Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Sense of Fun

It's so easy to forget the golden rule of living.

Approach living as you would like to live.

I've been so busy fretting about all the stuff on my to do list (a quick top three: 1) get a job 2) Get a JOB 3) GET A JOB) that I forget that I am really extraordinarily lucky. I have a great family and a wonderful life. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I've also forgotten the first step to achieving the nirvana of the golden rule of living. Have fun.

Why am I starting out my blog post with this? It's circuitous but here it is. Last night my sister called. We talked about many things, but one of them was a new sister project we're starting with the new year. Our previous sister project was as follows:

Create a doll. Put it in a box and send it to the next sister up in birth order (except for me, as the oldest I sent mine to the youngest sister.) Once you get the box, open it, continue to work on the enclosed doll, add to the story of the doll, replace in the box and send to the next sister. Repeat until all sisters have had a chance to work on your doll and it comes back to you.

The outcome was unexpected in several ways. First of all, what we all thought would take, oh say nine months tops, (there are, after all, only four of us) took five years. Yeah, you heard me, FIVE YEARS. Second, the process was very revealing. We learned a lot about each other as we saw the changes and additions each sister made to the doll in their hands. Third, the product was unexpectedly meaningful. And I don't just mean the product of the dolls, which were all great, but the idea of having something that all my sisters contributed to made it mean that much more to me. And the stories...well, the stories were funny and weird and didn't always make a lot of sense, but they were really, in some ways the best part of the entire project.

I forget what incredibly creative sisters I have, and how extraordinary it is for us all to have the kind of relationship we do, living as far apart as we do. This project was a reminder that we always have each other.

So the new Sister Project? I can hear you wondering. It's altered books. We will each be creating an altered book and sending it around to be further altered by our sisters (and possibly others - this could become a different animal all together!) The theme is our family, so this ought to be wild.

As I was talking with my sister about this project, she told me about her friend, Robbye, who is also creative and who does a blog as well. This morning she sent me the link to Robbye's blog. I loved it. And what I loved about it? The sense of FUN! It reminded me that I am at my best when I approach life the way I want to live it. She seems to embrace life with a sense of creativity and vitality that I find very appealing and tend to forget to add to my own. So thanks Ame. Thanks Robbye. Ame posted pics of her doll on her site. I'll see if I can find some photos of the others.

So here's my one and only New Year's resolution. Approach living as you want to live it. Pretty simple huh?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

An Illustrated Life

As I mentioned before, I got An Illustrated Life for Christmas from my beautiful and psychic sons. How DO they know what I want? After having read it practically cover to cover on Christmas Day today I decided to go back in and check out each of the artists. So, first on the list, Mattias Adolfsson. He lives in Sweden and draws with grace and humor. Damn I'm jealous. But the best of all, he interacts with his blog so that we get to see a bit of his brain nearly every day. The thing I really recommend here, probably because I'm onto this sketchbook thing right now, are the videos of him just paging through his sketchbooks, but don't neglect the bot drawings.

At home, the geese have temporarily abandoned the Knucker Hole marsh. After yesterday's warm foggy bath, they are probably sleeping it off somewhere, unwilling to brave the returned cold weather. I know I am.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Excited about the prospects

It's the day after Christmas. It was a lovely holiday and quite nice to spend time with my loved ones and give and get presents. Now it's time to get back to work. I've been inspired. I got the book An Illustrated Life from my wonderful boys and spent a few hours looking at the sketchbooks of other very talented artists. Of course, this made me want to run right to my studio and start working, which wasn't exactly possible at the time, given that we had guests coming and still had house cleaning and cooking to do.

But today, ah, today, there is no one coming to see the dirty dishes in the sink or to complain at eating leftovers. I am free to create. And I consider this my fresh beginning, blog wise. School is over and I am free to pursue my chosen career. (There is some internal discussion as to what this career should actually entail, but I'm confident that those questions will work themselves out.) Part of the pursuit is the resolve to continue and improve my blogging efforts. To make connections. To become accustomed to the regular production and revelation of my work to the public.

I've been spoiled at school. Assignments assigned and time lines given. Having to do this for myself is much more difficult, and yet, much more exciting as well. Thus I am, and continue to be, excited about the prospects.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Learning how to know what you want

I find myself wondering if Barack Obama and John McCain are feeling a little bit the same as I am today. Here it is, two days before election day, and no matter what the outcome, both of them will find their lives very different than they are today. Are they finding this home stretch exhausting? Are they wishing, in some ways, that they'd never embarked on such a monumental task? Or do they find it energizing to be on the brink of such a large job.

I'm not saying getting my degree in Graphic Design is the same as running for president, but anytime someone commits their life to a project for an extended period of time, I think there comes a time when you wonder if you've made the right decision. Maybe this is fleeting, a moment of doubt or fear during a quiet time, or maybe it persists and causes you to quit, to walk away from this very big task. Moments like these are different for all of us, but I believe we all feel it. As I'm feeling it today.

