New Prints on Etsy! Friendly Dogs, Cozy Birds, Oh my!

My new studio is up and running! Which means I am able, once again, to make prints!

Looking for things to decorate your home and keep your spirits up this winter? Maybe these cozy birds will do the trick."Fall Fashion Line" Sparrows on Wire illustration print by Jacque Oman Clinton

Or perhaps you’d rather hang this seriously adorable dachshund on your wall so he can bid you “Good Day” each time you pass by?"Dachshund Greetings" illustration print by Jacque Oman Clinton

Head over to my Etsy shop to get ’em while they’re fresh!Etsy prints featuring illustrations by Jacque Oman Clinton

In other news, I thought I’d share a few helpful things that I came across in my listening/reading this week. Each expresses sentiments that I agree with and sheds light on issues that I think about often. Hearing other people’s insight on familiar themes can be so clarifying and reassuring to the psyche! Thank goodness other people are more articulate than I! Anyway, these 3 things stood out to me this week so I’m passing them along:

  1. Author/artist Austin Kleon wrote a little piece on his blog titled The Pram in the Hall. It’s about being an artist AND a good parent/person; how important it is to find good role models; and how our every day responsibilities/routines contribute to rather than detract from our artistic endeavors. “Art is for life, not the other way around.” So true, so true. Check it out! (Disclaimer: he curses once or twice).
  2. NPR interviewed illustrator and artist Christoph Niemann about his “Sunday Sketches“. I encourage you to listen to the audio version of the interview to get the full effect (it’s not very long). He talks about the unknowns in the art-making process, the inevitability of creative discomfort, and the importance of not letting social media dictate the art you make. At the very end, he also talks about how frustrating it can be when people don’t recognize how much work goes into making illustrations, a fact that he dislikes but nevertheless accepts because it’s just part of the job. “You can’t have people like the work that you create and also be in awe of how hard it is to do it,” he says. Here’s an excerpt:

    “People say: ‘Oh, you’re so talented. I could never do that.’ I always feel like: No. When you listen to a pianist playing a Beethoven sonata … you would never say: Oh, I couldn’t do that [because of talent. It’s] because, well, you didn’t sit down for 10,000 hours and practice. It’s all about sitting down and the time you spend at your desk.

  3. And finally, in this week’s episode of Note to Self (one of my favorite podcasts), host Manoush Zomorodi interviewed spiritual advisor and former Google employee  Chade-Meng Tan about mindfulness and how it can be used to cultivate joy, peace, and compassion. It’s got lots of helpful tidbits — like how we can turn the aforementioned virtues into habits and how we shouldn’t shun technology, but instead learn to use it wisely. Also….listening to this episode just makes you feel good! So head over there and give it a try. One of my favorite things that he said is about how mindfulness opens up our capacity to be creative:

    “An analogy that I’ll give is: if you drop a pebble in choppy waters, you don’t see ripples very well, but if that water is completely calm, you drop pebbles in it, you can see all the beautiful ripples and how they interact, and then you can see the ideas very clearly, you can see hidden directions very clearly, and you say “oh wait a minute, I never thought of that before!”

I hope you enjoy the links. If you end up checking them out, feel free to comment below with your thoughts! I’d love to know what you think.

Have a happy and healthy week, and remember, whatever ends up happening with the presidential election on Tuesday, at least we have this: the Cubs won the 2016 World Series! Woohoo!

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The Timelessness of the Simple

While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been “debating” (bickering?) their lovely hearts out, I’ve been wrangling with an idealogical conflict of my own. For several days (more like weeks), now, I’ve been duking it out with myself over a great and formidable question:

“What to be for Halloween?”

Yes. It’s tough stuff.

After tossing aside my initial ideas, which included dressing up like Maid Marian (actually, I prefer Madam Cluck), Abraham Lincoln, and Captain Janeway from Star Trek, I decided to confine my ideas within the boundaries of a single theme. And, since I’m really a 5 year old (albeit an adult-sized one), the theme I chose was “iconic childhood characters.”

Characters like Madeline

The Man with the Yellow Hat (from “Curious George“)…

Charlie Brown

and Cookie Monster.

And let’s not forget our gaming friends like Pac-Man and Mario.

(I also considered the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich, a childhood staple that’s basically a character itself.)

And it was then that I noticed one of those happy truths about life:

It’s often the simplest of things that become the most timeless.

Madeline, Curious George, and Charlie Brown — they were drawn in such a simple style. The illustrations are wonderfully loose and sketchy, with just the essential details. And yet they remain memorable and dear from one generation to the next.

