Bumblebee Cats and Secret Languages

ink and watercolor illustration of bumblebee tabby cats and clovers - by Jacque Oman ClintonIt’s funny, the language that develops between two people in a relationship. Through time and togetherness, we come to share and redefine certain words, images, and phrases. We inadvertently create a secret code that expresses the nuanced, intimate things that only the two of us could ever understand.

Many a dinner conversation has demonstrated this. On the rare occasion when it’s just my parents and I, things usually go as follows: Mom and I hijack the conversation and begin bantering away in our secret language, laughing and brainstorming until my dad eventually asks “Whaaat??” Then Mom and I smirk at each other and say “Nothing!” in unison as we give each other knowing looks and stifle more laughter.

Yes, secret languages glue us all together.

Hence these bumblebee cats. “Bumblebees remind me of cats.” I don’t know who said it first — my mom? Me?. Maybe it was appropriated from some other source long forgotten now. But in any case, it’s a jointly understood Mom-and-Me phrase. Forevermore, when I see bumblebees, I think of them as tiny flying tabby cats. I mean, is there really any difference between purring and buzzing? Bees and cats — they’re both adorable. And oh so furry. And delightfully plump and round. When I see a bumblebee, I think of my parents’ lumpy old cat, Suki, with her orange-y yellow tabby cat legs. Then I think of my mom and good times we’ve had together, enjoying nature and its wonderful gifts. And I smile, feeling happy on behalf of those lucky bumblebee cats whose whole purpose in life is to buzz around, happily, in the sun, going from flower to flower and getting fat on the delicious juices of zinnias, roses, and the like.

Bumblebee cats illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton - print on Etsy

Prints available on Etsy!

These shared, secret languages speak to us in all sorts of contexts, stirring up memories of special people that have come (and gone) throughout our lives. Hundreds of stories spill forth when we see a familiar sight or hear a certain phrase. These stories weave through our day to day wanderings, flavoring our inner experiences and affecting how we see the world.

I drew this random fruit and fish kebab one day on a used piece of old watercolor paper. At the time, I had no particular meaning or agenda for it (other than to transform the painted blobs — remnants from a previous project — into something worth looking at). But now I look at it and my mind goes on a journey:A sweet and savory fruit and fish kebab. Food illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton. Ink and watercolor.

The fish head reminds me of that time in middle school gym class, when my friends and I had to choreograph a dance to any song of our choosing. The song we chose was  “The Fish Head Song” by Barnes and Barnes. Naturally.

And the octopus tentacle reminds me of that time I went to a Korean BBQ that my friend’s church had one summer. It was in a county park and we ate delicious foods I’d never seen before, including some tentacle-y things that blew my raised-on-Midwestern-food mind. We played tennis — TERRIBLY — on the weed ravaged tennis courts and caught a snapping turtle in the creek using a saltine safety-pinned to a piece of string.

On the 4th of July, I sketched this, based off a photograph from an outing my parents took with their grandkids:4th of July Sketch in pen and ink by Jacque Oman Clinton

I see the American flag and I think of the 21 gun salute at my Grandma’s funeral. And the playing of taps. (Then I think of my Grandma, period, and all the memories surrounding her and her home). I see my dad standing under the flag and I think of September 11th and how happy I am that my dad came home from work that day. I see the Stars and Stripes and I think of my friend, Allie, and her wedding on the 4th of July a few years ago. How happy she was. How life has stretched and changed since then. How she, too, is living in a different state now, growing vegetables in her garden and being a cat momma, like me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a picture is always more than what is depicted at surface level. A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say.

But a word is also worth a thousand pictures. So speak good ones. Make your words count. Share your words, build a common language. And together we’ll write a story — a LIVING story — that grows beyond space and time, to create a world full of meaning, connection, and love.

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Update: Spring Art Print Available on Etsy Now!

I told you I’d let you know when prints were available…

"Fresh Hope of Spring" art print available on Etsy. Illustration by Jacque Oman ClintonAnd they are now! So head over to my Etsy shop and get one in time for Easter!

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Can You Feel the Fresh Hope of Spring?

