Recently Anne Butera, a fantastic botanical watercolor illustrator, reached out to ask if I'd like to participate in a feature on her blog called "Sketchbook Conversations." Once a week she interviews an artist about their experiences with sketchbooks. Here's my interview, in which I talk about my daily Art Journal project:
Ugh, I had the best of intentions when I made this new site to write here more often. I have perpetual grandiose plans to write often and explore ideas about artmaking and life and all kinds of stuff, and it never seems to actually happen. I think it's the usual problem about feeling like I have to wait to be "inspired" or to feel like there is something I want to write about or to be in the mood for it. But I suspect that, like many things in life, writing is something that you just have to make a habit of and sit down and do it even if you don't really "feel like it." I often don't "feel like" doing art every day, but I've found it extremely useful to make a disciplined practice of just doing it. Often the act of just sitting down and making something gets me interested and I want to keep going.
I think the difficulty with writing in particular is that it feels very vulnerable, very public ("what if someone reads it and thinks X?!) and also, perversely, fraught with fear of lack of attention or effect ("what if nobody reads it at all?!). I do not consider myself a writer, but I enjoy writing and once in a while I guess something I write turns out ok. I feel the same about photography. People sometimes mistake me for a photographer because I have a fairly nice camera that looks impressive. But I would never actually call myself a photographer. I guess I'm an artist who sometimes uses photography? Or an artist who sometimes writes? It would certainly be better to write a smaller post once a week than to do this massive freaking brain dump every few months (which is, honestly, just asking for "nobody reading it at all").
Anyway, I guess I can blame some of the lack of updates here since August on the fact that I spent a lot of that month planing an epic 10-day driving/camping trip around Iceland's Ring Road.
I always want to write about upcoming travel, but I never do because it seems pretty stupid to basically announce to the world that you won't be home for a couple of weeks. I know the likelihood of someone actually reading this ("what if nobody reads it at all?!") and figuring out where I live (it's probably not that difficult actually) and breaking into my house and stealing...what...my 8-year old plasma TV? My "super fancy" jewelry (hint: I have no actual valuable jewelry) is pretty unlikely. But it still seems idiotic to broadcast one's absence.
Anyway, we rented a big 4x4 truck with a camper on the back and drove around everywhere and hiked and looked at waterfalls and went in hot baths and it was amazing. I have almost 6,000 photos which I'm still in the process of sorting through.
Iceland is...just lovely. Everywhere you look has a stark beauty to it that really, really resonated with me. The landscape changes so much- you can drive for an hour and see three or four completely different kinds of topography. I didn't bring any art supplies with me because we're pretty intense travelers and it wasn't unusual for us to be on the go from 8 am to 8 pm. I guess I could have done some drawing or painting on the days I wasn't driving, but I honestly just enjoyed staring out the window and taking photos.
I've made such a habit out of at least trying to create something every day that it's weird for me to not be creating. Yes, I guess you could say photography is a kind of creation, but for me it's more of a passive thing, just a way of actually preserving whatever I'm soaking up. (A lot of the photos I took are actually pretty bad photos in themselves, but they will be amazing fodder for digital collages.) There were a few points during the trip when I was almost thinking "I can't wait to get home and start making art with these amazing photos!" But I do think that it's helpful and valuable for me to take kind of an enforced break from making stuff and to just sit and absorb and take things in. Fill the well.
Of course when I got home I felt somewhat off-kilter and it's taken me a little while to get back into a good creative flow. I stopped doing my Art Journal for the whole month of September, because I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it up on the road. We returned on the 20th but I still didn't start it again until October 1. I started one digital collage based on an Iceland photo, which I'm pretty happy with so far. I think my brain is still processing all the amazing sights.
