery.  It has been a painful, bumpy road to say the least.  Before the surgery, I surrounded my couch/bed with good books and good movies as well as a small art kit.  I had all sorts of plans to spend my recovery days blissfully entertaining myself whilst everything healed.  Unfortunately, I severely underestimated post-surgery pain and the all-consuming difficulties associated with being completely unable to bear weight on one leg.  Forget walking: for the most part, I couldn't even move my foot out of a horizontal position, much less put it down on the floor.  I'm just now starting to let my foot hang down and even that is frowned upon by the doctors.

Anyway, my world is confined to the upper floor of my apartment (and yes...the stairs have presented quite the challenge when I have to come & go for appointments!)  More specifically, I am restricted to my couch/bed, foot propped up on pillows while I battle the worst case of cabin fever ever.  Luckily, I had the foresight before surgery to sign up for Sketchbookery, a fabulous new class from Mary Ann Moss.  I wasn't sure I'd even be interested in following along with all the lessons but it turns out that it's about the only thing that actually distracts me from the misery and worry.

I stack my supplies next to me, leaving room for the kitties to snooze, and balance my sketchbook in my lap.  Between the awkward drawing position, pain meds, and Parkinson's, my lines are extra wobbly but I find that just helps me loosen up (literally and mentally.)  Adding watercolor is a bit tricky but I'm managing.  It takes me all day (or even two) to complete a page but I've got all the time in the world right now.  I'm trying concentrate on just keeping the pen moving while sending positive vibes to my wounded foot that is refusing to heal on schedule.  Narrowing my focus to a simple, everyday object keeps my mind from wandering towards more gloomy, unproductive territory.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quickie Update from the One-Footed Wonder

Just a quick pop-in to let everyone know I'm still here after my foot surgery on July 1st.  Things are not progressing smoothly and I've been dealing with one complication after another.  My doctors tell me though that all the problems I've experienced are pretty much par for the course given the site & size of the incision and complexity of the surgery.  So I'm on the couch, watching Netflix, reading, napping, and drawing as inspired by Sketchbookery, a new class from the wonderful Mary Ann Moss.  I'll post again in the next couple of days once I manage to get to the camera and snap some well-lit shots of my work. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Show Me Your Brave

Now before the Internet grammar police descend upon me like a pack of rabid wolves, let me begin by saying that the choice of "your" vs "you're" in this sketchbook drawing is deliberate.  As I prepare for my 11th and most serious surgery to date, I've had the Sara Bareilles tune "Brave" on my mind and one line in particular: "Show me how big your brave is."  I love the concept of bravery as a tangible thing.  Courage isn't just some ethereal character trait we possess but also something that has a look, a feel, an identity.  Courage has substance and its weight can squash fear flat.  Perhaps for this little achromatic creature, his brave is manifested through his choice of rainbow-splashed, propeller-adorned headgear.

In about a week, I am having a subtotal plantar fasciectomy on my left foot along with a bunionectomy.  For lovers of Latiin roots, "-ectomy" means "removal" as in the surgeon will be removing all of the plantar fascia from the arch of my foot in the hopes of permanently removing a large fibroma that currently makes walking awkward and agonizing.  The incision will wrap in a lazy "S" from my heel to up around my little toe, where the surgeon will also correct a bunion that has developed after years of walking on the side of my foot to avoid the lump in my arch.  Ouch!

Post-operatively, I am looking at four to six weeks of non-weight bearing recovery.  This translates to lots of Netflix viewing and hopefully, a concurrent application of decent pain meds so I can actually focus on what I'm watching.  After that, it's off to physical therapy to learn to walk on my "new" foot.  The reoccurance rate for fibromas tackled this way sits at about 25% so I am going into this procedure hoping to be part of the 75% who get lucky and find a solution to their plantar fibromatosis.  I have this condition in both feet and just for kicks, I have the hand version bilaterally as well.  (Nothing's ever simple.)

Anyway, long story short, I've been doing a lot of looking for my brave lately.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Finishing Up the Scraps Journal

This post technically covers weeks 11 through 17 of my sabbatical.  I considered continuing the weekly round-up of my sabbatical adventures but not too long from now, I'll be having surgery and I can guarantee that in the rare chance I make it to the computer during my recovery, the content of my posts will be simply "!#$@! This hurts!"  So I'll drop the requisite post headline and merely tag the posts "sabbatical" so you'll be able to find all such posts together should you get a wild hair to read my accounts in order and in their entirety.

