Outstanding blogger award

The wonderful Helen at CrawCrafts Beasties nominated this blog for an award. Thank you, kindly, Helen, for the nomination! Readers, if you haven’t yet, run (don’t walk) to see her lovable handmade monsters — the Beasties — in action. They are incredible!

So. Part 1 of the award is to answer some quite fun questions, posed by Helen. Part 2 is to nominate outstanding bloggers and ask them some questions of my own. So without further ado, here are some questions and some answers. And then some questions again. πŸ™‚

Helen’s questions

Coffee or tea? (or no hot beverages at all? ) Ooh, that’s going to be tea for me, and non-caffeinated herbals 96% of the time. I never quite got into regular coffee. When I tell folks that I made it through school without caffeine, I get the disbelief-look. Caffeine tends to have too many side effects for me, so tea always wins.

Where in the world would you most like to visit, and why? When I was a kid, I used to love reading the world atlas. For some reason, the islands in the Pacific always fascinated me the most — just the idea of being surrounded by all of that water and the distance from the land masses of the world. I imagine generations of ocean navigators, long before GPS, building dugout canoes, braving the unknown, watching the stars, and peopling the islands. So, I’d love to tour Polynesia and Hawai’i. In my dreams, I’d travel mainly by water.

What is the most delicious meal you’ve ever eaten, and where did you have it? Speaking of islands, I’ll never forget the first time I had fresh lapu lapu (grouper). I was in the Philippines, in a coastal town named Agoo by the South China Sea. As a hospitality, our host went to the beach, caught us a bright red grouper, and prepared it for us over coals and fire. I have lived in the memory of that meal ever since.

What have you made that you’re most proud of, and why? It would have to be my little doe dolls. I made them in 2018 and hadn’t sewn a thing in over a decade. But, one day, I found myself making a paper pattern and hand-sewing little deer — one a bit sad and under the weather, and another one to comfort it. I made them during a challenging period in my life; sewing them put me back in touch with a sense of joy, love, and strength. I learned that creating things was a powerful form of self-care. πŸ™‚ You can read about my thoughts on that here.

What’s your plan for today? It’s been a busy week. Rest!


More Outstanding Bloggers

Ok. I hope those answers didn’t put you to sleep. Time for nominees. The authors of the following blogs get an Outstanding Blogger Award because they not only produce beautiful content and images in their chosen media, but these bloggers also pair their beautiful work with thoughtful and uplifting writing that makes me reflect on the creative life. Creative blogs at their finest and very much to be read and enjoyed.

Cognition and Crochet

D’Nali

fabrications

Placid Painting

the quiet photographer

Woolly Wednesday

Yochet Crochet

My Questions for You

If you’d like to accept the nomination, here’s the drill (no pressure bloggers, this is only if you happen on this post and are up for it!):

In a post, answer the questions below, linking this nomination page. Nominate up to 10 Outstanding bloggers of your own, and create up to 10 new questions for them. Here are my Q’s.

  1. What are 3 creative tools or supplies that you can’t live without these days?
  2. When did you first start working with your art or craft medium? Why did you choose it?
  3. If you had all the resources you needed, what would your dream project be?
  4. What is your favourite season, and why?
  5. Name a place that inspires you to create.

Ok. I’ll plan to be back next week with some new artwork! Until then.

Floral portrait

Happy Friday. I hope your week has been going well. As well as possible. πŸ™‚ We are, in Chicago, plunged into a good few inches of snow. It came down in a blizzard last Monday & Tuesday; it is so much snow that we spotted a near 6 foot snowman in our neighborhood!

In all this Winter, I cannot help but dream, a little bit, of floral things and the return of Spring.

Last month, I decided to try another (self?) portrait of sorts — something to bring up the botanical things in my mind and set them under a full moon in that late-dusk time of day so conducive to colours and their imagination.

I chose to work in gouache/acrylic for the saturated pigment, and pencils for texture. When working with gouache, I like to use Scotch tape to create a frame around my work. It helps me to bound my space and design (and lifting the tape off at the end to see a straight edge is neat).

Some thoughts on mixing paints + pigments

The skill I wanted to practice with this painting was mixing pigments. I discovered that you can layer pencils to produce interesting things! I also learned that objects that are “conceptually” green need not always show up as green. But the main lesson learned: gouache can be mixed with acrylic, since they are both water-based. I have a tube of Winsor & Newton acrylic in Titanium White, and have been using it to lighten my gouache. The resulting paint shows up really smooth and opaque with great coverage. It’s a very forgiving and layerable paint that allowed me to repaint areas of the face over many times as I was figuring the picture out.