Cookie Monster? He’s a googley-eyed piece of carpet whose single fixation is yet another of life’s simple delights: the good old, tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie.

Pacman? He’s a circle with a mouth. He eats pixels.

And let’s not forget that Mario is just a humble plumber, fighting bad guys in world of cotton ball clouds and potted flowers. A genius concept? Not really. But wonderful, yes.

Which is all a roundabout way for me to get to the point I’m actually trying to make:

A full and splendid life doesn’t have to be a complicated life. And, in a similar vein, what you contribute to the world doesn’t have to be complex and heady in order to be of value. Memories are made from the smallest of moments: like standing barefoot in the shallows of Lake Itasca (the headwaters of the Mississippi, dontcha know), or eating Stove Top stuffing next to Uncle Joe every Thanksgiving. Art is made of lines and color. Hugs are made of arms and hearts. Life is made of days and minutes, and they’re all meaningful in their own right.

So in the age of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), I encourage you not to discount the simple things. Your life, your ideas, your creations…no matter how big or small… might just be what someone else needs to see in order to access the joy residing in their heart. Open your eyes, breathe deeply, and remember that life is good. Let yourself be moved by the simple things. Be curious. Share. Laugh. There is much to experience and savor, no matter who, what, or where you are.

(Here are my own simple contributions to entertain you this week. They’re little sketchbook tidbits, made in the cracks of time between other projects I’ve got going on (as always, stay tuned for more on that)…)

pen and ink illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton of a quail in a smoking jacket

Quail in a Smoking Jacket

quick apple sketches by Jacque Oman Clinton

apples!

Nothing amazing, but just the same, thanks for stopping by. Now go enjoy your weekends, y’all!

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To be an unassuming chronicler of life

Artists — be they writers, photographers, painters, musicians, or other – have different goals and reasons for why they create. Some claim their craft is a way of bringing fantasy to life, or of probing the subconscious.  Others say they make art to express specific ideas, to explore certain topics, or to give a voice to the voiceless. Some want to make the world a more beautiful place. And many don’t know why they create, they just know that “they must”.

I’ve slowly been making my way through the book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In it, I came across some words about the poet Mark Strand that really hit home for me.

“Patiently watching and listening to events unfolding around him, alternating between passionate involvement and sardonic detachment, [Strand] has found the pattern that best fits the predilections of his consciousness: to be an unassuming yet precise chronicler of life.”

“His craft” Mikkahily says “is to express in arresting and accurate language what he has learned from witnessing life”.

“Some artists get so involved in their creations that they lose their appetite for raw experience, but Strand welcomes ordinary life—puttering in the yard, having meals with the family, going on hikes, lecturing, even shopping.”

After all, “…the enterprise of writing makes sense only within the context of a broader, more mundane reality.”

Ah, to be a chronicler of life. Yes. That’s what it is.

Mundane, patterned, repetitive, unpredictable, beautiful, heartbreaking, changing, simple, complex, amazing life. I want to draw it all. Every day, forever.

Fall Walking - Crunching on Leaves

An old fall-y watercolor and ink illustration from my Illustration Friday days. It reminds me of back-to-school. Fall — such a poignant season of life!

In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.

 

When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in

to fill the spaces

where my body’s been.

 

We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep things whole.

– Mark Strand (Keeping Things Whole)

 

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Art Show Follow Up: Making Faith a Habit & Other Things I Learned

As you might remember, last Thursday, I participated as a featured artist at “REVEAL”, RAW Boston’s summer showcase for artists, designers, photographers, stylists, and musicians. I’m happy to report that it went well and that it was worth all the effort I put in to my preparations for it. And now…it’s over, which means I can get back to MAKING stuff! (I’m very excited about that). But since the show experience warrants some reflection, please bear with me as I devote just one more post to talking a bit (okay, maybe a lot) about it.

