Drawing Again

So, I’ve been drawing again. Just started up this week. Again? You might be asking yourself. Well, you see, way back when I started this blog (almost three years ago, yikes!) I had the grand and glorious idea of this being kind of an artist journal. Well, an aspiring-artist journal. But it has kind of morphed and evolved since then into this different kind of a thing. More of a craft blog, I suppose. But behind the sewing and what not that I usually show on the blog, every now and then I do real, legitimate aspiring-artist stuff. To be honest, though, it’s been a while. On Monday, after months of almost no drawing of any sort, I started drawing again. Just an hour a day, sometimes a little more, if naptime permitted. And it’s been five days now that I’ve been drawing. My usual routine, when I’m trying to work my skills up again, is to do a little free doodling, and then a more focused self-portrait. Here are the self-portraits for the last five days.

facesAs you can see, the beginning was rough. I mean really rough. I wasn’t even planning on showing these, because they’re a little embarrassing, but when I got to today and lined up all five drawings, I was quite impressed with the progress I had made in such a short amount of time. So I thought I would share, in case it might inspire someone else to give drawing a chance. Toddlers permitting, I’m going to try to keep doing a self-portrait every day, for the next little while (a month, maybe?). If I can keep this up for a month, I’ll share the results again. Hopefully I’ll see even more progress then. Would anyone care to join me? If so, here are some basic suggestions:

  • Sit in front of a mirror and draw yourself from life. It may be more challenging than a photograph, but it helps train your eye to translate 3 dimensions into 2. When you work from a photograph, the camera has already done that for you.
  • Try to draw with natural light as much as possible.
  • Don’t expect every day to be a masterpiece. Just keep working at it, and over time you will see improvement
  • If you’re getting bored, try a new medium. Pen and ink work a lot differently than pencil.
  • Have fun with it.

If you do some self portraits, I’d love to see. You can leave a link in the comments to this post, if you’d like.

Have a great weekend!

Murder Your Darlings: Musings on the Creative (and Destructive) Process

(***I started writing this post a while back, but got caught up in a lot of other tasks, and never got back to it until now. Imagine this as being written before I moved to the island.)

In preparation for an anticipated change in location, I have been trying to whittle down the hoards of things I have amassed over the last seven years since I left my childhood home and entered the world of adulthood. Coupled with this sorting and decluttering was a small personal failure. Nothing earth-shattering: I worked on a piece, and entered it into a juried art exhibition, but I didn’t get in. Obvious truth: it is hard to face rejection. It is hard to put yourself on the line and then get shot down. And it doesn’t feel encouraging at the time. But, cliché as it sounds, rejection is helpful at times. If you decide to learn from it, that is.

The first semester after I got married, I took a ceramics class as part of the undergraduate studio art core. I loved that class; I loved the things that I made. I am not a sculptor, so I had no pressure, no expectations. So I just played around If I made something terrible, I could just take it as a lesson learned, and move on. This wasn’t my major, after all. The teacher completely supported this exploration. And she loved the stuff I made. In her eyes, I could do no wrong. Now, while this kind of freedom and encouragement is wonderful, it can also lead to a little bit of pride in the creator. Everything I did was great, deep, meaningful, avant-garde, and all the rest.

It was just at the point in my artistic development when I was beginning to explore abstraction. Now, abstract art does require talent, skill, inspiration. But abstract style is easy to fake. This makes it tempting to just throw something together and call it abstract art.

All these things can combine to lead to genius syndrome: the artist is paramount, her ideas are superb, and anything she says goes. Bottom line: not the best way to objectively look at and evaluate a piece of work. That was my problem.

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing [or, in this case, art], obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings”. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

I first heard this quote in a creative writing class, and it’s been lulling around in the back of my mind, surfacing now and then, ever since. As a creative person, I find that it’s the kind of thing that can haunt you. After all, you don’t really want to murder your darlings, do you? Maybe you don’t grow too attached to things. I do.

Anyways, back to my class. For the final project in my ceramics class, I did some big hollow organic shapes. At the time, I attached all sorts deep, important meaning to these pieces. I can’t quite recall all that fluff now. Really, they were just knobbly, awkward blobs. Big and moderately skillfully made, but blobs nonetheless. My teacher and classmates were impressed, and I therefore concluded that these pieces must be impressive. I was proud of my work, proud of how clever I was.

Fast forward 4 years, 3 moves later, and I still had these bulky blobs boxed up with newspaper and packing peanuts. When the possibility of moving now thousands of miles away presented itself, I decided it was time to make some deep cuts into the store of stuff we had accumulated over the years. Out came the three big boxes, unopened since they had been packed up 3 years previously. I tore into the boxes and freed them from their paper winding clothes. There they were. My darlings. The evidence of my genius. Somehow, I had remembered them much more excellent than they now appeared. (It didn’t help that some of the glaze had chipped off where I had applied it incorrectly.)

But even still, I was reluctant to let go of my darlings. Quite to opposite, in fact. I caressed their surfaces, remembering how I had labored over them for hours to beat them into those awkward shapes. I nestled them together, remembering how much everyone had liked them grouped together.

