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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Holiday Commissions, Who-Hash (yes, from the Grinch), and Learning to Like Dogs

December always gets busy with Christmas commissions. Commissions that, more often than not, involve DOGS.

Whenever I get hired to paint someone’s dog, I like to be a pest and whine to my husband about how much I dislike dogs. I say things like “This is the last dog drawing I’m ever going to do. I’m serious!” and “Why doesn’t anyone ever want me to paint LEMURS?” Then, a few months go by…and another person requests a dog picture…and I do it all over again.

But this year…THIS year…my December project isn’t just ONE picture of a dog.

It’s a whole BOOK. A book about a man and his dog, which will be given to said man (and his dog) as a Christmas gift.

And honestly? I’m having a blast. All you dogs that are reading this right now: rejoice! This project has redeemed you in my eyes. I’m like the Grinch, whose heart grew 3 sizes –not because the Who’s in Whoville shared their Who hash with me –but because after drawing 18 illustrations of Sarge the English Setter, I’ve just given in. You’re okay, dogs. You’re okay.

Anyway, here’s the most recent page I just finished for the book. In this scene, Peter the farmer is hauling Sarge up the steps to go for a ride in his tractor:

Pen and ink illustration of a farmer and his dog getting ready for a ride in the tractor by artist/illustrator Jacque Oman Clinton

(A green shirt on a green background, what was I thinking?!)

Pen and Ink illustration of a farmer and his dog getting ready to ride in the tractor, by artist/illustrator Jacque Oman Clinton

(mmm, that’s better)

Happy December, all you dog-loving fiends.

 

 

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Friday Smiles

It’s easy to find things to complain about. Just read the news (or, if you don’t mind the liberal use of profanity, ask John Oliver). With so much serious stuff going on in the world, a person could almost feel guilty for being content with anything. You don’t want to seem culturally insensitive (or give the impression that you’re uninformed) by being light of heart.

But I’ve always had a rebellious streak in me (maybe that’s why, after the election, I cut off all my hair. And why I now allow myself to put on sweatpants as early as 7PM instead of waiting until 9! Oh wait, maybe that’s just laziness…). These days, what better way to rebel than by finding things to smile about, amidst and despite the somber realities of an uncertain and volatile world?

After all, just because something is easy, doesn’t mean it’s what you should do. It’s easy to complain, but it’s MORE FUN to LAUGH!

So, blah-dee-blah and without further ado, I give you…

5 Things to make you smile:

  1. If you’re bummed about having to rake leaves, may I suggest that you pretend your rake is a comb and that you’re brushing the fur of a giant, sleeping beast. It adds an element of adventure to the task.
  2. Speaking of beasts…I can hear my cat snoring all the way from the other side of the house…
  3. Speaking of cats, the other day, I looked out the kitchen window and witnessed my neighbors’ tiny dog take a running start, fly across the yard, and leap adoringly upon the gray cat that was meditating calmly under a tree. The cat just stood his ground, like a real champ. Cats > dogs, always.
  4. Speaking of dogs…here’s one (or is it a sausage?):puppy illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton for an upcoming children's book
  5. Oh look, another one!:
retro style dog illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton

(While working on a commissioned dog project, I got inspired to try some “retro” style illustrations after checking out the classic children’s books by P. D. Eastman)

Don’t like my 5 things worth smiling about? Then go forth and find your own! I dare you. No, I DOUBLE DOG dare you! (Ooo, see what I did there?!)

Okay, bye 🙂

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The Candy Corn Saga

candy cornCandy corn has been on my list of things to draw for quite some time. Every fall I buy a bag, take it home, pour it into a glass bowl, and just…look at it. It’s colorful, repetitive, roundish. It’s oh so cute and ridiculous. I play with it. I hold it. If someone asks, I even share it.

candy corn flower

candy corn weaving

I have no profound things to say about candy corn, no grand meditations or metaphors to overanalyze. I just think it’s visually compelling. And I don’t believe that it’s edible — it smells nice, but you probably won’t find me lurking in the kitchen, munching on the stuff. (It’s a bit too “candle-y” for my tastes). But like beads, gems, snowflakes, and cable knit sweaters, it delights my little eyeballs. And it comes in such mass quantities!

Well, this year, I finally got around to doodling it.candy corn doodles

Or, er…I MEANT to just doodle it.