After about 7 to 8 months away from the practice, I am slowly returning to journaling.  It is such a soothing process and I'm in serious need of soothing right now.  Ironically, I began my reintroduction to journaling by concluding a journal.  My Scraps journal had just a few unfinished pages remaining so I played for a day or so and was able to add another completed journal to the shelf.

I originally started this journal as a sort of background playground but towards the end, I felt like taking the pages a bit closer to fully composed pieces.  These efforts triggered some ideas for future projects so I am glad I didn't abandon this book after so long away.  After the initial week or so of post-op recovery, I hope I'll feel well enough to make it to my studio table and see my new projects fulfilled.  Luckily, journaling doesn't require the ability to walk (especially if one's studio is organized accordingly.)  If I am really forced to keep my foot constantly elevated for four weeks, I'll just journal on the couch with a greatly simplified toolkit.   

 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

We Interrupt this Regularly Scheduled Sabbatical...

Hello there dear readers...

An long overdue update is coming...probably this coming Thursday when I have a moment to gather my thoughts and shoot some pictures.  Although this space has been quiet, I was proceeding along behind the scenes, making art with renewed vigor as the school year drew to a close.  This space was silent because my days were full.  And then, in the space of a 20-minute doctor's visit, my entire summer has spun in an unexpected and unwanted direction.

At first, I was devastated.  In about a month, I'm going under the surgeon's knife for the 11th time (my 9th surgery in 13 years.)  Rehab will be a bitch...there's no sugarcoating that fact.  My ability to walk normally (or at least pain-free) for the rest of my life is on the line.  And yet, after the initial despair and frustration, a quiet feeling of determination bloomed in my heart like a flower that senses the barest glimmer of sunrise and opens to catch the warmth.  I squared my shoulders and began again.  10 surgeries have provided plenty of practice in logistical planning.  I am rallying a support team and - most importantly - I am in the studio, surrounded by stacks of pretty papers and baskets brimming with paint tubes.  Inevitably, life foils best laid plans.  We are compelled to make new plans and then we go on.  That is all any of us can do.  It is what I will do.

More details forthcoming as well as glimpses of my recent work...if you are still there, I am grateful.  I hope all of your days have been filled with art and joy...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Weeks 9 & 10

"Out for a Walk"

I've been immersed in an Easter break vacation from teaching at the charter school that usually occupies my Friday mornings.  Just one more month there and I am off for the summer...whoo hoo!  By this time of year, I am ready to be free of weekly lesson planning and prepping.  I'll recharge for a couple of months and be ready to go again by September.

In my free time, I've continued to play around in my sketchbook.  After a quick flip-through of my drawings, I realized that 99.99% of my characters and creatures are in a static pose, frozen in position facing forward out of the page.  In order to tell stories with my illustrations, I've got to get those characters up and moving.  To start this fellow on his way, I quickly scribbled a shape that became his head.  Before I knew it, he was sauntering off the page, faithful hound in tow, a skip in his step and a song in his heart.  My doodles want something to do besides posing, mug shot-style.  The minute I gift them with a purpose, their story bubbles to the surface.  Something to keep in mind as I move onward with my exploration of illustration. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 8

"Paradoxical Delights" 

I am always intrigued by the paradoxes that reveal themselves in the studio when I take time to notice them.  For instance, I've realized that when I restrict my palette, I often feel that my muse is set free.  And when I decide to turn to "the dark side," I am contradictorily filled with laughter and light.  I am sometimes at my best when I feel my worst and when I allow myself to believe that the end result is of no consequence, I produce work that is anything but inconsequential.  Such are the delights of late, here in the warming, blooming air of spring.  I bend to my sketchbook, caught up in the quiet act of creation and from my tools, creatures are born.  They are filled with shadow and yet sometimes arrive bearing a shy smile and a pink balloon.  Hello there, wee beastie...welcome to the world.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Weeks 5, 6, and 7

"My Sketchbook is Going Dark"

As you can tell from my multi-week check-in coverage, it has been more "lost" than "post" here on the Pacific coast.  As the seemingly interminable winter yields to the slowly gathering warmth of the fairer seasons, my days have picked up pace.  The irritating spring rituals of taxes and student aid applications had to be completed.  My teaching semester is winding down (I'm done at the end of May until September) and so I am looking forward to fresh teaching opportunities in my community.  There's a show looming in May which means I'll spend the balance of April painting while trying to keep up with my assignments for "The Year of the Fairy Tale."  My days have been filled to bursting and yet, somehow, I found time to pause and really think some deep thoughts about where I'd like to take my art next.

