Sunflower Tree

SunflowerTreeA few weekends ago, a dear friend and I went on a sketching adventure in Boston. We sketched here and there while wandering around enjoying the summer scenes of the city. Near Chinatown, we stumbled upon a community garden that was so extraordinary that we had to pass through it 3 times to fully soak it in. People were growing all sorts of crazy vegetables I’ve never seen before : 3-foot-long beans, GIGANTIC gourds, warty-looking melons…

…and then we saw the sunflower tree! It’s stalk must have been as fat as the trunk of a fir tree. It even had a woodpecker pecking at it. My friend and I marveled at the sunflower tree like tourists visiting the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. In retrospect, it seemed like the perfect symbol of summer’s glory.

Since we were on our way to lunch (walking through tunnels of veggies makes a woman HUNGRY!), we didn’t stop to sketch in the gardens, but my friend snapped a photo of our tree and sent it to me later. I used it as reference for this illustration I did at home. Now it’s in my “sketch journal” to memorialize a summer day well spent in the delightful company of a kindred veggie-loving soul.

 

Beyond Inspiration: What it REALLY Takes to be an Artist

The Essential Ingredients for Making Art

The Essential Ingredients for Making Art

I talk a lot about inspiration. Being “inspired” is a powerful experience – it’s what kindles the need to make art (at least, for me). So it’s easy to believe that inspiration is the primary ingredient of art making.

Van Gogh was inspired by the colors of the landscape…
Tolkein was inspired by mythology…

Well, here’s the rub. Excluding the times when I’m sleep deprived, worn out from too many social events (we introverts gotta recharge, y’know), or stuck indoors for too long, I’d say I’m basically always “inspired”. There’s LOTS of stuff that gives me that hot-skinned, frenzied urge to make art. But am I always making it? Does every inspiration lead to a tangible creation on my part? No.

It’s a real coming-of-age experience when you grow up wanting to be an artist, only to realize that, just like everything else
it’s a lot of work.

Inspiration is a fine ingredient, but it doesn’t make art. It’s really only the first step.

Then comes the planning, the choosing of materials, the mastering of materials, the focusing (and re-focusing…and refocusing some more), and the entire process of getting it done.

It takes willpower. Willpower is the determination to get it done despite difficulty, unexpected turns in the process, and distractions. It’s having the persistence to practice and develop your skills, to force yourself to grow. It’s being committed to seeing it through, no matter what.

It takes purpose. There has to be a reason for why you are putting in the effort at all. If there’s no reason why the art should get made, then why not just stay in the comfortable, no-effort-needed state of inspiration? Inspiration itself is not a purpose, but wanting to SHARE what inspired you is. Knowing you have something you can give to the world is a purpose. (So is knowing that if you DON’T make it, you’ll lose your paying client. But that’s another story…). Connecting to people by sharing the way you see the world – that is a worthy purpose.

Being an artist also takes confidence. Throughout the process, you’ll have your doubts. You’ll think you’re doing it wrong, or that you have NO idea what you’re doing at all, or that you’re wasting your time. The process will start going differently than you expected, and you’ll start to worry that it’ll kill you in an inferno of fiery embarrassment. But if you know your purpose, then you can at least have confidence in your voice. And then you can decide, despite all doubts, to at least pretend you feel confident in your abilities. You SHOULD be confident! Skill-wise, you are where you are. You’re not perfect – you’ll always be learning – but for now, you’re exactly where you need to be in your development. For me, deciding to just be confident, regardless of how lame I actually feel, is the key to keeping unhelpful thoughts from convincing me to give up. It’s a way of prioritizing what self-talk I’m going to allow myself to listen to. I don’t have time for Mr. Brain’s negative propaganda. I’m only going to pay attention to the critiques that are constructive.

And finally, it takes faith. Faith that your project will turn out, even if you aren’t sure where it’s headed right now. Faith that your art will succeed at communicating something when it’s finished. And faith in art, period. You have to believe that art is worthwhile, that it is an essential part of being human. Believe that your contribution will provide something valuable to people.

It will. (But only if you share it!)

Brought to You From Green Meadows Farm: Beets and Radishes!

My husband and I have been enjoying the first few weeks of our summer produce share from a local CSA, Green Meadows Farm. This week’s share featured various greens, a handful of garlic scapes, a pint of organic strawberries, and a stoic cucumber. All were delicious, but I have to say, it was the beets and radishes that stole the show. Why? Well… (excuse my shallowness)…because they are BEAUTIFUL!

This week’s share also brought with it a miracle. That’s right friends, a miracle! Here’s how it played out:

Rewind to a few weeks ago, when I bought some beets from the grocery store and roasted them for dinner. Upon sitting down to eat, I discovered, to my shock and dismay, that I could not STAND the taste of beets anymore! Thus ensued an identity crisis in which I was forced to grapple with some big existential questions. Who was I without beets? What monster had I become? Was it possible that I…Jacque…the SUPREME Lover of Beets, would henceforth have to be called Jacque, Supreme Lover of All Vegetables EXCEPT Beets? Oh the turmoil. It was tough.