But, as often happens with art projects, it took on a life of its own. With a few blobs of watercolor here and a couple pen-marks there, a certain trajectory was established. Choices were made, and there was no turning back.

And so I traveled on a journey:img_2068 img_2107 img_2133
img_2141 img_2149 img_2180

And ultimately ended up here:ink and watercolor candy corn illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton
And now I think I’m done with candy corn. For a long, long time.

🙂

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Upcoming Art Event: “REVEAL” August 25th

Busy busy busy. Packing, moving (Saturday is the big day! New house, here we come!), and getting ready for next week’s RAW Boston art show, “REVEAL”. You can still buy tickets! Click the link above to buy directly through my artist page. Even if you can’t attend, you can still show your support by buying a ticket anyway. The funds will directly support me and my participation in the show.

I finished up making all my prints for the show this week. There will be some excellent ones for perusal and purchase 🙂

And now, though I’d love to something insightful or funny, I must instead close up shop for today and go to bed. Packing is laborious, moving is a marathon, and I need to get enough sleep if I want to avoid burning out before it’s all done.

Here’s some pictures from the past week, at least:

Seagull print for "REVEAL"

Seagull print for “REVEAL”

more prints for "REVEAL"

more prints for “REVEAL”

breakfast doodle experiments of quilt-like ideas...

breakfast doodle experiments of quilt-like ideas…

quilt sketch close up

quilt sketch close up

Looking forward to writing more involved posts (AND MAKING NEW ARTWORK!!!) once all the busyness has died down! All the same, thanks for stopping by.

 

 

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Surrounded by surface patterns

I haven’t been sleeping too well lately (boo hoo, complain complain). I can’t stop thinking about surface pattern design!

Now, I’ve only just started to dip my toes into this bottomless ocean that is pattern design. I have a lot of room to grow (to put it gently). Right now I’m just letting myself play — figuring out how repeats work, testing out my different tools/mediums, and getting familiar with the parameters of design. Learning, learning, learning. Which, of course, takes time…

…but all the while (day and night) I can’t stop brainstorming ideas! Patterns, my friends, are taking over.

My imagination is racing, turning everything I see into motifs I could use for future patterns. Designers, I’ve learned, call this “building your design library”. Everything is a novelty print waiting to be made, and I can’t stop myself from “pattern-izing” things, from the contents of my refrigerator to the the birds squawking outside.  It’s a fun time (if only I could turn it off at night).

building my design library

(building my design library)

Then, to add fuel to the fire, there is this lovely detail: I’m already surrounded by surface pattern designs! Honestly, have you ever noticed how much art is in your life? Designers have decorated everything — their patterns lurk in every corner, waiting to inspire you.

For example:

(From L to right, starting at top: wrapping paper, toilet paper, my "fungi frock", our bedspread (w/ Ducky the cat), my Christmas boxers (I use these as PJ's), a Bacardi box, a tissue box, the futon cover, and my purse)

(From L to R, starting at top: wrapping paper, toilet paper, my “fungi frock”, our bedspread (w/ Ducky the cat), my Christmas boxers (I use these as PJ’s), a Bacardi box, a tissue box, the futon cover, and my purse. All covered in patterns!)

Needless to say, I’m having a good time exploring this new creative realm, and I’m excited about what I’m learning. I do hope, though, that my body will adjust to this surge in adrenaline and figure out how to sleep at night. (Yeah, if you could get on that, Body, that would be great. Thanks.)

To conclude, here are some of my latest creations:

"Ants and Melons"

“Ants and Melons”

And my 4th of July patterns (in case you missed them on Instagram last weekend):Red White and Blue

(hand drawn scallops/lace)

(hand drawn scallops/lace)

Melting Rocket Popsicles.

Melting Rocket Popsicles.

That’s it, folks! Thanks for stopping by.

 

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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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Creativity, Works in Progress, and How to Handle Fear.

The “essential effort” of artists “is to catapult themselves wholly, without holding back one bit, into a course of action without having any idea where they will end up.” – Anne Truitt, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist

This is a watercolor painting of some tangled bittersweet branches that I’ve been slowly working on for several weeks now. It’s still a work in progress, as you can see.

