Happy Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year is upon us! This is the year of the Ox — a symbol in the lunar calendar associated with strength, diligence, hard work, and reliability (no plow skills needed). Oxen energies are expressed each time we plan a course of action; apply consistent effort, whatever our pace; and evince a little bit of “stubbornness” (let us say, perseverance) in adhering to a vision or idea. This is, in other words, the year for planting our feet on long-harbored dreams and making them come into fruition — the year that expended elbow grease will be likely to pay off (one hopes!). As per the lunar zodiac, this year also appears to favour restoration, replenishment, and recovery in their various senses, but will also be a time to carry the responsibilities that accompany the rewards. I like to treat the zodiac not as a firm set of predictions, but as an open-ended starting point for orienting action and energy (I read the I Ching in a similar way).

So. In that spirit, I wish you Oxen energies as you continue, this year, to bring into being the things in your heart!

Ok. Art-wise, my heart has been a flowery place. I recently did a simple still life drawing. More imagined flowers, in pencils, drawn in January. I see them as clowny and happy and pretty.

I treated myself to a new set of pencils in January, and I enjoy them: the scratchy texture isn’t 100% coverage on the page, but penciled space holds movement and line in a way that makes me feel like I show up in the picture. And in comparison to the fluidity and flow of paint, pencils require a little bit of elbow grease — a little push, from the inside out, to make things happen. I recently finished another picture that involved penciling the surface of an 11 x 14″ page — and I did feel like a little ox, bearing the colours across the paper, slowly over several days, until the whole thing was covered. Pencils, simply, are good for my soul.

Ok. Wishing you the creative mirth of flowers, and auspicious beginnings! 🐂 🌸

Welcome, February

After the blink of January, February is upon us. Chicago received its second blizzard in a single week, and we are now under even bigger snow drifts and slushy puddles. Remember the 6 foot snowperson from the previous post? Well, an even bigger sibling has presented itself in the very same park. This one stands a little over 7 feet tall and is staying fashionable in a green scarf. At that height, this must have been a group effort.

We are also in the thick of a February deep freeze, starting today. Today the low is -14C, and the weekend will see us at a low of -19C at some point with the temps sticking around all of next week, if the forecast is correct. Well. Let’s see how our daily conditioning stroll goes. It is the period for soups, space heaters, wool, and chai. When I get alarmed at cold weather, I remind myself that, growing up in Canada, these temperatures were normal! I was a kid whose commute to high school took over an hour, with a lot of waiting in bus stops and open-air train stations in -15C weather… Here in Chicago, some train stations and bus stops are equipped with overhead heat lamps. Heat lamps. Torontonians knew no such luxury).

On the art front, I have been keeping busy, and bullet journaling my way through the week, finding myself strangely productive. I owe this, in part, to the start of February — new energies abound and the Lunar New Year is approaching. I also like to think that the colours in this week’s theme helped things along a bit. For this first week of February, I went with something festive and ferny-flowery (again).

Against the strong inclination to hibernate, the colours are keeping me awake and focused. 🙂

I hope you are staying safe, well, and warm. Giant Snowman and Snow Flamingo send their greetings. Until next time. 🦩⛄

Floral portrait

Happy Friday. I hope your week has been going well. As well as possible. 🙂 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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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. 📓 ✏️

A studio of one’s own

Welcome 2021! I hope this finds you well. 🙂

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.