Note that mixing gouache with acrylic does change paint texture: once dried, the gouache-acrylic hybrid isn’t as matte as gouache alone; it has a slight sheen and shine compared to the velvet-y light-eating surface of gouache. I’m ok with that, but have heard that shine is less conducive to producing good scans for reprints (so there’s that to consider). For now, my acrylic-gouache hybrid is saving me the trouble of running to the art store, as I go through those tiny tubes fast.

After about 4 days of relaxed-pace work, the portrait was done.

This portrait reminds me of the good things in store. We are, after all, only 2 months away from Spring.

Wherever you are, I hope that you are finding some solace in the beauty of Winter. For now, the flowers are living in my dreams, but a little green is on its way.

Until next time. 🌺


Painting timeline (for reference, by day)

  1. Pencils + composition
  2. Gouache (background + portrait)
  3. More gouache and pencils (mid-ground)
  4. Last of the gouache details, fussing, then declaring done

2021: A bullet journal year

The 9 months of 2020 spent under varying degrees of lockdown, here in our state (and still ongoing) went by both too quickly and too slowly. Time passed in both a blur and in slow motion. Speaking with a friend last week, we talked about how to reframe the stresses of lockdown as signs (however small) of our relative safety. In his 60s, he told me that the repetition of daily tasks, as monotonous as they can feel, can be taken as a sign that we’re safe, at home, have resources, and are at least some degree of physically well. Reflecting on my own days, I resolved to be a bit more mindful in my daily life, moving forward — to cultivate more awareness and gratitude for the good things.

Enter bullet journaling. I’m quite late to the BUJO party, but am slowly discovering the joy and practical benefits of it during this time. As a beginner, I haven’t yet invented any complex or detailed notation systems. For now, I’m exploring it as a creative space, and a tool where I can track certain things (like mood, books to read/recommended to me, albums to listen to, blog post ideas, painting ideas, and the like). Using the journal in this way for the first 2 weeks of January has been helping me find a space of calm and agency in the midst of…things (so many things in this collective moment we’re in). Specifically, journaling is helping me to:

  • become more aware of where my time goes and provide a record of what I did
  • discover patterns in mood, focus, and energy so that I can work in ways that (as much as possible) align with my capacity
  • set small, concrete goals
  • recognize and acknowledge the things done (I don’t do that enough)
  • keep track of exercise + regulate sleep, and
  • create a space where new ideas and drawings can roam free (and inspire future projects)

By the end of the year, I hope to have a record that I can look back on. Time need not feel lost.

The Week

As a beginner, my building block is the week. The week has become the semi-colon in my punctuation of time. It’s not the end of the sentence, not the full stop (would that be the month, the year?). But it’s a breath. It affords pause, review, and reflection. My conversations with friends have revealed that one of the great challenges of staying and/or working from home (an affordance we are lucky for) is differentiating time. It’s hard moving into a state of focused work when ‘work’ used to be a place to go, not just a thing to do. The bullet journal is helping me to break up the feeling of all that time into parts — and in ways that don’t feel coldly managerial, but creative. Visually, I’ve started to give each week and its days a theme — something small to enjoy. For this week’s theme, I drew flowers and mushrooms with a Venus-Fly-Trap-inspired palette (which I love, and which will definitely be used for a later project). It felt like doodling in my trusty sketchbook, but with a practical end product. πŸ™‚ I hope they make you smile.

As for the full page, I’m discovering that I like logging things in long ‘column’ form. I use a dotted notebook which allows for the design of different boxes and grids. The vertical columns allow me enough space to, say, make a simple To Do list at the top, then schedule chunks of time for specific items below. I also leave a space below or beside the days of the week to remind myself of other general things to remember — a quote, a deadline coming up, a birthday. I pair this weekly calendar + tracking with a general wall calendar for the big things (such as the wonderful printable 2021 Beastie calendar!) and am organizationally set. πŸ™‚

This week’s page. Click to zoom.

Well, that is my first foray into the BuJo world. Bullet journaling is very much my response to having lived most of my recent years in unstructured time, and wanting to find a new way to plan and be intentional! I’ll plan to share some of my favourite journal pages in upcoming posts, and hope that I can stick with this practice throughout 2021. Feel free to share your own organization practices in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

Until next time. πŸ““ ✏️

A studio of one’s own

Welcome 2021! I hope this finds you well. πŸ™‚

I wanted my first post of the year to set the stage for good things to come, and also illustrate a little of what I’ve been up to these days. I returned to painting, December; I was missing the way that painting allows you to flood a space, however tiny, with fields of colour and create little dwelling places for the eye, especially during these colour-starved winter months.