I think something nice happens when traveling, where I'm just focused on wandering around and looking and stuff and enjoying it. I'm not worrying about the future and what's going on with my career and what's happening next month. It's an opportunity to live very much in the present. I try to not even worry about what the next day will bring. This time I realized that part of what contributes to that mindset is a deliberate choice to not pay attention to the news. We had a little Wi-Fi thing so we had internet access everywhere except in one of the more remote towns we stayed in. I popped into Facebook occasionally and checked email but didn't really read anything, and certainly did not look at any news sites. It was nice.
And now that I'm back to reality, I've attempted to keep that going. It's not that I'm sticking my head in the sand. I want to be engaged with the world and to be informed. I'm just trying to figure out how to do it in a way that doesn't make me crazy. I used to spend a lot more time reading articles that people shared on Facebook or that I found on my own, and I also used to listen to NPR pretty much any time I was in the kitchen. I turned on NPR once since we got back and they were talking about how screwed up Venezuela is. I turned it off pretty quickly. It's not that I don't care about Venezuela. It's that there is nothing I can do about Venezuela while driving my car. There is not much value in making myself sad and anxious about stuff that is going on in the world that I have no control over. I know it sounds callous, but it isn't. It's perhaps an overabundance of empathy that is my problem, where I can't hear things without really, really caring about it. And really caring about things you can't control is kind of exhausting. I don't know where the balance is. I feel like it's basically being a bad person to just keep your head in the sand and tend your own garden, but also I really doubt the utility value of constantly "being informed" if all you can do is fret and bitch on Facebook. I literally do not need to fill my limited headspace with whatever brain-diarrhea Donald Trump is tweetingtoday.
So for now I've settled on checking the headlines once a day on a news app on my phone, and that's it. Instead of listening to NPR while cooking, I've been listening to podcasts. And honestly, even the silliest of them feels like a better use of my time. I feel so much calmer, and maybe even a little more positive about the world. As is my habit, I started hunting around online for articles that would help me not feel like a shitty person for disengaging from the constant onslaught of news, and I found this article ("Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News", which I really like. I can definitely say that those five things have been true for me!
Back to the studio, I'm trying to get some things finished for the Delaware County Studio Tour. I've been feeling a bit frustrated with my mixed-media work lately, particularly when it came to actually finishing anything. Usually when I feel frustrated in my art process, it means it's time to try something new. So I'm experimenting with using wooden panels as a support for my mixed-media pieces. I spent this evening mounting some finished and some unfinished pieces to panels, and I'm pretty happy about it.
In art school, I mostly worked on canvas, just because that's what you're supposed to do. But I never liked the texture of it, and soon moved to paper. Which I love, but it can be flimsy and bendy and there's the perpetual problem of what to do with it when a piece is finished. You can't just hang a piece of paper on a wall, so you have to frame it. And frames are ridiculously expensive and a pain in the ass to transport. Get one little scratch on it and you can't sell it. For a while I've settled on a compromise solution for selling at art shows- putting paper pieces in a mat and a clear plastic bag and calling it a day. Let the buyer figure out framing. But there are disadvantages to that too. So we'll see how these panels work in the real world. So far I'm thrilled with how these look and I'm wondering why it took me so long to figure out that this might be an option!
More work on this digital collage on the Surface. This is about 30 minutes of work compressed to less than 2 minutes. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable working on the tablet, and I'm absolutely loving being able to draw directly onscreen.
I've also started work on my County Collectors piece for the Delaware County Open Studio Tour. All participating artists were given a 6" square panel frame to make a piece especially for the tour. These are all to be priced at $75, which gives buyers the opportunity to get a piece of original art for a reasonable price (especially if it's by an artist who usually charges a lot!)
I think I was feeling inspired by my visit this week to the exhibit "Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends" at MOMA, because I decided to turn the panel frame around so it's more like a little shadowbox and I can play with making the piece more 3D. I keep dabbling in doing some pieces that are more 3D but haven't made much progress, so this is a good opportunity to have the pressure of an external deadline to make sure I finish something! Some of the elements are locked in, but I'm still playing with different elements for the interior of the box. I like the thread, but the one I used in the last photo is definitely too thick and not the right color. But overall I'm happy with how this is going so far!