Watercolor Bittersweet, Work in ProgressBittersweet Watercolor, Work in Progress

The going has been slow, due to starts and stops along the way. Once, I had to put it on pause so that I could finish up the commissioned wedding stationary I shared a few weeks ago (and I’m not complaining! It was a great project). Then, when some oral surgery left me surprisingly wiped out, I took another little break. And yet another time, my momentum was interrupted by a spontaneous and much-needed trip to Arizona (again, no complaints!).

But more than once, I stopped because of Creativity’s pesky little companion: Fear.

Fear is an inevitable part of making art, brought on by the inherent unknowns that characterize the process of creation. And, with the exception of brain damage and other physiological malfunctions, it is basically impossible to eradicate it. As artists, though, we can’t make progress unless we learn to accept that Fear is there and to learn to do our work regardless of it.

There are already many things trying to steal time from our projects: Appointments, trips, holidays, social obligations, chores, headaches…etc. So why on earth do we let internal obstacles get in the way as well?  Well, I suppose it’s because Fear is good at making himself seem big. He’s crafty. He knows how to make compelling arguments that strike close to home. What are we to do?

It helps to understand that it’s all just rhetoric. Fear starts chattering the moment we face a new project:

I don’t know how this is going to turn out. Will this even work? What if it’s a waste of time?

And he keeps it up at each step along the way:

Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? What if I mess up and everyone hates it? Maybe I should stop before I invest too much time in a failure…

Fear will do anything to get us off track. He starts with the basics, telling us how dumb our ideas are and pointing out how unqualified we are for the job. He tells us we’re too tired and too sore to spend another day at the easel. He measures us up against all of the other artists whose work is better than ours.

Then he gets existential. He tells us that it’s not our art that stinks, it’s us. Period. And then he goes on to suggest that perhaps art is pointless altogether, and that our pursuits contribute nothing to the world. “Other people are doctors, doing surgeries and saving lives. And you’re painting twigs?!” He said to me the other day. He reminds us, untruthfully, that everyone must surely be watching and waiting for us to FINALLY DO SOMETHING AMAZING with our lives…that it’s our last chance to prove our worth before ….something terrible happens.

I’ve even heard Fear go so far as to suggest “Kid, if you mess up this painting, it’ll mortally wound everyone you love.” WHAT?! C’mon Fear, that’s going too far.

Yes, thankfully, when Fear reaches that point, its pretty easy to call his bluff. (I mean, even I can see how irrational it is to suggest that an erroneous mark will cause the death of millions). But what do we do then, once we recognize what’s going on?

For starters, we seek the community of fellow creators, both living and dead. It’s helpful to know that other people have been there, too. I’m reading Anne Truitt’s Daybook: The Journal of an Artist right now, and every page makes me feel connected to other artists throughout time. “For me,” Truitt says, “this process is mysterious. It’s like not knowing where you’re going but knowing how to get there.” I read this, and I feel understood, strengthened, and soothed. Hearing other artists share their thoughts about fear makes it feel less personal, which diminishes its power to paralyze.  Go to the library and borrow a book, read an artist’s blog (ahem), or go to a museum. Join a local artist community. Any of this will help bring clarity to our thoughts and foster the determination needed to continue working.

Because ultimately, the only REAL solution to the stagnation of fear is just that: to get to work. “No excuses, no explanations” my mom likes to say, borrowing a quote from Julia Child. And she’s absolutely right (as mothers often are). Fear will make excuses until he’s blue in the face, offering millions of reasons why we can’t get to work. He’ll demand that we explain ourselves, that we rationalize why our ideas are worth the effort. But meh, whatever. It gets to be an old story, eventually.

So yes, Fear will greet me, day after day, but I won’t let it freeze me. We’ve developed a working relationship, Fear and I, just like author Elizabeth Gilbert did (see her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear). Nowadays, in my ripe old age of __ (fill in the blank), I tell Fear this: “Thanks for sharing your thoughts, but I’ve got work to do.” And then I get to work as soon as possible, before he starts talking too loud. I don’t worry that ignoring Fear will hurt his feelings, because I know he’s not going anywhere anyway. He’ll be around for the next project, and the next, and the next, which is why I might as well teach him his proper place in this relationship. His proper place is over there, in the corner, where he can talk and talk forever. Because I’m not listening anymore, anyway.

 

 

 

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