I'm going to be forging a new path.  I have things I want to accomplish before the Parkinson's makes me too unsteady to realize the images and ideas in my head...but that's the simplistic explanation for my decision to try some new things.  In truth, these "new" things have been percolating in my brain for years, even decades.  I began setting the stage for this next phase in my art life a couple of years ago when I decided to focus more on illustration.  As I drew and doodled, I built my confidence and technical ability.  Now, with some significant time away from journaling (which, of course, opened up more time for drawing), I realize that I just might have reached that magic place where ability and aspiration meet.  Now just might be the time to stretch in a different direction...

Ever since I was little, I've been inspired by all things science fiction and fantasy.  I grew up on The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Lost in Space, The Outer Limits, The Munsters.  I adore old-school, black & white horror flicks as well as B-movie sci-fi fare from the fifties.  Some more modern idols include Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and Guillermo del Toro.  Looking through my sketchbooks from the last couple of years, I realize my fascination with robots and monsters was "gateway art."  After so much time lurking around a path I've wanted to explore all along, I've finally decided to step over the threshold and let myself dabble in a bit darker palette.

I'm fairly good at "pretty" but to tell the complete truth, I've also sort of felt all my cute and pretty art was sort of safe.  I've often thought that it was more acceptable to draw cute things, more "mainstream."  I've been afraid to get a little edgy.  After all, even my "sweet" illustrations kill comments and views around here.  However, if I've realized one thing during my "sabbatical," it's that I have no real need anymore for what going on in the mainstream.  I care about what's happening in my mindstream.  I care about letting characters loose upon the world while I am able.  And I'll tell you now that many of those characters & creatures might be a touch shifty with a moral compass that's slightly askew.  I'm not abandoning cute but rather balancing that with a side of creepy.  Silly needs to snuggle in with sinister. 

There's no specific end goal, no secret project or career ambition driving this turn off the pavement and into the wilds.  I am doing this simply because I've always wanted to...there is no better reason than that.  Maybe this will be only a passing phase...maybe I'll fight my way through the underbrush and realize I prefer a more comfortable path...or maybe, just maybe, I'll forge a brand new, exciting road.  All I know for sure is that I'll never know if I never begin.     

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 4

"Wandering"

It has been a strange week, alternating between skull-crushing migraines and highly-productive, happy days.  My time in the studio is solely focused on assignments from the "Year of the Fairy Tale" class.  I'm not working in any sort of logical, linear fashion.  Instead, I'm bouncing between tasks, painting one day and sketching the next; sometimes I paint my sketches and sometimes I sketch into my paintings.  In short, I am letting my muse do whatever she damn well pleases.  Because of this, it has taken days to complete this study sheet of my princess in her froggy form.  I was experimenting here with different combinations of techniques, trying to settle on one style that I will pull forward into all my spot illustrations for this fairy tale.  I am filling my spare moments with joyful realization of my imagination's notions and as I set the long-caged characters free, my head and shoulders lift with relief.  This is what art-making should be about...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 3

"Full Circle"

After months away from all my colorful supplies, I discovered it was very, very difficult to get started on the mixed media portion of the "Year of the Fairy Tale" assignments.  The sketchbook felt comfortable, safe, manageable.  I actually dreaded the thought of dragging out a bunch of materials, the inevitable clutter invading my workspace.  I'm craving quiet and simplicity right now.  However, in the interest of not falling too far behind, I moved forward last night and played just a bit with watercolors.  My wee frog princess is starting to develop, shown here holding the arrow shot into the swamp by Ivan, the young tsar-to-be in search of a bride.

It is so delightful to fill the spare moments of my days with fairy tales and illustration.  I haven't worked in my journal since maybe last November.  I wonder if perhaps I'm moving away from that pursuit.  Indeed, it feels like I'm coming full circle: I began my serious art studies with scientific illustration, moved into printmaking, bookmaking, then journaling.  All along, my imagination whispered to me, characters gently advocating for their release from my head.  I shushed them all, not feeling confidant enough to draw from my heart instead of my eyes.  After years of casual doodling and teaching cartooning, I'm starting to believe I can give my imagination life.  Sometimes there is a perceived gap between what I see in my mind's eye and what I am actually capable of rendering.  I think that I've been assuming that gap is a chasm when in fact, it may be more of a hop, skip, and a jump.  Of course, I didn't discover the truth of the matter until I actually set self-criticism aside and made the leap.       


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 2

"Stepping Out of the Chaos"

Well, welcome to the "Monday-Check-In-on-a-Wednesday"...heh, heh...Time flies when you're ignoring it...