On a whim, I snatched my favorite (not pictured) from the midst of them, gussied it up a bit, and whisked it off to submit it to a juried art show. The rush of entering a show quickly waned, however, and by the time I got home from submitting my piece, I knew I had made a mistake. I had not looked at that piece objectively. Even after four years, the accolades from my teacher and peers in that little beginning ceramics classroom still rung in my ears, and drowned out my soft inner voice that was whispering, “you know, this isn’t really that great, after all.” It only took a week to get the official rejection from the show.

About a year ago I read a blog post about someone burning one of her quilt tops because it didn’t turn out the way she had hoped it would. I had wondered what it would feel like to destroy your creations in such a violent manner. So I did it. I murdered my darlings.

Reader, it felt good. Besides the obvious cathartic release that comes from smashing large things, I was finally able to understand what it was about these pieces that had been holding me back, and that I was still experiencing with my work now.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Look at your work objectively. Ask yourself these questions:
    ♦  What are its merits?
    ♦  Is it skillfully done?
    ♦  Is the idea behind it fully developed, or is your idea still vague in your mind or in your work?
    ♦  Are there things about it that are less than excellent?
    ♦  Would you call this your best work? If not, what needs to change?
  2. Take a step back from your work, literally and figuratively. Seeing your work from a distance will help you see it more clearly, and giving yourself some time away from your work will help you reevaluate how things are going.
  3. Don’t let your objective eye be blinded by praise, no matter where it comes from.
  4. Don’t get so caught up in the genius or cleverness of your idea that your execution of the idea suffers.
  5. It’s your brain child, not your actual child. Don’t make your work so precious that you can’t bear to ax it if it just isn’t working out.

All of this may seem pretty obvious to you. You probably all learned these lessons long ago. And that’s fine. Good for you. I wrote this post for me. And it wasn’t easy. But now that it’s done, I feel a lot better, as if this learning experience I started so long ago is now finally sorted and solidified in my mind.

Thanks for listening. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shameless self promotion, i.e., Proof I have been up to something

Do you guys know what Spoonflower is? If you don’t you should check it out. Well, they had a little contest, and it was right up my alley, so I whipped something up and entered. What do you know, out of more than 700 entries, I made it into the semi-final round of 100. My internet connection is not allowing me to upload pictures to my blog, but you should go to the website and check it out (and while you’re there, vote for mine). My design is in there as “Rebecca Rendon Circles” (lame name, but I literally entered this thing 5 minutes before submissions closed, so there was no time to change it). I would love to make it to the top 8 and design a collection, so if you want to go there and support me, that would be great. Thanks.

Hopefully more creative stuff to come soon. Have a wonderful day!

ps. Still no internet in my house, so every post involves a trek; bored, hungry, screaming children; and spotty internet function, at best. Sorry, don’t give up on me, I will try to get some better posts coming. Thanks again for your patience.

Inspiration: On the Wings of a Bird

Just a brief disclaimer: This post contains pictures of a dead bird. As far as I know, the bird died of natural causes. I do not think any of the following pictures are disturbing or graphic, but if you do, please excuse them. My intent is simply to share a little piece of beauty that I happened upon by chance.

At my in-laws home in Ancón, Ecuador, we see many different kinds of creatures, but my favorite has always been the blue birds that come to share a bite or two of the bananas or plantains that hang in bunches outside the back door. They are smaller and more streamline than the blue birds in the states, and their shade of blue, to me, is more exquisite than their northern cousins. It’s always a brief source of joy to see them flitting about the yard, their blue wings dazzling in the bright equatorial sunlight.

So imagine my surprise when, one Sunday afternoon, I stepped outside and found one of these little birds lying motionless on the ground. At first I didn’t know what to do. It was whole, and seemed unhurt, so I couldn’t understand why it was not flying away. I gently scooped it up in a plastic bag and inspected it more closely. It was surely dead, but besides a small trickle of blood near that beak, I couldn’t see any indication of fatal trauma. My mother-in-law suggested that it had probably gotten confused and flown into the brilliantly white-washed walls of their cinder-block home, and I think this explanation is probably correct.

In any case, I was fascinated with the tiny, pristine creature. I instantly thought of the beautiful watercolors of birds wings by Albrecht Dürer, particularly this one. I wanted to make some paintings of this little fellow, but as you may have deduced from my lack of blog activity, my life has been in constant flux the last month, and pulling out my watercolors was nowhere near feasible. So I did the next best thing. I photographed the heck out of this lovely little bird, hoping to capture just a glimpse of the startling beauty that I found in it. Some pictures come close, but I think the dazzling iridescent blue was too illusive for my camera’s eye. Regardless of the shortcomings of these photos, I thought I would share a my in-depth photographic observations with you. Enjoy.

