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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Winter Cozies (Sketchbook Pages)

Do you know what I love? Kids in snowsuits. They’re so puffy and cumbersome and adorable! I can’t help but smile when I see them.

Ink and watercolor illustration of kids playing in snow by Jacque Oman Clinton

(ink and watercolor)

You’ll find lots of wintery things in my sketchbook, these days. It’s been a rainy month here in MA, but I’m sure it’s snowing SOMEWHERE…right?

ink and watercolor drawing of musk oxen from the sketchbook of Jacque Oman Clinton

ink and watercolor musk oxen

page from the sketchbook of Jacque Oman Clinton

chicken scratch and snowsuit people

ink and watercolor illustration/drawing of slippers by jacque oman clinton

slippers – ink and watercolor

There you are, some happy cozy things. ‘Cause that’s what January is all about, friends!

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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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The Timelessness of the Simple

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

“What to be for Halloween?”

Yes. It’s tough stuff.

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

Characters like Madeline

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

Charlie Brown

and Cookie Monster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quail in a Smoking Jacket

quick apple sketches by Jacque Oman Clinton

apples!

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

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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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How to Provoke a Shark Attack (Happy August)

I like August. Things feel calmer; the days, more meaningful.

Perhaps it’s the realization that summer’s end is in sight, that explains the sense of peace that descends upon me. Once August hits, it suddenly feels so natural – so obligatory even – to slow down and enjoy the moments that remain. The crickets seem louder. The sunsets seem more vivid. I settle into an easeful rhythm and let myself appreciate the natural pace of things. Time with family, meteor showers (check them out on the eve of the 11th!) – August is for savoring these things.

Which is exactly why, for the next few weeks, I’m going to keep it short here on the blog. I’ll probably have some pictures to share, and a thought or two, here and there. But I won’t be as wordy as usual. (I’m sure you’ll appreciate my brevity as much as I will. I think I’ve been talking too much, lately).

But before I go, I have a few more things to say about August:

For many people, August means one thing: the Shore (that’s the beach, to all you non-Jersey folks). Every August, when I was growing up, about half of my friends would disappear for a few weeks to go a’summering at the Jersey Shore. Those of us who remained in town spent our days at the community pool, eating candy, re-reading Harry Potter, and discussing the summer reading assignments that we hadn’t done yet. I didn’t mind not being a shore-kid. I’m afraid of sharks, you see.

I know, sharks are a supposedly silly thing to fear. But c’mon — those TEETH! I prefer to swim in water in which I can see my toes.

Anyway, I must have sharks on the brain because I made this during breakfast the other day. I call it “How to Provoke a Shark Attack”:"Sharks are Flabby"

And with that, I bid you Happy August. Be safe, be well, and don’t go insulting any sharks.

 

 

 

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Travel Sketchbook: the Southwest Edition

When I was in Sedona, AZ, a few weeks ago, I did a very quick watercolor sketch of the colorful rock hills that make the town so famous.

After returning home, I looked at that sketch and decided it needed sprucing up. So I made it into a Pueblo city, inspired by the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde, New Mexico — a place I visited many years ago, when I was a little squirt.

Because who said travel sketches can’t be composites of different adventures I’ve had over the course of my life?  Such sketches are like slices of my brain, transcending regular time and space. They’re documents from the part of my mind where memories have been a’stir (going about their business of building up on themselves, shifting shape, and assimilating new information). I guess you could think of them as travel sketches from my trips down “memory lane”.  Which is kinda cool, I think.
New Mexican Cliff Dwelling Illustration

(watercolor and ink)

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Black and White Sketchbook Fancies

I’m on vacation in Arizona right now, but it’s Friday so here are some words for thought:

I’m a sucker for vibrant color, but I’m equally wooed by stark black and white. When I doodle in a crisp black-and-white style, I’m usually pretending I’m designing woodblock or linoleum prints (since I don’t have the capacity to do REAL printmaking right now). Or I fantasize about what kind of tattoo I’d design if I were to get one. I put on my “design” eyes and try to pull out and exaggerate the pattern-y elements of whatever I’m looking at. I approach this style of doodling much more slowly and carefully than when I use watercolors and ink. It requires me to be calm and focused. It’s for that very reason that I tend to draw this way when I am feeling anxious and scattered –  the act of slowly rendering a design forces me to reign in my thoughts and find my center of balance.

That’s one of the many reasons why I think ALL of you should have a sketchbook, regardless of how “artistic” you think you are. There are a lot of reasons that I sketch that have nothing to do with my “job”.  It’s often a tool for keeping sane. Sketch to calm down, sketch to focus, sketch to connect to a particular moment in time, sketch to let your mind wander…it’s more of a meditation and devotion practice than anything else.

Anyway, here are some doodles from my sketchbook that I did in one such moment of “angst”. It did the trick and detached me from the whirlpool of useless things I had been stressing about at the time.

Sketchbook Page w/ Chickadees

I guess it’s the same idea as all those adult coloring books you see now.

See you when I get back from my trip! Perhaps I’ll have a few vacation sketches to show you.

 

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My Sketchbook = Snapshot of my Brain

I suppose it’s no big surprise that our sketchbooks reveal a lot about ourselves.

I, for one, am apparently very taken by colorful, round objects:

Snail by Jacque Oman Clinton

snail

Buttons by Jacque Oman Clinton

buttons

Rosehip Sketch by Jacque Oman Clinton

rose hips

Crabapple Sketch by Jacque Oman Clinton

crab apples

Rosehips Sketch by Jacque Oman Clinton

more rose hips

Barrel & Pepper Sketch by Jacque Oman Clinton

barrel with bell peppers

I think I find round things comforting, which is why I feel compelled to draw them.

My sketchbook also reveals other things going on in my life, like what books I’m reading or what I’m cooking for dinner. For instance, I am currently reading “The Shipping News” by E. Annie Proulx, and have subsequently taken an interest in nautical knots:

rope

rope

So, there you go, a little slice of my brain as revealed to you on paper. Important? Probably not. But still…mildly interesting!

What do you find yourself doodling? DO you doodle? I hope you do 🙂

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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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