my booth

my booth

racks of prints for sale

racks of prints for sale

So…the showcase was a great time! I felt good about the work I showed and how I represented myself. I had the pleasure of talking to other artists and exchanging valuable insights. (I have to say, it felt particularly good to be able to pass on some helpful tips to people who are going through things that I have gone through myself! Turns out I’ve learned a few things over the years!) The whole experience – from the weeks spent in preparation to the final take-down – was full of personal growth and learning.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Anxiety and fear are inevitable, but I can make room for them without losing sight of the larger picture. Okay, I know it wasn’t the Emmys or anything, but even so, I was very nervous about the event. I felt angsty from the very beginning, when I found out that I would be participating. My nervousness peaked the day before the show, when I had to repeatedly tell myself that “I know I feel like I’m going to die right now, but it is just anxiety, and I don’t have to freak out about it.” During the weeks before the show, this anxiety popped up a lot, but instead of fighting against it (and feeling bad about it, wishing it would go away, and generally feeling like a pathetic speck of a person) I decided to accept it as another part of the game. Whenever I felt stress pressing down, I reminded myself that there were infinite ways that the show could play out, and since I have no ability to know or control the future, I would just do what I thought was best, have faith, and keep my mind open to the possibility that good things might come out of it. And surprisingly, the day OF the event, I felt fine! For one thing, I had the comfort of knowing that I was well prepared. But also, my mind was in a good place after spending so many weeks practicing faith, openness, and positivity.
  2. People are shy. We are all insecure about something. It’s a funny dynamic — the insecure artist and the insecure viewer, side by side, feeling awkward. I think people are afraid to talk to artists about their work because they don’t want to “say the wrong thing” or sound like they “don’t know anything about art”. But I’m not going to judge you for “not getting it” or for never taking some dumb art history class. And I don’t make art with the expectation that you’ll see it the way I see it. I want to hear what it is that you see! — how does it make you feel? What stories does it conjure up, what does it remind you of? I LOVE it when people tell me what my work means to them. It fuels the drive to keep making stuff. It satisfies the “longing-for-connection” aspect of being creative. And it reveals amazing things about the diversity of human experience.
  3. And artists are shy, too. Instinctually, I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to impose myself on them while they look at my work, or dare to assume that they find it engaging in any way. But I suspect that, more often than not, people appreciate hearing the artist tell the story behind their work, even when the story isn’t linear or…much of a “story” at all. (i.e. “I did this before getting dressed to go to my friend’s wedding…I needed to do something creative and it just sort of came to me. I started drawing a whale, because whales need to be drawn, and then of course I realized it should be wearing a sweater.”) I like to see the humanness of other people’s artwork. It helps me feel connected to the work and to the artist. Showing viewers that the work is a process — that it’s a living thing — opens doors for communication. Then the artwork isn’t just a final “product”, but instead acts as a jumping off point for a richer connection. Art is made with time, energy, brains, and countless unexpected external influences. It’s a very human expression of divergent thinking and the way we make associations in our minds. When people understand that, it makes art less “intimidating”, less inaccessible. It’s all just another opportunity for connection!
  4. People really like dogs. My illustrated dog prints are always a big hit, and they are the most frequently bought items in my Etsy store. People always comment on them. But surprisingly (and I’m okay with this!), no one bought any dog prints at this show. Dogs are a personal thing, I guess. Everyone wanted it to be THEIR dog.
  5. My experiences have taught me lessons that are worth passing on to other artists! For example: Finding a good way to make prints of their artwork seems to be a VERY common struggle for artists. Which company should you use? How can you ensure that the print quality is excellent? How much are you willing to PAY to have prints made? I make all my prints myself. I am so happy with my Canon Pixma printer – it is getting old now, but it does a MARVELOUS job making high quality prints that I’ve been able to sell all over the place. Sure it took a lot of trouble-shooting (and a lot of frustration!) to get the print quality just right, and I had to test a lot of different papers before I found one I liked, but I eventually established a system for making prints that I am proud of. Now, I have no problem telling people that it is worth it to invest in a printer and good paper and to take the time to learn to make prints in-house.
  6. The human digestive system is very…emotional. I had no appetite the whole day of the show, and had to force myself to eat regular meals so I wouldn’t pass out at the event. For dinner before the show, I made sure to eat the blandest of sandwiches (a tough thing, because I love me some SPICE), but I STILL got indigestion! My mom saved the night with the emergency Rolaids she found in her purse (she’s my hero). And then, of course, as soon as I got home and put on my PJ’s, I found that I was starving! It was the sweet, sweet release of tension leaving my body, and so…I celebrated with ice cream and chips 🙂
  7. I’m not the only person who needs to retreat and recharge. The day was long – set up started at 1 and the event wasn’t until 7 PM. I certainly wasn’t the only artist there who needed to take 5 minutes to sit in the car and regroup before the show.
  8. That one should not be in such haste to pack up and beat the traffic at the end of the show that one leaves important things behind. Bye-bye extension cords. Bye-bye print racks. (On the other hand, if that’s the hardest lesson I had to learn that night – not to leave stuff behind — then all-in-all, I’d say it went quite well!)
  9. And finally, I was reminded of this very humbling and mind-blowing truth: I am tremendously blessed to be in the situation that I am in. I’ve had the support of my family, my husband, and my closest friends for my entire life. No one (other than the occasional stranger) has ever tried to convince me not to pursue art. When I have my doubts, my parents and my husband are the ones who tell me to have faith and keep going. They’ve always given me the space, time, and freedom to create. They’ve been patient and understanding. They’ve helped me with projects, shows, buying materials, and growing a business. They’ve prodded me to challenge and stretch myself and to take the next step when it’s been time to do so. They’ve spread the word to others, and they’ve helped open doors. They’ve been so generous – I’ve never had to live off of government cheese or go it alone. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing this. It takes a village, as they say.