It has been two weeks and (as beginnings typically do) things have been proceeding along swimmingly.  It is amazing how just making a declaration of new direction can, in fact, start propelling you in that direction.  I've spent a lot of time lounging in my sketchbook dedicated to my "Year of the Fairy Tale" work.  This illustration class taught by Carla Sonheim is turning out to be everything I had hoped for and so much more!  A big component of my decision to take a sabbatical (even if it is mostly a figurative one) was that I wanted to completely commit myself to this class.  We're only two months in and I feel it will prove to be an absolutely transformative experience for my art and art life.

All this patient sketchbook work has helped me build sustained moments where I step out of the busyness that sweeps me along through the days.  In my peripheral vision, I sense life continuing to rush by but I am learning to focus on the quiet scratching of pencil on paper; time slows as does my heart rate.  Princesses and frogs rise out of my graphite dust and I am content.  It is really difficult to feel fulfilled by a passion when three-quarters of your brain is preoccupied with the stress of living so this "time-slowing" is essential to master if I want to get the most out of this artistic life I have chosen.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Notes from My Sabbatical: Week 1

"Rekindling Begins"

So here begins my documentation of my "sabbatical," a break I'm taking to rekindle my passion, inspiration, energy, and focus.  I'm largely concentrating on my artistic life but I think that I'll benefit across the board by taking a little time and space to reevaluate where I'm at, where I want to go, and how I might get there.

This week, I got caught up on my notes for the "Year of the Fairy Tale" class and actually started working on the assignments.  Whoo hoo!  It felt so good to do art again just for me.  I also spent this first week doing a little bit of studio reorganizing.  I don't want to get too invested in this task so I'm only allowing myself about 15 minutes worth of digging, shuffling, filing, and cleaning a day.

What I need desperately is a reorganization (perhaps even a revolution) of how I spend my time.  Teaching, prepping for teaching, coping with health issues, household chores & maintenance, cooking, parenting, chauffeuring:  all these things and more still need to be done so I am working on making better use of my time.  I am very prone to losing my way when everyday life gets messy and busy.  Too often, art and self-care get shoved to the backburner and it has been to my detriment.  Ah well!  These are the sorts of things I hope to figure out in the coming months as I take a long, hard, deliberate look at the current state of affairs.  Right now, I only know that things have to change.  The "how" part of the equation will reveal itself as I go along.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Confessions, Realizations, and Plans

I confess:  For months now, I have felt deeply disconnected from and disinterested in my personal art.  It could be a result of a relentlessly cold and dismal winter, a clingy respiratory illness, everyday busyness or (most likely) a combination of all of the above.  Regardless of the cause, the interest and inspiration is gone.

I did manage to churn out 27 robot sculptures for my February show but only because I was whipped into action by a looming deadline and the specter of shame if I failed to meet a commitment that was splashed all over local newspapers.  Other than the robots and the flare of energy when I teach, I've done absolutely nothing to nurture and exercise the artist within.  And that bothers me.  I know I am a better person when I am creating.  However, after so long away, I had begun to wonder if I would ever get back.

So, a couple of nights ago, as I sat in front of the television contemplating and mourning the twin losses of my mojo and muse, I thought "I need a break." And then, just as quickly, I realized that, in fact, I needed a renewal.  And so, the wheels began turning and I started formulating a grand plan.

I am granting myself a six-month sabbatical.  Until the end of August, I am creating for myself constructive time away so I can get back to what I love.  I don't just want to "take a break" because that would just be a continuance of what I'm already doing: nothing.  I want to dig deep and dig myself out.  The artist in me hasn't really gone away; she's just tired, bored, and aimless.  So, that said, I have six sabbatical goals:
  1. Rest my body...
  2. Reflect on my overall purpose and direction...
  3. Renew my passion...
  4. Replenish my inspiration...
  5. Romp in my studio without outside pressures and, finally...
  6. Reconnect to (and perhaps reinvent) my artistic life
I'll still be teaching; that pursuit is an incredibly positive influence on my own art life.  I'll still need to keep up with all the everyday life stuff; there's nobody else to pick up the slack.  However, by declaring this sabbatical aloud, I am committing to action in all the spare moments I can gather.  To keep myself accountable, I will post here every Monday, reporting on my efforts and discoveries.  There may be additional posts here and there but in general, I plan to stay away from blogging.  I have this intense feeling that the time is now, that I have to do something concrete in a big way or my artistic self will perish from lack of love and exercise.

You are invited to stick around and follow my progress or to flee to more active climes...no hard feelings if you pack up your follower status.  This is something I have to do to save something I cherish.  I have to let go to make room to grab hold.

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