I was looking at Matisse’s The Red Studio, and enjoying the way his paintings create spaces and interiors. With all of the time spent at home, this past year has made me think about indoor space — and how changing the way I use a familiar room can help to create a shift, however subtle, that brings a sense of much-needed newness with it. So, I drafted a “studio” scene of my own: in it, it is 4:30 pm, the light is yielding to dusk, moonlight, and Chicago flurries. I’ve queued up a playlist, plugged in the speakers, and it’s the painting hour. My dining room is doubling as the studio at the moment — a unusual space to scatter brushes and paint tubes and things, but something about picture-making and cooking in the same room feels like a truthful reflection on the things that sustain. Also, proximity to tea helps.

A relative who saw this picture early on said: “It is a happy picture painted with love.” I hope to continue 2021 in that spirit.

Completing this picture also led me to generate an artist prompt for the days when the muse needs a hand. Maybe it will come in handy in the future?

Artist Prompt:

Create a picture of happiness. Put yourself inside.

Until next time.

Robert Henri on the song within

Hi, folks. We’re on the cusp of another year, and bringing some hope and lightness to this passage feels more necessary to me than usual. Today, I’m reposting a 2018 reflection; I’m revisiting it because I find myself seeking out an affirming and ‘art teacherly’ voice — some guidance and inspiration for what I hope to be a new phase of embracing creativity. My past thoughts on Robert Henri’s text, The Art Spirit, have been helping me remember some things. SO, whatever your medium, I hope this offers a creative uplift.

I look forward to seeing the incredible projects that 2021 has in store for you, and wish you another year, as Henri wrote, of “great happiness in creation.”

-Shirley


I’ve been enjoying The Art Spirit, by painter and portraitist Robert HenriOriginally published in 1923, The Art Spirit is a collection of Henri’s notes, letters and lectures to his pupils and proteges on the creative life. For the devoted student of painting, there’s lots to sink one’s technical teeth into: painterly lessons on colour theory, composition, the importance of keeping a clean palette (I always lapsed there), avoiding the overuse of ‘white’ to convey value (I did that), and cultivating the powers of visual memory.

the art spirit.jpg

But this little collection shines most brightly in how the fragments come together to convey a message on the ‘art spirit’: the joyful cultivation of vision and imagination. For Henri, art (a term which the book does not take too seriously) comes from enchantment with life. Part of the labour of making, he suggests, lies in developing self-knowledge through experience, the senses, and the imagination — allowing ourselves to be touched and moved by the things around us, and finding exuberance and discovery in our own unique worlds of feeling. Several times in the text, he suggests that the object is not to ‘make art,’ but to live — and to trace the lines of that living through the things that we make.

school of life 1
Image source: The School of Life’s The Dangers of Being Dutiful 

This is a familiar message. But I enjoy how Henri expresses the idea, in different ways, with his own mix of wonder, warmth, and the ardent desire that budding artists learn, beyond technique, to recognize, value, and find tremendous joy in their intuition — what he calls the “inner sense.” For Henri, painting is not merely a technical skill; it is a way of being alive and in full relation to oneself and the world. Henri uses a particular metaphor for this relationship: creative joy is like finding and singing your song with all of your heart — a scary proposition, when I think of it, but The Art Spirit suggests that we give our throats “a chance to sing.”

You’ll find some of The Art Spirit moments that I found interesting below.


The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which she was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of her before she has passed into what is understood as real life. 

On the experience of creative insight (on safeguarding your “song”):

At such times, there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold material intellect… yet we live in the memory of these songs… They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art. 

Cherish your own emotions and never under-value them. We are not here to do what has already been done.

Find out what you really like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. Then sing your song. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing.

From Henri’s letter to a student:

Your education must be self-education. Self-education is an effort to free one’s course so that a full growth may be attained. One need not be afraid of what this full growth may become. Give your throat a chance to sing its song. All the knowledge in the world to which you have access is yours to use…Don’t bother about your originality, set yourself just as free as you can and your originality will take care of you. It will be as much a surprise to you as to anyone else.

The end will be what it will be. The object is intense living, fulfillment; the great happiness in creation.

And one last one, for now, from a painting critique Henri wrote to a student (something which I think all evolving artists need to hear):

“I like your work and have only to ask you to go on your own interesting way with all the courage you can muster.”