To my husband, and to my parents: I’m sorry that all I can ever do is say thank you, and that no matter how many times I say it, it will never be enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And with that, I bid you, good day. Thanks to everyone who came out to the show. It meant a lot to see you there and have your support!

Oh, and Happy September, yo.

"Hey Shorty" sunflower illustration

a sunflower sketch for September

 

 

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Learning to Honor “Creative Time” Despite a Busy Schedule

This is turning out to be a summer full of good things. Art shows, a Paul McCartney concert at Fenway Park (thus fulfilling my childhood dream of seeing a Beatle in REAL LIFE!!!), celebrations with family and friends (weddings, birthdays, togetherness, oh my!), and…(drum roll please)…buying our first house!our first home (birdhouse)

Yay! I’m SO excited about the house. We’ll start making our move over the next few weeks. Planning has been in full swing and soon it will be time to tackle the PACKING. Let’s be honest: moving, as exciting as it is, is also a lot of work. But I look forward to making this place home – a place that, over time, will undoubtedly become special as we live, work, grow and play there. We are very blessed, and I am mightily grateful, indeed.

Meanwhile, I’m also busy preparing for another exciting event: the upcoming art showcase, REVEAL. Making and matting prints, pricing everything, figuring out display and marketing logistics, gathering all my materials, writing statements…show prep ends up taking more time than one might think.

Prints for Upcoming Show

making prints

Interspersed amongst the many tasks of moving and show prepping are an upcoming wedding and a few family get-togethers. So many good things. Good things that all demand time, energy, and commitment.

So…all is well and I’m happy as a clam, right? Well…to be honest, until recently, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Well, not really overwhelmed, actually, but just sort of…dead inside. Empty. Detached. If I wasn’t feeling numb, then I was feeling anxious about my responsibilities and annoyed about having to attend to them.

Which in turn, made me feel bad because…aren’t I supposed to be happy about all these good things? How can I be so ungrateful? Not only that, but compared to other people, my load seems pretty small. Other people constantly juggle more things than this. What’s wrong with me? (blah blah, broken record, so typical)…

But! I’m feeling better now. What changed? My attitude, of course!

It occurred to me that there were 2 things in particular that were getting me down. Things that, once identified, I realized I could change:

  1. I was holding on to exceedingly high personal expectations. “I am going to be SO flawlessly prepared to showcase my artwork and impress everyone. And I’m going to get all my work done for the show before THIS weekend, so that I can focus on moving and my other commitments in the weeks following.” “I am going to ROCK this move – I will be so organized with the packing that it will be stress-free and painless. I’m going to clean our apartment so well that the landlord isn’t even going to have to clean it before the next people move in. That shower is going to glisten!” And “I’m going to be the best wife/daughter/sister/aunt/friend during all the get-togethers. I’ll be present for every single moment and full of energy, too.”
  2. I was not allowing myself any time to do CREATIVE work. In pursuit of perfectly executing the expectations listed above — preparing for the show and organizing for the move — I couldn’t justify taking time to create NEW things.  It seemed like a selfish luxury, something that should be “backburner-ed” until all the hustle has died down.

Obviously, such high expectations (issue #1) are a real trip-up. You know how, growing up, “they” always encouraged you to “do your best?” in every situation? Well, that’s always been kind of a killer. Theoretically, my best could always be better, right? I could always sacrifice more to go the extra mile…maybe forgo sleep, or dinner, or sanity. There’s simply no gauge for what “my best” really is and it’s a shaky ideal to aim for.

Once I realized I was thinking that way, I remembered something my husband has pointed out to me numerous times. If I change the focus from “doing the best” to “doing something meaningful”, it’s a lot easier to move forward. “Perfect” is not the goal. The goal is to be engaged and connected to what I am doing, to do MEANINGFUL work – work that I can feel proud of doing, for which I don’t feel ashamed claiming ownership, and work that connects me to the people and the experiences at hand.