I know that I'm not going to quit. That's not what this is about. It's about how we work through that. How we get up in the morning and find that energy to keep working on our project, whatever it is. How we keep going back to it, working on it, refining it, shaping it, maybe in spite of odds to the contrary.

One of my instructors brought in an article from a recent New Yorker, about late bloomers. Those of us who are late bloomers understand better than most, the energy it takes to continue working on something with very little in the way of reward. We keep working on our art or our book or our whatever, and it comes out of a place that is completely separate from financial or social reward. There is always the hope that reward will come, but it's by no means a guarantee. And yet we give up much to keep at it.

People who are successful at the arts often say that they feel the same way. That achieving the "prize" isn't really the point. They feel as compelled to do the work as anyone else. The difference, the reason they achieve more, may just be luck, or a better network of acquaintances, or just more persistence.

Talent does not necessarily equal success, and success doesn't necessarily equal talent, but we do, as a culture, seem to think that's true. It seems to me that a major component of success, whether you know early on or it comes to you later in life, is knowing what you want. Sometimes the only way to learn that is to keep trying different things until you get the one that works for you.

Friday, August 8, 2008


And, as the saying goes, and the livin' is easy. Which means I'm doing way too much hanging around and not nearly enough stuff. However. That is pretty much my constant state so I won't go on about it here.

Have spent some time this summer organizing my workspace and working on staying in contact with other artists. First the workspace.

I keep telling myself that once I have the studio clean, I can move on to other things. Have now come to realize that that is probably the worst form of procrastination there is. I tell myself I'm being virtuous, by cleaning, when in reality, I'm bagging off and I know it. Shame on me. Still. Some things have gotten done in the name of procrastination. A few projects have staggered across the finish line and some really awful first drafts of work have crept into existence. In addition, nearly 15 years worth (yes you read that right - 15 YEARS worth) of magazines have been reviewed, any relevant articles torn out and the rest recycled. You see what lengths I will go to not to work?

And, as I write about this I'm recommending a book. It's called The War of Art, and it's a beautiful essay on the evils of Resistance (read here procrastination) and the divine nature of creativity. A really inspiring read. The author is Steven Pressfield, who has also written some great historical fiction.

Second, staying in contact with other artists. I have a hard time sometimes, connecting with other artists. It's probably just me, but I get freaky when it comes to making contacts with other artists. Either I love their work so much, I feel unworthy of their friendship (as in "Damn! Now they're going to think I'm a total dilettante. ) or I don't much like their work and would have a hard time being friends because I'm really bad at lying about things like that. And it strikes me that even if I was good at lying about things like that, is that really what a friendship is all about?

But I've also come to the realization, after going back to school in my forties, that I really do need to connect with other artists. There is a benefit to talking with other people who understand at least the language of what you're trying to do. As my friend Victoria says, they get it. And the connection also inspires work. It's sort of like having an assignment, having to report to your friends about the progress of your work. They give you that look when you're bagging off. Doesn't mean that the friendship should take the place of the work, and that's tempting too, but it adds another dimension to working alone. Feedback.

So I'm working on it. I've read several blogs on the creative life this summer, and it seems to me that this is a constant battle with many artists out there. Working alone, versus feeding the well by entering community and getting involved with other people out in the world. It seems like it should be such a simple thing, to balance art and life, but it's really very complex and not altogether fun.

Still. I wouldn't have it any other way I guess. Now it's nearly 3pm and I have to go out and meet up with an artist friend of mine and enjoy this great summer afternoon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm out of school for the summer now and have prepared The List. The List is a compilation of the things I plan to do this summer. I know, full well, that I won't even get close to completing the list. That actually isn't even the point. I will, however, take great satisfaction in crossing items off The List, and looking at some sort of progress. Last summer I didn't make a list and when September rolled around, I found, to my dismay, that I had accomplished nothing. Well, I'm sure I did something, I just couldn't remember what and had no proof.

I couldn't live without my lists. I make lists to go to the grocery store, which I promptly forget as I'm walking out the door. I make lists of things I should do, things I want to do, things I don't want to do but have to do, and let's not forget, things I will never do, but would like to think I'll get around to. Lists are my memory, my process and my bane. I sometimes find lists tucked into a book I haven't opened in years, and realize that, with a few slight differences, it could be the same list I'm building in my current notebook. Okay, that can suck. But it's also strangely liberating.

Recently I was looking through Gwen Diehn's, The Decorated Page, a really nice little how-to book about creating and using artist journals, when I came across a segment she'd included about Sei Shonagon. Sei was a Japanese courtier, diarist and poet who lived from 966 through 1013. Her pillow book is considered by some to be one of the first and best examples of good writing style. Oddly enough, I had just read another book, a novel called My Year of Meats, and I'm sorry I can't remember the author's name, who had also referenced Sei and her lists, which is why this little segment really stood out to me.

