Painting the Colors of a White Wall

I love color. It consumes me…it fills me…it overwhelms me. It stirs up feelings so big that I have to DO something with them or else I’ll explode.

So I paint.  With brush in hand, I immerse myself in all the delicious ways that colors layer and pool together, creating texture, shadow, and form.  The longer I look at something, the more colors I see. If I’m not careful, I “overwork” my paintings. (Hence the friendly reminders I scribble in the margins as I’m working – things like “DON’T OVERWORK IT, FOOL!” and “KEEP IT CLEAN, KID!”).

Last year, my mom sent me a photo she took of cracked and flaking paint on the side of an old building. (That Momma of mine has a keen eye for beautiful things hidden in plain sight). The colors in the shadows and exposed woodgrain were shockingly rich and abundant. I knew immediately that I had to make a painting of it.

Thus began the delightful and painstaking endeavor to paint paint, and now, months later, I’m finally ready to call it done. I started the painting last summer but got interrupted when we moved and then lost my momentum with it. Then life got all crazy (like it does  sometimes) and I didn’t want to touch it for a long time, so I hid it in a drawer and made a bunch of other things instead.

But good ideas don’t just go away. They don’t like being abandoned before they’ve had their say. They put up a fight and nag at you from the backseat of your brain. Keep you up at night. Refuse to back down.

So eventually I pulled the painting out of its drawer and looked at it with fresh eyes. (Things look better after you walk away from them for a while. That’s the wonderful gift of perspective!). When I realized how close it was to being a finished piece, I mustered up my courage, added a few more shadows, and voila! Here it is:realistic watercolor painting of cracked, flaking houseplant by Jacque Oman Clinton

Who know a white wall could be so colorful?! Oh, World, you never cease to amaze me.

 

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“Sarge”: Custom Illustrated Dog Book in PRINT! + A Quote for New Years

And so a new year has begun. Before I get carried away sharing my new projects that are already in full swing, I figured I better show you the things I was working on in December, first.

Perhaps you remember the book I said I was working on — the illustrated story about Sarge the farm dog? Here’s how it turned out!

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton

cover

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton

first pages

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton about a farmer and his dog

random middle pages

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton about a farmer and his dog

more random middle pages

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton about a farmer and his dog

more random middle pages

custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton about a farmer and his dog

last pages

I used blurb.com for the printing, and I’m really happy with how it turned out! Their design software is easy to use and the website is informative, helpful, and full of options. (I highly recommend them if you’re ever looking to self-publish or print-on-demand). Best of all, I can order more copies whenever I want (so if you’re interested in buying one (or commissioning your own personalized book), let me know!).

EDIT: Enough people expressed interest in buying the book that I’ve put it up for sale here: http://www.blurb.com/b/7576769-sarge

Then there was this watercolor portrait I was asked to do:Commissioned Wedding portrait painted in watercolor by Jacque Oman Clinton

The above projects, plus a few orders for prints on Etsy, kept me plenty busy right up until Christmas. Then I spent the holiday week celebrating with family, relaxing with my husband, and enjoying the well-earned freedom of not needing to be “productive” (all while trying to recover from a germ that just WON’T go away). There was some re-watching of the Lord of the Rings, and a wee bit of jigsaw puzzle-ing, but mostly, there was the glorious luxury of sitting around in sweatpants, watching birds at the feeder, and doodling freely in my sketchbook for no purpose other than the sheer joy of it. Sigh…it was great.

bird blob doodle from sketchbook of Jacque Oman Clinton

bird blobs from sketchbook

And now I shall conclude with a bit of insight I picked up from author Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Though specifically aimed at writers, the following quote is helpful to all of us who are…you know…trying to live a life. May it give you the courage to face a new year and the many unknowns that lie ahead:

“E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

Nice, right? Whatever you may hope to accomplish in 2017, just remember…you don’t have to have it ALL planned out. Sometimes you just have to point yourself in the right direction and start moving, one day — one step — at a time.

So buckle up! 2017, here we come!custom made illustrated story book by Jacque Oman Clinton about a farmer and his dog

 

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The Election, Existential Art Questions, & Great Horned Owls

Since the election back in November, I’ve found myself struggling to come up with things to say here on the blog. Not because I don’t have things to talk about, and certainly not because I don’t have artwork to show, but because I’ve been feeling very self-conscious about making myself “heard”. The election and its aftermath forced me to confront certain realities that I had hitherto been ignoring in order to play around in my idealistic tree house in the clouds, and to be honest, it left me feeling like a deflated pompous fool.

It was like the world was shouting: “HELLO! WAKE UP, KID! Did you know that people living in the USA are unhappy enough that they are willing to put THIS GUY in charge, even after all the hurtful, discriminatory, and blatantly untruthful things he has said?”