That second issue, though — the need to honor my “creative time” — that took a little longer for me to get comfortable with. How can I justify telling people that I need to be alone this morning so that I can sketch out some fuzzy creative ideas that are dancing around in my brain? Surely, I don’t really need that.

But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that when I stop creating for a period, I begin to feel detached and dead. Over and over again, I’ve had to relearn the importance of honoring my “creative time”. It’s no small thing. A mere 30 minutes of drawing/painting/sketching can rejuvenate my sense of vitality and restore my desire to interact with the world. It’s wonderful, and it’s an easy thing to do! In the grand scheme of things — of all the strategies out there for keeping oneself afloat — it’s not a very demanding thing to do.

Even so, I had to hear it from someone else’s before I was willing to reclaim my “sacred” creative time. In the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: “Perhaps the most difficult thing for a creative individual to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness experienced when, for some reason or another, he or she cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels one’s creativity drying out; then the whole self-concept is jeopardized.” He goes on to say “When the person is working in the area of his or her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.”

YES! I know what he’s talking about! When I experience that bliss, I see things with greater clarity. My senses turn back on and I feel whole. When I feel whole, I can connect with life — I can connect with YOU — and act with more grace, conscientiousness, and intention than when I cut myself off from creative pursuits.

And now, instead of tying this all up with a nice concluding bow, I’m going to call it finished and go put my words into action by taking 20 minutes to draw before it’s time to cook dinner.

Oh, but one more thing. Grandma, if you’re reading this: hi! I love you. Just wanted to say that.

Ok, bye.

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New Website + Upcoming Art Show

Friends! My new portfolio/professional site is launched! You can click on the “portfolio” menu option on this page, and the link will take you to my portfolio site. Now you can see samples of my best work, organized by category and easy to browse through! Hooray. Check it out! Eventually I’ll synch it up better with this site, add an e-mail sign up, and work out the remaining little details, but for now, I’m happy it’s functional and easy to look at.

BIG NEWS! Last week I got a nice surprise when I was invited, out of the blue, to be a featured artist in RAW Boston’s upcoming Art showcase “REVEAL”. RAW Boston is part of RAW Artists. Here’s what their website has to say about them:

Raw is an international organization run by artists FOR artists. It’s mission is to provide independent artists within the first 10 years of their creative career with the tools, resources, and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity. Raw ventures to provide the platform for artists to be seen, heard, and loved. Their showcase events feature indie talent in visual art, film, fashion design, music, performance art, hair and makeup artistry, and photography.

On August 25th from 7-11 PM, I will be showing and selling originals and prints, alongside many other talented Boston area artists, at Mixx 360 in Malden, MA. Tickets are $20 and you can buy them here! The event will have live music and art performers, a fashion show, an art show, craft and artisan vendors, drinks, and much more. I’m excited to go and meet other young artists and to see the fruits of so much creative labor. It’s usually quite inspiring to be around passionate people who are doing what they love.

I have to thank my husband and everyone else who has been encouraging me, from the start, to keep sharing my work online and beyond. It is because of all the sharing (on Behance, Instagram, Etsy, etc.) that opportunities like this have started to arise. If you have something you’re doing that you feel is worth sharing with the world, DO it. This is a great time to be an artist.

I recently met a local photographer, the multi-talented Joey Phoenix, who is going to take photos of some of my larger work so I can get prints made for the show. While digging through my stockpiles to find the stuff I want her to shoot, I found this old gem (I’ve shared it before, but…it’s worth another share because it makes me smile):

Albrecht Durer and Renoir's Cat

It’s a remnant from college. I combined an Albrecht Dürer self-portrait and a Pierre Auguste Renoir painting to make Dürer holding a cat. I think it would make great prints, but I don’t know what the legal boundaries are on works like this, since I essentially just copied the paintings of two of history’s great masters.

I’ll admit it: more than once, in moments of self-doubt/existential crisis, I’ve considered shifting gears and focusing on painting “regal” cats. I’d build up a body of work of classical, Napoleon-esque felines looking heroic with columns and ruffled collars and all that. But someone else is already doing that, and who am I kidding, I wouldn’t be able to focus on such a small sliver of subject matter for very long.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Love to you all. I hope summer is treating you well.