Then we got this week’s vegetable share from the farm, and my heart broke when I saw the beets. For 4 days I avoided eating them, choosing, instead, to commune with them artistically. Finally, this morning, a revelation came down from the sky (it WAS thundering, after all):

Put the beets in your oatmeal.” 

So I washed one, shredded it with the grater, and cooked it into my morning porridge (along with some other good stuff).

And — joy and jubilation — my heart of stone was made alive once more. For it was delicious, and beautiful to boot.

The end.

Beets_Sketch(And just for kicks, here are the radishes):

Radish_Sketch

Ink and Watercolor Sweetgum Tree

The other day, I was gazing out my studio window, looking for things to feel cheery about, when a sweetgum tree caught my eye. The sun was shining intensely through its leaves, making them glow like green paper lanterns. It struck me, then, that during both night and day, the sky is filled with visible stars. The day stars just happen to be green, herbaceous ones.

SweetGum_Leaves

 

Scenes of Summer: Strawberries, Clovers, and…Viking Llamas?

Strawberries from our CSA!

Strawberries from our CSA!

simpler strawberry illustration

simpler strawberry illustration

Clovers make me happy. They make me think of cows grazing and big, fuzzy bumblebees. Plus, they smell divine.

Clovers make me happy. They make me think of cows grazing and big, fuzzy bumblebees. Plus, they smell divine.

Doodling...

Still doodling houses…

Oh you know, just a cartoon with Viking Llamas out fishing. (I dunno, I picked up my pen one morning and it just happened!)

Oh you know, just a cartoon with Viking Llamas out fishing. (I dunno, I picked up my pen one morning and it just happened)

 

Spring Sketches (And More Dandelions)

Nature is full of metaphors. If you ever need a reminder that life will be fresh and different tomorrow, walk the same path for three consecutive days and note the dandelions each time. It’s remarkable how quickly they progress from flower to seed. It’s a helpful way to gain perspective on life — In a bad mood? Don’t fret. Like a dandelion, a mood has its natural course.  It will pass like a {*cheesiness alert} dandelion puff in the wind.

Dandelions Seed Puff

dandelion puffs

Dandelions No Seeds

their seeds all blew away

Maple Seed Sketch

maple seeds scattered on all the walkways like confetti

 

Door View

enjoying the spring breeze and happy bird sounds through the screen door

 

People & Sheep

practicing sketching people (and sheep)

 

sunflowers

Sometimes I unconsciously doodle when I’m on the phone. Apparently last week’s conversations inspired sunflowers.

 

Breakfast Doodles

I’ve got some bigger projects going on these days — a couple of commissions, my ever-progressing children’s book, and preparations for the Summer Arts Festival next month (where I’ll be selling watercolor originals). Good stuff. Always keeping on keeping on!

To keep myself balanced, I’ve continued the practice of taking time to just let loose and doodle. In particular, I’ve observed that when I sketch during breakfast, it gets me energized for the rest of the day. It clears out my head so I can focus better on the “big” stuff without feeling antsy about wanting to draw distracting things like dandelions and tree bark and koalas and all those wonderful things.

I’ve always loved breakfast, and drawing makes it even better! Here’s my recipe for a healthy, happy way to start the day:

Combine oats, eggs, water, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and shredded zucchini in a large bowl. Microwave 2-3 minutes. Add fresh blueberries and strawberries and microwave 1-2 minutes more. Top with almond butter. Serve alongside coffee and sketchbook.

Sprinkle liberally with doodles. (Watercolor optional, but delicious).

Tulip

Tulip

Another bandana-clad dachshund

Another bandana-clad dachshund

Sidewalk dandelions, graffiti style

Sidewalk dandelions, graffiti style

(did I mention that I love dandelions?)

(did I mention that I love dandelions?)

can never decide if I like things better with or without ink

can never decide if I like things better with or without ink

sketches_Farm

(In case it needs clarifying, this is not supposed to be a freaky girl head hovering above a cute pastoral scene. They are two separate sketches, yo)

 

Wandering and Watching

Today I’m sharing some sketches I’ve made while out and about town. They are field sketches, so to speak, of my new environment here in the Northeast.

It takes discipline to actually sit down and sketch when I’m out walking. I get all hyped up on creative adrenaline while I’m walking through this Smörgåsbord of textures, patterns, colors, and action, and instead of calming down and focusing on any one thing, I keep walking and making an infinitely long mental list of things to come back and draw later, with the hope that someday I might find myself feeling more disciplined.

But, really, I know I’ll only be more disciplined tomorrow if I practice it today. So I’ve been reigning myself in with one simple rule: Every time I go out, I have to draw SOMETHING, even if it’s just a 10 second sketch. It’s been a good enough guideline for me so far. It keeps me from getting caught up in the expectation that I could possibly draw everything I see, and that is very freeing, since holding on to such expectations sets me up to feel disappointed rather than appreciative of the experience at hand. And, obviously, my rule is good because it keeps me from drawing nothing. It’s fun to brainstorm creative ideas, but it’s also fun (and more productive) to create. My rule has helped me balance between the two.Salem Houses SpringTrolley Depot

Salem Common
St Nicholas Church