This is how Spring looks in Fantasyland:

A happy spring illustration of tulips, crocuses, bees, and Easter eggs by Jacque Oman Clinton

(sketchbook doodle in ink and watercolor)

And this is what Spring actually looks like (for now, anyway):

Sketch from the sketchbook of Jacque Oman Clinton of birds in snow

(another sketchbook doodle in ink and watercolor)

Spring is a roller coaster. It throws me up and down like a bouncy ball. Bounce up: I’m abuzz in an exuberant fit of energy, intoxicated by bright daylight, warm air, and dreamy new projects. Bounce down: I’m fuming with cabin fever, brought on by late-season snowstorms and 20 degree wind-chills. Something short-circuits and my dream-addled brain fizzles back into it’s winter stupor. I sit and stare– gaping like a fish — at the walls, the dust bunnies, the darkness…

The cats are along for the ride, too. One day they skitter off the walls, scale new heights, and get into trouble. The next day, they tuck their heads into blankets and sleep, unmoving, for fourteen hours straight.

But, oh, Spring will come. It never hasn’t, right? We ride these oscillating waves of hope until we finally reach the shores of TRUE Spring. Experience has taught us patience. “Soon,” we whisper to ourselves, as we look for signs of change.

My waiting is cheered on by the red-winged blackbirds, who have recently returned from their winter vacation in the south. Their call is a mighty declaration, strong enough to coax daffodils out of the dark dirt. “Okaleeeee! Okaleeeee! (It’s SPRING! It’s SPRING!)” I hear them, and I know my hopes are not in vain.

“The song of the blackbird, like the song of the crow, is one of the songs in which summer is captured and held as on a phonograph record.” – Rachel Peden (from her book, Rural Free)

(I’ll be putting prints of the above illustrations on Etsy soon. So be sure to check back in a couple of days for an update about that and a link to the page where you can buy them from my shop 🙂 )

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How to Rock the Summer: A Visual Guide

Summer is here! Find some time to enjoy it.

Go outside!

Cornflower with the cows

(page from my yet-unfinished children’s book (which continues to be a back burner project…))

Eat a burger!…

Burger Tower

(“Burger Tower”. Prints available on Etsy.)

Plant a garden…

Turnips

(“Turnip Twins”, 11 x 14, watercolor. Available for sale at TWK (or e-mail me at jacqueoman@gmail.com))

Go to the beach…

Interested in having this printed on fabric or wallpaper? Shoot me an e-mail!

(Interested in having this printed on fabric or wrapping paper? Shoot me an e-mail!)

doodle from my sketchbook

(a wee sketchbook doodle)

Pick some wildflowers…

more sketchbook fun

(more sketchbook fun)

Do something nostalgic…

(I love to draw tiny foooooood)

(A rocket pop! I love to draw tiny food.)

Go camping…

(page from last year's summer sketchbook)

(page from last year’s summer travel sketchbook)

And enjoy the precious company of family and friends!

(from last year's travel journal - hiking with my husband!)

(entry from travel journal – hiking with my husband!)

Thanks for stopping by! (Now seriously, get your butt outside).

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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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Now Showing at ArcWorks Gallery: “Niche (Wall Shrine)” acrylic painting

On display (and for sale) now at the ArcWorks gallery in Peabody:

"Niche (Wall Shrine)", acrylic

“Niche (Wall Shrine)”, acrylic

It’s part of the juried show “Spring Fling”, going on from now until June 30th. If you’re local, consider stopping by to check out some of the other artists that made it into the show!

This painting is a continuation of a series of acrylic paintings I did in college. It’s about memory, nostalgia, and the passing of time. The jar holds memories from my childhood — of long humid summers, my grandpa’s house, and other moments that have become unrealistically beautiful in my mind. It’s about our tendency to make certain memories “sacred” and the romanticized light we cast them in. It’s a shrine, more or less, for the idealized moments of the past.

(Here’s a less dark photo)
Niche (Wall Shrine)

(and a close up)

(close up)

I’m considering doing some more of these. Since I last worked on this series, I’ve racked up some more memories to preserve! I’m also considering taking commissions from others who have memories they want preserved. Got any symbolic objects of special memories that you want me to paint? E-mail me if you’re interested in commissioning some jars!

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Custom Watercolor Wedding Invitations: Spring Flowers

My friends, it’s March! I was shocked to see the first of the crocuses blooming last week (in February!). Last year at this time, everything was covered in mountains of snow.  I don’t think I saw grass until April! But now?! Spring is in the air!

And so is wedding season!

Over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of working with two very wonderful people to help create their custom-made wedding stationary, which included save-the-date cards, invitations, and thank-you’s. The bride had the beautiful idea to use green and purple hellebores, ferns, and trilliums to adorn the cards – a genius combination, if I do say so myself! I painted the flowers and ferns with watercolor, and then we worked together to come up with the overall layout, wording, and fonts. It has been a great project to brighten up the winter.