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The Awkward Middle

This week, I find myself at the awkward middle point of several works in progress. I have this one acrylic painting in particular that has been driving me nuts as I try to find my way through it. I started it with great excitement, but now that I’m well on my way into the thing, I feel a little lost in the woods

work in progress

work in progress

Every project has its awkward middle point. Sometimes it’s a brief ordeal, but sometimes it lasts for months. It’s the point when the shiny exhilaration of STARTING something has worn off. You can’t really see the end point yet – and you’re not even sure if what you’re doing is going to work. When you step back to look at your progress, it looks raw and unbalanced. It’s like looking in the mirror half-way through a haircut. Or being caught mid-step, with one leg frozen in the air. It’s uncomfortable to stand that way for too long. You have to keep going or else you’ll fall over.

At this point, things can look pretty uncertain, possibly even ugly. Things aren’t going how you thought they would. It’s not the perfect picture you envisioned at the start. Instead, it has taken on a life of its own, and now you have to re-define your approach to it. You’re in uncharted territory, trying to figure out where to go next.

If you’re a perfectionist, or an all-or-nothing type of person (I constantly struggle with this), then the middle point can be quite a disappointment. There’s not much aesthetic delight in something that is half finished! It’s off-kilter, it’s incoherent, it’s vague. How do you psych yourself up to keep pushing through?

Instead of relying on the satisfaction of “finishing”, you have to rely on the satisfaction of doing. Finishing is nothing. It’s boring, it’s lack of movement. But DOING! – that is a thrill! It’s the gratification you get from facing a challenge, day after day. It’s the joy of letting yourself be curious about where this thing is leading you. Dress yourself up for adventure so that it’s a pleasure, not a fright, to find yourself in the awkward middle ground.

In fact, maybe the middle point isn’t so awkward at all. Maybe it’s the perfectly natural place to be. I mean, we spend most of our lives in the middle space, right? We’re growing up, but we’re never done growing. We’re learning, but there’s always more to know. We’re married, but our relationship is still a work in progress. We’re done for today, but we’re going to have to get up again tomorrow…

So, alright, alright…I’ll keep working, bit by bit, on this painting that has me feeling so stuck. I’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to learn.

And in the meantime, here are some things I DID finish this week (though even with these, there’s no feeling of “being finished” because with every design I make, there’s a bazillion more I want to do next…):

strawberry pattern

Strawberry surface pattern design for fabric, wallpaper, etc.

"Robot Guts" surface pattern

“Robot Guts” surface pattern

watermelon surface pattern design. (My what a trendy shirt this would make!)

watermelon surface pattern design. (My what a trendy shirt this would make!)

As always, THANKS for stopping by! Have you found yourself feeling awkward in the middle ground lately?

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Throw Doubt Away: You ARE an Artist.

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

I spend too much time feeling like I’m not a real artist because I don’t churn out amazing work every day. Often, the end of the week comes and I feel distraught over how seemingly little progress I’ve made on my paintings. There are days that I don’t get to paint much at all — where I have to try to take satisfaction in a doodle during breakfast because the rest of the day will be filled with the not-so-thrilling busywork of framing, matting, scanning, and e-mailing.

I begin most days wondering “is today the day that it’s all going to click? If I run fast enough, will I finally fit everything in?” I chase the crushing ideal of a daily routine that is perfectly balanced and productive — where I effortlessly manage my time so that the painting, marketing, networking, practicing, learning, writing, documenting, planning, and accounting all get done…with time to spare for life’s other demands like exercise, eating, relationships, sleep and leisure.

It’s a fantasy that sets me up for disappointment, and it robs me of the joy that comes from what I DO get to work on each day.

Why is it that I can have several paintings that I’m working on, a solo show that I’m getting ready for, and my work hanging in the homes of strangers, and STILL feel like I’m not an artist? If a friend told me this, I’d call her out for talking nonsense.

The only way I’m ever going to feel like an artist is if I decide to call myself one, and choose to own it despite my niggling self-doubt.

So I’m choosing that now. Next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll tell them the same thing I’ve been saying for years: “I’m an artist”. But instead of looking at the floor and brushing it off as if I’m only half- serious, I’ll be sure to stand tall, look them in the eye, and say it with pride.

Because you know what? I AM proud. And I’m not going to downplay how happy I am that I get to do this work.

(A special thanks to Lisa Congdon whose fantastic blog post inspired me to “own it”).

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“Fantastical Beasts of Myth and Legend.” Plus, 7 Helpful Things for Artists and Humans.