Sei Shonagon wrote in her pillow book, among stories and impressions of her time and culture, 164 lists. Some of the titles were "Things Which Distract in Moments of Boredom", "Annoying Things", "Things Which Make One's Heart Beat Faster", "Elegant Things" and "Things That Have Lost Their Power". Just reading the titles made me think about the nature of lists.

We all make lists. Sunday Morning did a segment on list making a few months ago, and while I put it on my list to blog about it at the time, now it's been so long I can't remember what they actually said about list making other than the fact that everybody seems to do it. As I prepared to write this entry I googled "list making". The best entry was an Onion article (one uncomfortably close to the truth actually - which is why the The Onion is so damn funny) and the weirdest to me was one from the Psychology Today website, that basically gave you five things to put on your list. Things like "Be Happy", "Write a Book" and "Fall in Love". Who knew it was that easy?

And by the way, I was just reading over this last paragraph and I want to reassure anyone reading this blog that I very seldom actually do homework/preparation to write it. But then, you probably already knew that.

So, back to the nature of lists. See, all of my lists are usually in the form of practical, get it done sorts of things. I put on there things like "Reorganize the buffet." "De-magazine." and "Return library books." I had never really even thought about making lists about, oh say, "Things That Are Thought About at 2am When One Has Woken From Sleep and Now Can't Go Back" or "Things That One Wishes One Could Say to the Teacher at Parent/Teacher Conferences" or "Things That Make One Cry in a Sentimental Way". This is kinda fun. How about "Things That One Finds at the Bottom of One's Purse That One Had No Idea How They Got There." or "Outgrown Things." or "Things That Taste Better Than One Thought They Would."

This puts a whole new spin on the list making compulsion. The categorization and documentation of these things is unique and immensely entertaining, in a way that "Potatoes, Rice, Onions, Oatmeal" just can't approach. I mean, my version of "Things That Smell Bad But One Sniffs Them Anyway." is probably very different from yours. Or maybe not. Maybe we shouldn't even go there.

So anyway, I'm adding another item to The List. I'm going to spend some time making non-functional lists. Categorizing and collecting my own thoughts into a journal, that, like Sei Shonagon's work, will hopefully reflect my time and culture. So that when I find the list, tucked into a cookbook ten years from now, I won't cringe that "Lose Weight." is still on it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I haven't posted in a long time. I know. And I could explain but that would be as boring for you as it would for me. Suffice to say one word. School.

Why I'm writing now is that one of my final assignments for this semester is to create a website for myself. This has been a very interesting process. Similar to having a blog, having a website appears to be a requirement for a graphic designer or illustrator these days. And, as usual, I'm having a hard time deciding what I'm going to look like online. Who would have thought the question would be so hard?

As I cruised the internet yesterday, looking for cool websites, I certainly saw quite a few, the Ames Brothers being one of the best, but while some of them were really cool to look at, they held little in the way of content. (And by saying this I'm NOT talking about the Ames Brothers site!) I do believe that the content is as important as the look, but again, what to say. So now I'm trying to decide what to say and how to say it. Whew. Even more fun. (Is there an "I'm being facetious" emoticon?)

I know I'll get there. I already have some ideas, but I have also been thinking a lot about authenticity. When designers, or anybody, creates a website that looks cool, really cool, WAY FAR OUT THAT'S JUST COOL, but says virtually nothing, what does that say about them? Is it necessary to put some of yourself on the site or is that just intrusive? Is it better to be honest and more transparent, if you will, and say what you think and feel about the work you expect people to buy from you, or have you create for them? Or is it better to just lay it out there and let others interpret what they will from your examples, with little or no comment to guide or inform their opinions?

I mean, on the practical side, as you look for potential customers on the internet, anything more personal, and by "personal" I don't mean comments about your home life, but more insight into your thought process and emotional connection to your work, has the possibility of turning off potential clients as well as engaging them. For this reason alone, I'm sure that there are valid reasons for less "personal". But, at the same time, there seems to be such a movement recently for a more authentic experience from your interactions with others. People seem to be looking for things that have the flavor of having been created by a real person, as opposed to the slick, manufactured look of a perfectly produced Illustrator drawing. I'm seeing a lot of texture and organic form and scratchy, blobby lettering that all says "Somebody made me." And I find that that's what I want too.

In the end, I believe it will all come down to being honest about who you are. If someone wants your work, they know they are getting something you have invested thought and energy into, and even though it sometimes looks imperfect, they will not be disappointed with the results. They know that they will get what they see.

If nobody wants it, maybe you're in the wrong business.