This past weekend I participated in the Ocean City Boardwalk Art Show for the first time. I don't usually travel that far for shows but I had heard from another fine artist that it was a good one, and I also had a gallery show last year at the Ocean City Arts Center that was pretty successful. I like to try at least one new show a year, because you never know, it might end up being something amazing. And it's always good to expose your work to new people. Sometimes I do the same shows over and over and I see the same people repeatedly. It's great to hear from people that they bought something from me last year and they still love it, but they are unlikely to buy something new! Unfortunately art isn't something that needs to be bought repeatedly like shampoo or something.
Ocean City is about 1.5 to 2 hours from where I live, depending on traffic. Too far to drive back and forth every day. I was surprised by how expensive hotels are there during the summer, so I ended up finding a really nice Airbnb cottage in nearby Somers Point.
The location was great- right on the boardwalk, with plenty of space on either side, so I could hang work on the outer walls. I love when that happens! We got so lucky with the weather too- it wasn't too hot and it didn't rain at all. I'm not a huge beach person- the idea of just sitting there in a huge crowd for hours and hours is not at all appealing (not to mention that I don't tan, I burn, and there is a lot of skin cancer in my family). But I did enjoy walking along the beach and looking for seashells to make into jewelry.
The really unfortunate thing is that my sales were bad. Like really, really bad. We were there on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday and Sunday were merely mediocre sales days, but on Saturday I sold nothing but two decoupaged porcelain boxes that I had marked down to $5 each because I just wanted to get rid of them. I did manage to at least cover the table fee and the cottage, but it was close. Ideally, the point is not to merely cover expenses, but to actually make money. At some point I decided to call it a mini-vacation with maybe selling a little art.
In these situations I never blame the show or the organizers, unless there is something obviously amiss with how the show is set up, run, or promoted. That was definitely not the case here. Everything was organized and promoted perfectly, and it's a well-established show. I think it was just that people who are at the beach aren't really there to buy or even look at art. I figured this might be a factor, but was also hoping it wouldn't be that bad. I've found that shows where the main focus is anything other than art (food, beer, music) tend to be less successful. It's ok if shows include things like food, beer, and music, but I'm most successful if people are primarily there to actually look at/buy art.
It can get a bit annoying to watch thousands of people walk by and not even bother to look in your tent, but it's also important not to take it too personally. I made a little Venn diagram that basically sums up the situation, which obviously has nothing to do with whether my art is good or whatever:
I think there's also something about the type of work and the location. My work is definitely not "beachy," which I was hoping would work in my favor as it would be something different to look at. But I assumed that a lot of people would even look at all- probably because I personally would be thrilled to have something novel to look at if I was at the beach for any length of time. That'll teach me to project my personal preferences onto others. I'd guess that artists who have a more traditional beach style may have done better- like if you make watercolors of the boardwalk, people are more likely to buy that as a souvenir that some random weird collage thing.
As always, I really appreciated the people who did stop and look and talk to me and even buy something. Several people told me that they liked my art the best of everything there, which was cool to hear. Whenever I have an unsuccessful show, it's all to easy to get discouraged and stuck in a negative thought spiral of "why do I even bother? etc. etc." It's been a rough time this year. I haven't had any shows that were really great. Most have been merely ok. I've talked to other artists, and it's not just me. A lot of people haven't had a very good show season. There are always ups and downs, but this year seems to be fairly consistently a down year. I'm tempted to blame general political uncertainty- who wants to spend money on art when you're not sure what is going to happen to your health insurance?
It can be hard to tell if a show is not worth doing again, or if it's just the general situation. I was really hoping the Ocean City one would be amazingly lucrative, because in the end I did enjoy being there for the weekend. But I guess it's just not my scene.
Some photos of a collage in progress. Forgot to post these last week!
I think this might be getting a little bit busy, but that seems to be part of my process these days. Put in too much and then scale it back...