So…this happened:

Fantastical Beasts of Myth and Legend

Seeking to revitalize my brain — which was feeling “cottony” after several days spent preparing pieces for upcoming shows, putting together a new website (which will be done, eventually…), and working on my latest acrylic painting — I took a paintbrush and dabbed a few blobs of watercolor on a page.

I intended to turn those blobs into cats. (Shocking, I know).

But of course, my plan was foiled. That yellow blob up in the top right corner insisted on becoming a stegosaurus, so the cat idea went out the window. Then that red thing became a unicorn butt. Before I knew it, a dim-witted dragon joined the fun, followed by an oh-so-cheery kraken of the sea . And then — holy moly! — there was Donald Trump.

Mer-Trump, to be exact.

Thereby demonstrating that creativity, like politics, is never a straightforward process.

In other news! Here are 7 things that I found helpful this week:

  1. This podcast Episode from Danielle Krysa over at the Jealous Curator, in which she interviews artist Aris Moore. Particularly helpful was Aris’s reminder that drawing is a worthy art form (painting isn’t the only “fine art”!), her observation that “To have people respond to what you’re doing is such a gift”, and her discussion with Danielle about how vulnerable we make ourselves when we share our artwork. “It’s such a sensitive thing to do, to put your work out there. Everything you make, it’s like the first time you’ve made it. You’ve never made it before. So you’re putting out something new, and something that you’re not sure of, ” says Aris, to which Kristina adds “You’re exposing your heart to the world and hoping that they do the best with it.” It’s so nice to know that other artists feel this way, too, and to feel strengthened by their resolve to SHARE THEIR WORK anyway.
  2. This article, from Carrie Lewis at the Empty Easel, titled “Advice for Artists Thinking About Giving Up”, in which she reminds us that it’s normal to feel like quitting sometimes, and that the feeling will pass. In the meantime, don’t make any rash decisions. Just because art never becomes “easy” doesn’t mean you should give it up. “Almost every one of the hundreds of paintings and drawings I’ve finished over the years has reached a crisis at some point. Either I messed something up, needed to make major changes halfway through, or simply got tired of it. Whatever the cause, the result was always the same: I wanted to quit! Of course, I didn’t…”
  3. These two artists I fell in love with on Saatchi this week: Lia Porto and Julie Hendriks
  4. Melissa Camara-Wilkins‘s recent blog post “Why You Aren’t Writing”, about overcoming the obstacles that keep you from writing/creating. “You’re worried that someone else is already doing the thing you want to do,” she says. “This is a real thing. Someone else already wrote it or did it or said it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t…no one else can write it from your perspective. You know who you are, and you know what makes you different. That’s what we’re listening for. Write from the place that makes you, you. Write with your own voice, from your own experience, and help us see ourselves in your words. If you have something to say, it matters.” (obviously, this applies to the visual arts, too).
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert‘s quote (from Big Magic – READ THIS BOOK!) about taking action instead of waiting around for “inspiration” to strike: “…any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because Inspiration will always be drawn to motion.” 
  6. It’s rhubarb season! Strawberry rhubarb compote, anyone?
  7. Warm weather (finally!) and being able to have the windows open. Happy bird songs make the BEST background sound for painting.

 

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The Art of Spring, the Art of Winter

“Every Spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” – Ellis Peters

Iris (Dragon tail)

“Dragon tail Iris”, watercolor, 2011 (incidentally, a winter project)

So true. Year after year, winter gives way to tulips, violets, irises, dandelions… and it fills me with delight and wonder. The grass turns green and my energy is restored. Long days, bright colors…each year, it’s a reliable and welcome source of joy.

Winter has its inspirations, too, but they require more effort to find. Much energy goes into keeping a positive attitude, and I have to pump myself up to go forth and seek ideas that engage me. It takes a lot of work to gain and maintain the momentum needed to get simple things done. And it takes even MORE work to hold onto a sense of purpose about what I’m doing. The energy required to get up and seek inspiration comes at a cost, leaving little behind when it comes time to put those ideas to action.

But I’m human, with a brain and a knack for adapting, so I’ve figured out how to deal with winter, and it’s enjoyable in its own, temporary way. I’ve found it to be an optimal time for doing slow, obsessive projects that require most of their planning upfront (like the Bittersweet paintings). I put effort into finding an idea that excites me, and then lay out the parameters before beginning. I make the big decisions beforehand, and I take care to outline a satisfying, doable trajectory. This way, I only have to rely on “feeling inspired” at the beginning, when the idea takes root. Once it’s set in motion, I can then rely on the more predictable appeal of hard work to see it through. I wake up each morning knowing I have something to work on, and knowing HOW to work on it. What inspires me in the winter, then, are things that are meticulous, detailed, and that will expand my technical mastery. During these times, the joy of creating relies heavily on the satisfaction of physically doing the work — of engaging with the materials and obsessing over the details – and of falling into a comfortable harmony with a world that seems quiet and still.

