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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Illustrated Places: Waikiki Beach, Norfolk, Saratoga, and Charleston

Hey! Long time no see! Spring is in the air (as long as you ignore the dump of snow we got yesterday and the toothy icicles that are dangling from my car’s bumper) and I’m thawed out and ready to ease back into my routine of spewing hot air at you here on the blog.

Where have I been, you ask? All over! In places sunny and warm! I spent January and February working on a commission that had me traveling (okay okay, I wasn’t actually traveling…it was more of a mental thing) to Hawaii, South Carolina, New York, and Virginia. I was working on a project for a dear friend, who, back in December, asked me to illustrate each of the four places that her boyfriend lived while he was serving in the Navy. She wanted to surprise him with the set when he got out of the Navy in March.

So after the December holidays were over, I got to work on the project. It began with a lot of fits and starts as I worked out my ideas and tried to settle down on a style. (Note to self: don’t get carried away getting “inspired” on Pinterest and the Googles. If you look at TOO MUCH art by TOO MANY wonderful people, your brain will short-circuit and you’ll lose the ground beneath you. You may love everyone else’s artistic style, but in the end, your work always ends up looking like your own. Don’t fall into the trap of brainstorm overload! You’ll get washed away in the surge of “possibilities”!)

Things also stagnated for a couple weeks when I got the flu. But eventually –after enough trial-and-error, mistakes and re-starts , bowls of soup and boxes of tissues — I settled down and found my groove.

I finished the set at the end of February, just in time to mail before March 3rd. Since they are now safely in the hands of my friend and her boyfriend, I can share them with you without ruining any surprises.

So here they are! 4 ink and watercolor illustrations (with hand drawn logos, I might add) of Waikiki Beach, HI; Saratoga, NY; Norfolk, VA; and Charleston, SC. Enjoy!

commissioned watercolor and ink illustration of Waikiki Beach by Jacque Oman Clinton

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

ink and watercolor illustration of the horse tracks at Saratoga Springs, New York, by Jacque Oman Clinton

Saratoga. NY

ink and watercolor illustration of "the Lone Soldier" statue in Norfolk, VA. By Jacque Oman Clinton

Norfolk, VA

ink and watercolor illustration of Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC, by Jacque Oman Clinton

Charleston, SC

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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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Life at Life’s Pace

I seem to have entered a new and illuminating phase of young adulthood in which I’m constantly learning all sorts of obvious and handy lessons about “time”.

Particularly, I’ve had to learn and relearn with embarrassing regularity that things take as long as they take. I often forget that. No matter what “superfoods” I eat, no matter how much preparing and planning I do, no matter HOW much I wrack my brain trying to find a way — it’s simply unrealistic to think that I’ll ever figure out how to do all the things. (Especially since my list of  “things I want to do” seems to grow exponentially – See graph below:)

Things I Want to Do

I get cocky and try to make time operate against its nature, hoping that if I construct my lifestyle in a particular way, I’ll be so efficient and perfect that I’ll be able to bang things out and keep up with my runaway thoughts. There won’t be a list of “things I’m going to do next” because — BAM!– I’ll already be ON it. Things that take a long time WONT because I’ll be…simply amazing.

HAH. Yeah, right.

Of course, chasing that dumb fantasy makes me exhausted, bummed, extremely self-critical and — ironically — UNINTERESTED in doing ANYTHING. It quite effectively removes the joy from everything.

So forget it, I’ve got a new plan. I’ll try to find the pace that life — with all its inconsistencies and surprises and human foibles — deems appropriate. I’ll regard all-or-nothing thoughts like “I’m going to do ALL of ___(insert major project, enlightenment, or life achievement)___ on ____(insert day)___ !” as red flags marking the road to unhappiness/burnout. When I see them, I’ll choose a more mindful path —a path that honors the virtue of “keeping on keeping on”, not at rat-race speed, but at a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tempo that allows life (and time) to operate how they will. And I’ll remember that always…ALWAYS!!!…I need to be patient.

This is fresh on my mind because this week, I finally started painting the walls of my new art studio. Earlier this month, my husband tore up the carpet and put some lovely laminate boards on the floor. Slowly, I’m getting closer to having my new work space up and running. But alas, despite my magical thinking, I didn’t paint my entire studio in one day. Instead, I painted some yesterday. And I painted some today. And I’ll probably paint some tomorrow. And that’s how it’s going to go.

img_2090

installing laminate flooring

painting the walls

painting the walls

And truthfully? I’m happy with that pace, because it left time and energy for lots of other good things. Things like playing with my niece, laughing with my family, baking apple cake, planning upcoming collaborative projects with people, reading good books, and watching the sky turn to Fall. And drawing candy corns, pretzels, and other happy things (of course).

ink and watercolor illustration of candy corn by Jacque Oman Clinton

watercolor and ink Candy Corn – in progress

Oktoberfest themed illustration by Jacque Oman Clinton

Oktoberfest snacks, anyone?

Bavarian Apple Torte - 'tis the season!

Bavarian Apple Torte – ’tis the season!

So it’s all good. And it’s all in good time.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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