For my 40th birthday, I bought myself a BIG present- a new Microsoft Surface! I've wanted one for a long time, but they're not cheap so I kept putting it off. But I finally went ahead with it and I'm so happy I did. I've used a Wacom drawing tablet with my desktop computer for years, but its so much better to be able to draw directly onscreen! I considered getting a Wacom Cintiq, which is obviously an industry leader in graphics tablets, but I also wanted something with a keyboard that would work for general work/productivity purposes.
It's amazing how far computers have come in terms of storage and speed! This is a very thin tablet, but has no trouble at all handling my large print-quality Photoshop files with multiple layers. Some of the pens seem slightly laggy, but it's usually the pens with a lot of complexity/texture. Simple ones seem to work just fine! Photoshop works great overall and aside from pen lag, I haven't noticed any processing difficulties even with very large files. I was also running InDesign while rendering the video in After Effects, and everything was running great!
This is the first digital collage I worked on using the Surface. I wasn't sure if I would even really like it since I'm so used to doing things on my desktop with a central large monitor and two smaller side monitors, but working on one small screen felt fine. I'm still getting used to some differences and relying less on keyboard shortcuts. I did keep the keyboard attached since I'm so used to using keyboard shortcuts, but next time I might try just skipping the keyboard and selecting items using the pen tool.
Oh, the video was created using the XBox app that comes with Windows 10. I almost deleted it because I'm never going to play any XBox games, but it turns out that you can use it to do a live screen capture! Very exciting, because I never did find a free solution for doing that on my desktop computer that I liked, and I didn't really want to spend money on it.
Here's my first Surface video, which is kind of crappy because I filmed it with my phone (sorry about the fan noise in the background!). It was just a test of drawing something from scratch on the tablet while looking at a photo on my phone as a reference. I'm pretty happy with it!
I had a big debate with myself about which level of storage space to get for my Surface. My digital collage process requires a huge amount of "fodder" image files that I select from to add to the image in process. I was considering going with a lesser storage option for the tablet (which would have been much cheaper) and storing my files on an external drive or a cloud solution like Dropbox. But then I decided to just pay the extra money for the higher onboard storage, because part of this whole thing is mobility and it would be a pain to have to also schlep an external drive or worry about downloading large files via WiFi while traveling. The Surface has a 1 TB hard drive which should be plenty even for a file hoarder like me!
So far, highly recommend the new Microsoft Surface for making digital art!
I've been searching for a big project—something to provide focus and structure and a goal to work towards. I've been feeling a bit aimless for the past year or so, a bit unchallenged and unmotivated. A lot of my joy in making art comes from the exploration of new ideas or materials. When I first started doing digital collages, I had taken one single Photoshop class. I knew enough to be able to do very basic things, but a lot of what I did was sheer experimentation, clicking on things and seeing what happened. It was fun, and it was scary when I committed to doing an art show consisting of 48 individual digital collages (3 sets of 16). I spent hours and hours every evening after working at my office job all day, figuring things out, experimenting. It was exhausting but also exhilarating. It was my first real art show, after being basically traumatized by art school into being completely unsure of myself and my abilities. Completing that work was incredibly empowering and I count it as the true start of my working life as an artist.
Lately I've been feeling less enthralled with my entire art-making process. Of course I enjoy it, but it just feels kind of easy. It feels like I know exactly what steps to take to produce a reasonably good image. Whenever I start to feel this way it is time to shake things up. There are little tricks I do within the process of creation to try to make things more challenging, like rotating the image or inverting all the colors, and this is one reason I bounce between using digital and traditional media- to keep things fresh and interesting. But I'm feeling like I need a bigger challenge.