But something shifts in spring. Nature is less stingy, and inspiration literally grows on trees. Unlike Winter, Spring heaps energy onto my plate like a grandma feeding pork chops to her grandsons. It gives, and gives abundantly. Suddenly, I’m awash in life and meaning, and it’s begging to be expressed.

It’s not just the flowers that sweep me off my feet. It’s the change in daylight, the singing birds, the nostalgic smell of warm asphalt and mulch, and the re-emergence of my neighbors from their winter dens. I don’t have to scrunch up to keep warm. There is no bracing myself against the biting wind or staring at the ground to protect my eyes from the sun’s harsh angle. Now I can expand, breathe, and let myself feel my body as the sun warms my cheeks and the wind knots my hair. That reconnection to body and earth reminds me that I’m a part of this beautiful universe, and it is from that that my sense of purpose is re-awakened. Life matters, moments are beautiful, memories are precious…etc. All of this fuels my creative drive, amplifying the persistent need to “capture” and express these bountiful moments so that others may feel the goodness I’m feeling, too.

But of course, this comes with its own challenges. Because now I’m FULL of energy and ideas and purpose, but it will scatter all over the place if I don’t take some measures control it. Then I’ll end up good and tan, with lots of dirt on my bare feet, but winter will come and I’ll have gotten nothing done.

So usually, things go like this: For one week, I let myself frolic, untethered, through the creative whirlwind (and pollen induced blur) that arises during those first days of TRUE spring—those days when nature comes back to life and I can walk outside without a jacket. My imagination goes wild and I usually don’t sleep much because I’m on a roll brainstorming about the nine million projects I’d like to undertake.

I become like a hummingbird that can’t stop flying because it has to keep finding more delicious flowers to drink from so it can sustain its crazy metabolism. Only, instead of nectar, I’m drinking inspirational fodder, which I need to sustain my hungry creativity. I let myself flit around, delighting in my ideas, stockpiling energy and inspiration. I write long lists of potential projects in my notebooks. I take a lot of ugly reference photos. I write down specific feelings, thoughts, and words that will help me remember. Though I create very little, it feels very productive.

I don’t hold back and I don’t take the season’s change for granted. It is a welcome restoration to what feels like my more natural state: that state in which my zest for life drives me to explore my curiosities and try to recreate them on the page. (I say it feels like my “natural” state because when I’m in it, I feel like I’m thriving. It seems to contribute to my well-being somehow). For that precious week, I indulge my exuberance. And then I try to settle down and get back into a work routine.

My cache of ideas, gathered in that first burst of Spring excitement, becomes a sustainable energy source. This makes it easier to maintain a productive routine. I go to bed and wake up excited about my projects. I cherish my routine because it moves me daily, bit by bit, down the list of projects I have in my head.  Of course I know I won’t be able get to ALL the ideas on my list, not in one season or in one lifetime. But that is a WONDERFUL motivator because it means I’ll always have something to do. There will always be a reason to keep trying, another carrot dangling before me. Life won’t get dull unless I decide to stop listening to my curiosity and creativity (which, in all likelihood, seems impossible since these things are inherent to being HUMAN). This is an excellent incentive to take care of myself and to honor my days, because I want to keep having that creative experience of seeing beauty and getting lost in it.

Thanks goodness Spring will come again next year, and with it, more ideas and energy. With such knowledge, I can buzz forth, landing on the flowers that catch my eye, relishing the freedom of Spring’s abundant generosity. I’m free from worrying too much about “keeping up with my ideas” because there will always be enough. Yes, as long as the years keep turning, there will be enough.

(What are these lists of new project ideas, you ask? I guess you’ll have to keep coming back to see!)

Iris (Dragon Tail) framed(One last thing: Thank you for reading this. I fear that my posts may be beginning to sound redundant. Certainly I’ve written about spring before. But each year, I learn and grow so much, and as I come to understand myself more, life becomes better and better, artistically and otherwise. I hope you know that I only share these personal insights because I think they might be helpful to you on your own path, not because I love to talk about myself. I think we all benefit from seeing how other people pursue a meaningful life, and I’m just as interested to know how YOU do it! So if you can relate at all, to the change in seasons, or anything else I said, please DO share in the comments below!)

 

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