Oh! Clearly I’ve been missing something. Clearly I’ve been living in a bubble.

I am guilty of making great and incorrect assumptions about how other people think and feel. Here on this blog, I’ve been trying to offer pithy little bits of wisdom about life – things that I’ve discovered through making art every day that seem to apply to things beyond art-making itself. I’ve been trying to articulate my belief that you, too, can learn valuable and enriching things about life, yourself, and everything in between, just by being mindful and engaged with what you do.  I’ve been trying to spread excitement…to infect you with curiosity and creative joy. But what does any of this even mean?!

“Mindfulness?” “Creative Living?” Meticulous drawings of CANDY CORN?! Art?! What planet am I living on?

That’s the voice that has been popping into my head each week whenever I’ve sat down to write a blog post.

I felt afraid that all of this was just a selfish exploitation of my “privilege” – an insensitive and frivolous pursuit that makes a mockery of real issues like trying to earn enough money for food or suffering under systematic racial oppression. I didn’t want to rock the boat by suggesting that art is important and worthwhile. I didn’t want to somehow insult you with my small thoughts and mental struggles. I didn’t want to say things in a public space that could be used against me some day, or say things with confidence now that I might change my mind about later (as one is apt to do as one grows and learns). I didn’t want to add to the opinionated noise that clogs up the internet and gets blown out of context and makes fools of us all.

But then, while flipping through Danny Gregory’s book: “An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators, and Designers”, I found a few passages that brought me peace of mind and re-established my belief that art is necessary.

First, while talking about sketchbooks and artist’s journals, Gregory says this:

“The pages unfold like a story, a journey, a life. Each of the books is a slender slice of a life…as you turn the pages, you feel the time pass. You see moments being recorded in sequence. You see ideas unfold and deepen. You see risks, mistakes, regrets, thoughts, lessons, dreams, all set down in ink for posterity…”

Then he goes on to point out the effect sketching has on the artist’s own life. Life is

 “enriched by living in the moment instead of doing sudoku, contemplating the world as it passes—even if it is serving up just a glimpse of a Kmart parking lot or a slumbering night-shift worker.”

And then, talking about his own reasons for keeping an art journal, he says this:

“I just draw the things around me that count…mundane stuff that I used to pass blithely by every day until I stopped to notice what my life was made up of, the blessings I need to count to give myself meaning.”

And that’s it, right there. Art shows us life, helps us make contact with it. It gives glimpses of our humanness, our journey. It helps us to pay attention, to focus on things we care about. It is personal but it is also universal. It’s not a waste of time. It’s in our blood.

So I’m here, to keep doing what I do and to keep sharing my stuff. It’s what I can do to add to this grand tapestry of human history, culture, and collective experience. Art is how I connect and communicate, and I can’t live without it. Plus, it brings me joy, and joy is worth sharing, right? Goodness knows I like seeing OTHER people’s art and experiences and journeys through life…

Blah blah, okay, I know. Enough already, where’s the art? I’m getting to it! Geez.

In the spirit of cherishing the gifts of the present moment, I give you this:

watercolor and ink illustration of a great horned owl by Jacque Oman Clinton

“Great Horned Owl”

because the sun just set a moment ago and now I can hear two Great Horned Owls hooting in the backyard. (Backstory: I first heard them on Sunday evening when I was taking out the trash. Later that night, as I lay in bed, I kept thinking about how grateful I was for owls to serenade me and make taking out the trash seem like a magical treat. The next morning I woke up figuring I better document my owl “sighting” (even though I didn’t actually see them) in my sketchbook. You know, for “posterity”. But things got a little unscientific somewhere along the way…and I ended up with this.)

watercolor and ink illustration of a great horned owl by Jacque Oman Clinton

 

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Fall Fashion: Sweater Vests…FOR BIRDS! (An Illustration)

It’s that time of year when the birds start to look a little…chilly.

Poor guys. I see them in the morning, all fluffed up and huddled together on the telephone wires. Their jabbering fills the frosty air while I sit indoors, drinking my coffee, feeling cozy and warm.

If I was a better knitter, I’d knit tiny sweaters for them all.

"Fall Fashion Line: Sweater Vests for Sparrows" illustration of birds on telephone wires wearing sweaters, by Jacque Oman Clinton. So Cute!

“Fall Fashion Line: Sweater Vests for Sparrows”, ink and watercolor, 2016

That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for stopping by! Have a great weekend, my chickadees.