Here’s the invitation (I gave them Norwegian alter egos for the public version):Custom Watercolor Wedding Invitation: Hellebores and Fern

Custom Wedding Invitation Photo

And here’s the design for the Save-the-dates:

Custom Save-the-Dates

I’ll hold off on showing you the design for the thank-you’s since they haven’t been sent out yet (the wedding day has to come first, you know).

Thanks for looking! Hopefully, this got you PUMPED for Spring!

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Here are some adorable animals in love…

Brace yourselves, I’m about to get sappy!

When I was in college, my (now) husband and I used to write letters to each other. Of course we also used our phones, Skype, and the occasional plane ticket to bridge the thousand-mile gap between us, but the letters we sent were of exceptional value. There was no established routine with our letter writing, no schedule. Rather, each one was a delightful, handwritten surprise, and I cherished them beyond measure.

Since then, we’ve “grown up” (whatever), gotten married, and moved twice, but the letters have stayed with us. They are precious artifacts that document a particular time in our ever-evolving journey through life together.

One of those letters was a doodle. (Actually, a lot of them were). For some reason, I still remember the afternoon that I made it. I found a sunny patch of floor in the attic of my college house and hid there, with a cup of tea, until I came up with this:

Original Animal TreeWe have it hanging on our wall now. I was looking at it a few weeks ago when I decided to make a fresher version of it to share with you all on Valentine’s day. (The original was NOT, however, a Valentine…in case you’re a stickler for the truth).

So here you have it. Version 2.0, complete with a romantical backstory for you all to enjoy (or be snarky about, whatever floats your boat). Share it with the people you love. Contact me if you want to buy it as a print. And most importantly, have a happy, heart-filled day.
Valentine Tree

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The Last of the Wildflowers: Crown Vetch

This is crown vetch, wild flower extraordinaire:Crown Vetch Sketch

I was delighted when I first saw it begin to bloom early this summer. Yay flowers! Yay earth! Colors! Woot!

And when I saw that it was still blooming last week – in NOVEMBER – I was thoroughly impressed. Despite the fact that the tree’s leaves are nearly gone, the vetch was still standing all a’straggly by the side of the road. Way to go, Vetch! You outlasted them all (except for the dandelions that I’m STILL seeing around. Good job to you guys, too).

Yes. I talk to flowers. They spark my curiosity and excitement. I like learning about them and watching them, keeping track as they come and go. When you spend that much time interacting with something, you start to regard it as a sentient being. Who knows? Maybe the vetch is talking to me, too.

Now it seems the vetch has finally gone to sleep for the winter. Goodnight, my legume friends. And so ends another season.

That’s all for now. Until next week, I bid ye well. And leave you with the loving reminder to stay curious, stay open, and stay away from windowless buildings. Don’t let SAD get you down!

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Watercolor and Ink Sunflower Paintings and A Theme for Summer

If dandelions and dandelion puffs were my inspiration this past spring, then it’s only fair to say that my summer has been all about the sunflowers.

Now, unlike cats, vegetables, and pickled things, sunflowers don’t immediately come to mind when listing off “Things Jacque Loves”. I always thought sunflowers were “meh, you know…fine…” but my appreciation for them didn’t extend much farther than being nostalgic for the fabulous sunflower-printed denim shorts I had when I was 5 and my monthly habit of roasting sunflower seeds to make into nut-butter (yum). But this year…THIS YEAR…they’ve certainly won a place on my list of “excellent things”.

What’s so great about sunflowers? They are BRIGHT and YELLOW! They are HUGE! And they are oh so delightfully SCRAGGLY! (Hm, this sounds an awful lot like a description of Big Bird). Their bulky blooms demand attention and seem to grow anywhere and everywhere. They’re so chunky that I want to take a bite out of one, but they’re so dynamic that if I did, it would probably whomp me on the head with its big ol’ flower. I can see where Van Gogh was coming from when he painted all his sunflowers. They are real characters, and this summer they took over my brain.

It started with these guys in May:sunflowers

And some cupcakes I made for my sister’s baby shower:Sunflower Cupcakes

Then there was the sunflower tree:SunflowerTree

And some sketchbook experiments:

Ink and Watercolor Sunflower Sketch

Sunflower Sketch from Lake George

And it culminated in this (the “real” project, if you will, that spawned out of those other little “studies”):

A tribute to the sunflower that was in our summer CSA share

A tribute to the sunflower that was in our summer CSA share

So now I will say “farewell” to the Summer of Sunflowers and forge ahead. I wonder, what will Autumn bring?

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