Okay, so I realize there are probably zero people who are interested in seeing that many pictures of a dead bird. So if, somehow, you made it to the end of this post, lucky you! Just leave a comment, and I’ll chose a winner to receive their very own dead blue bird in the mail. Nope, sorry, I’m totally kidding. That definitely crosses the line into creepy. Don’t worry, after I was done photographing him, I laid this little guy to rest under the mango tree in the back yard. It’s peaceful there, and he’ll always have plenty of shade. Rest in peace, beautiful bird.

Checking in on the Sketchbook Project

Well, it’s been almost one month, and what do I have to show for it? Six pages. And one of them I finished today. Not exactly the glorious start I was looking for. But all I can do is move forward from here.

Here’s a peek inside:

I chose “Layers and Line” as my theme for the book, and right now it’s mostly line and not so many layers, but I have big plans for it, so stay tuned. I still have plenty of time to put together a really nice book, but I have to recommit myself and get busy.

How about you? Are you busily filling up a sketchbook? If not, it’s not too late to get started, and you can even make your own using my sketchbook tutorial here. Good luck, and let me know how your sketchbooks are coming along!

Sketchbook Project

In college I had a wonderful professor who was continually encouraging his students to reach their full potential as artists. In addition, he was always pushing himself to create his best work (go here to see some examples). He said something to me once that’s been in the back of my mind ever since. It was a Latin phrase (nulla dies sine linea I think; I had a little help from Google translate in remembering the Latin** ) which translated means “no day without a line.” The way my professor explained it, an artist shouldn’t go a day without drawing something. As great as the idea sounded at the time, I just filed it away in the back of my mind, but I never got around to implementing it in my daily routine.

I first read about this back at the beginning of September, and I’ve mulling the idea over ever since as a way to start practicing nulla dies sine linea. Not of actually participating in the real project. No, that deadline came and went during that twilight phase following the birth of my baby when all I could do was nurse, change diapers, and feed my family (note: dishes, laundry, and daily showers did not make this list; gross, I know).

I was likewise intrigued by this:

I think it would be a great thing to jump-start me into creating consistently again, even if it was just the bare minimum drawing a day. But unfortunately, February 1st coincides with another big and rather unpleasant time commitment for me, so I don’t think I’ll be able to solidly commit to this either.

So this is my compromise:

Basically, I’m going to fill up this sketchbook with drawings. I did this sort of thing once before for a class where I filled up a Moleskine sketchbook with one theme (in that case, pencil drawings of my husband), and the final sketchbook was intended to be a self-contained piece. I kind of like the idea of keeping with one theme, but I don’t know for sure right now if that’s what I’ll do. I have 64 pages to work with, and I do want the finished product to be one cohesive piece, even if it deals with different things.

I won’t commit for sure to one page a day because I just don’t think that it will work out for me right now and I don’t want to set myself up for failure. But I will give myself a deadline: let’s say April 15 (tax day!).

Do you want to do the project with me? Let me know, and then we could do a sketchbook  share after it’s over. If you’re interested, here are some guidelines:

  • get a sketchbook, any size just so long as you can fill it up before 04.15.11
  • set a goal for what you want to accomplish with your sketchbook (whether it be a cohesive piece, or working out color studies, or drawing your baby or whatever)
  • document and share the end result

How does that sound? Not too complicated, I hope.

Okay, here’s my sketchbook I made for the purpose:

This is a soft cover Coptic bound book. Here’s the colophon with the book’s details, in case you’re interested:

(Cover: Saint-Armand handmade paper, elephant gray; text block: Fabriano Ingres)

I’ll try to put together a tutorial on how to make this next week. We’ll see if I get it done. Wish me luck!

**Edit: I did some more checking, and it turns out that Google got this ancient Latin proverb right. Go here to read more about its history and to hear how it is pronounced so you can share this wisdom with someone else.

New art supplies

There is something about getting new art supplies that makes me happy. I love the feeling of potential that it all has. However, it’s also a bit intimidating to open new, expensive materials and start using them. I guess it is the proverbial “fear of a blank canvas” that I’ve often heard about as an artist.

I think Faber Castell (no affiliation with this blog, I just love their stuff) has to be my all-time favorite drawing supplies manufacturer. I have found that their materials have consistently superb quality. You might think a pencil is pencil, but I can (almost) guarantee you’ll notice a difference with  these things. They cost more, but they are oh, so so worth it. This delicious little treasure trove of supplies sat in a box for about a week before I finally whipped them out, sharpened the pencils, and tried them out.

I’ve used their graphite pencils for several years, but this was my first experience with their charcoal products. Well, with a few small marks and my chamois cloth, I think I found a new love for charcoal. (Granted, I am certainly not a huge fan of the mess and the way they make my hands feel—I’ll admit, I had to wear gloves for this.)

Mmm, there is just something about those lines and smudgy marks that really resonates with me. Anyone else feel it? Unfortunately, this is as far as I got before my little girl woke up (transitioning to one nap a day has been hard!), and I haven’t gotten back to them yet (again, the mess is a factor here). But when I get a chance, I’ve got an interesting gourd I want to do some studies of. Any other suggestions for good subjects to render in charcoal? I’ll have to keep my eyes open…