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The Button Jar

ink and watercolor button illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton

“Buttons”, ink and watercolor

4 years ago, my husband and I — newly engaged at the time — received an early wedding present from a friend. This friend (a true gentleman and scholar) was about to leave for Liberia on a Peace Corps mission and wasn’t going to make it to our wedding. In a grand gesture of heartfelt congratulations, he gave us one of the greatest gifts ever. He gave us…

…the button jar.The Button Jar

Brace yourselves, you know what’s coming: metaphors. Oh how I love them!

Man, oh man, the button jar is great. Who can resist a collection of colorful round things?! But it’s more than just a shiny vessel of visual delight. It has become, in my mind, a symbol of home. Of OUR home — my husband’s and mine — and the life that we are building together.

It’s a jar of buttons, but it’s also a jar of memories. Some are small, some are big. Each one is colorful in its own poignant way.

It’s a jar of possibilities and hope. There are many ways one could use those buttons — it’s a jar full of potential! It’s like our future and all the adventures ahead.  It’s filled with unknown and wonderful things that will make us stronger and bring us closer.

It’s a jar filled with all the tiny, special moments — from the mundane to the spectacular — that accumulate, day after day, year after year, and make this a truly blessed life.

I bring this up now because, since moving into our first HOUSE, it seems like we’ve been adding a lot of button moments to our jar. It’s been a new and exciting adventure, and it’s fun tackling this “home owning” thing together. There are buttons for the peaceful nights that we’ve plunked down, exhausted, on the couch and listened to the crickets chirping through the open windows. There’s a button for the afternoon that we dismantled the clothes dryer, and one or two buttons for the almost daily trips to Home Depot. There are buttons for the lights that don’t work yet and buttons for the neighbor’s dogs. There are lots of buttons, so I won’t list them all.

I made the ink and watercolor drawing above (which I’ll turn into a print and put on Etsy as soon as I unearth all my printing supplies from the chaos that is my unfinished new studio) simply because the buttons were colorful and cute. They were calling out to me amidst the disorder of half-unpacked boxes and post-moving clutter, begging me to draw them. In retrospect, of course, I see that, like most other things I make, this is a documentary drawing, helping chronicle my life.

Yes, life. Ain’t it great?

It sure is. Bye!

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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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Looking for Rainbows

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter

A rainbow landed on my painting

A rainbow landed on my painting

work in progress - watercolor "chipped paint" painting (nothing like painting paint!)

work in progress – watercolor “chipped paint” painting (nothing like painting paint!)

I saw a lot of rainbows this week – both indoors and outdoors. They came from rainstorms, sprinklers, and window prisms, and each was a welcome gift of hope and joy. The more I payed attention and looked for rainbows, the more I saw them.

A lot of things in life seem to work like that — you see what you choose to see. So why not choose to see rainbows?

Sometimes, at the end of a rainbow, you find a pot of gold. And sometimes you don't. But it's still a rainbow, and that's the real treasure, anyway.

Sometimes, at the end of a rainbow, you find a pot of gold. And sometimes you don’t. But it’s still a rainbow, and that’s the real treasure, anyway.

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Solo Show at TWK in Winchester, MA

Ruffled Iris Watercolor PaintingHello, friends! I’m excited to announce that 14 of my floral/nature watercolors are currently showing at TWK (The Waterfield Kitchen), a restaurant in lovely Winchester, MA. I went there on Tuesday to hang my work and see the space. They have an awesome looking bar and menu, so even if you don’t care about buying my artwork (*ahem), you should still go there sometime! They, along with the entire family of Serenitee restaurants, are big supporters of the arts and regularly feature the work of talented locals on their walls. While I was there, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the paintings that were showing before mine went up — work by the very skilled Deanna Jacome. I love her earthy, rich color palette and the way she makes marks on the canvas. In addition to painting, she also does Turkish marbling (SO COOL!) and makes flower crowns. Check out her shop if you want to buy her handmade journals and sketchbooks, dreamcatchers, floral crowns, or original works of art! Very, very impressive.

Bittersweet 3 DisplayAnywayyyyy…my work will be up for the next month or two and I hope you’ll drive out there to check it out!IMG_1737 Fall Leaves watercolor

Thanks to Creative Salem for putting this together, and to another local artist, Ed Schutte, for helping me get connected to them! I am so thankful for the art-loving environment that I’ve stumbled into since moving up here to Massachusetts. It’s energizing to live in such a supportive community! (And amazing to see so much good work being made by other artists in this part of the world).IMG_3061 IMG_1740

art on display

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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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Birdhouse City! Avian Real Estate Illustration

If you were a bird, what kind of house would you live in? I have a fine teapot available…
Birdhouses

Or perhaps you’d be an owl and live in a cactus?

It’s spring, and the birds are singing. Enjoy your weekend, friends.

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