One thing I've always felt weird about is how little actual drawing I do. I certainly can do representational drawing, and a couple of months ago set myself the challenge of doing one realistic drawing a day (very simple, taking no more than 10 minutes.) I had fun with it for a few days but then got bored. I felt like I ran out of things to draw. I bought a magazine of the top 100 recent science innovations, because I am very interested by science and thought it would be fun to do illustrations based on those items. But somehow it didn't actually motivate me. I think I was slightly flummoxed by the first item, which was about an artificial pancreas. I had the same feeling when I was working my way through a fancy cookbook and lost all motivation when I came across a recipe that called for some sort of obscure blue corn that is evidently readily available in farmer's markets in California but is of course completely unobtainable on the east coast.
So, I want a project that involves representational drawing, but still has the potential for incorporating my usual working method of layers and alterations. I want a project with an encompassing theme, and something that is of personal interest to me (and hopefully to others). Some time ago the idea of doing a portrait series of forgotten women innovators occurred to me, but I wrote it in a notebook and forgot about it. I think it's time to resurrect that idea!
My plan is to do something akin to this memorial collage that I made of my grandmother. A portrait that tells a story, that includes images that represent what each person accomplished and is best known for. Even though my instinct is always to rely on photos to collage, I want to limit my use of photos and instead work on my digital painting skills (soon to be assisted by the addition of a very cool piece of equipment to my studio!)
I rarely create anything with a set theme in mind. I like to work intuitively and let things evolve, so that's another challenging aspect of this project. However, I think there is plenty of room for flexibility within the scope of "making a portrait of an interesting woman that tells the story of what she accomplished." I think I'm also motivated to just tell some of these stories about amazing women, because wow does it feel like we've taken two steps backwards lately. I can't believe we are still talking about if women should be paid the same as men, or if women should be allowed to do X, Y, or Z, or how shocking it is that a shape-shifting, time-travelling fictional character should be portrayed by a woman (hooray first female Dr. Who!).
I consulted the Facebook hive-mind on everyone's favorite female innovators or heroes were, and received an amazing selection of responses! I've also ordered the books "Rad Women Worldwide" and "Rad American Women A-Z" for inspiration (https://radamericanwomen.com/). I guess I'm a little bit of an artistic anomaly, because I love being organized and making spreadsheets and lists and doing research! That's something I look forward to with this project.
So, who are your favorite female innovators, heroes, or inspirations? Let me know!
I'm very excited to launch my brand new website! I have been a devoted user of Wordpress since 2008, but I'm making a big leap and have changed to Squarespace. Wordpress is truly an amazing tool for developing websites, but at some point I realized that my site was becoming bloated and unwieldy and difficult to navigate. In particular, the e-commerce side of things has been an ongoing problem. I tried a number of solutions, none of which quite fit my needs. I ended up using an external solution linked from my site, which wasn't ideal but was good enough.
I admit to being a bit of a website snob in the past, scoffing at easy-to-use template tools. Which is a little bizarre since I am absolutely not a coder or even a web designer in any sense of the word. I used to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make things work in Wordpress, but over the past couple of years I've come to feel that it's not the best use of my time. I think I used to feel that it was important to keep at least a little toe in the web design game, but honestly, there are probably ten-year-old kids out there who are better programmers than I will ever be. Better to focus my energy on the things that I actually care about and am good at.
I've debated about bringing over old blog posts and minor projects (collaborations and older work) to the new site, but have decided to use this as a fresh start. Nobody wants to read my posts from 2009 about how I had a piece featured in a treasury on the front page of Etsy. I have very little nostalgia for things I have written in the past, for who I used to be. I kept a written journal for years, but the last time I moved I decided I was sick of schlepping around fifty pounds of literal and metaphorical weight and shredded them all. I just celebrated my 40th birthday- seems like a good time for a fresh start!
I'm hoping that having a clean slate and an interface that is nicer to use will help me actually fulfill my long-standing goal of writing more often, documenting more of my working process, sharing work by others that I find interesting or inspiring, and pondering ideas. In short, sharing my artlife. On my last visit to the Barnes Museum, I picked up a book containing quotations from artists, which I intend to use as writing prompts on occasion. I loved the title, "Art is the Highest form of Hope."