Well, I recently re-discovered an old Wacom drawing tablet in the top-drawer of our “old tech” dresser (the one full of wires and adapters and old thingamajigs). What buried treasure! In combination with free GIMP software, the drawing tablet has given me a new way to “paint” with all the colours and leave behind fewer actual stains and messes in the process (if you haven’t yet used GIMP, and are interested in a free image-editing/basic drawing tool, I highly recommend it. It’s no Photoshop, but it’s very good).
It seems that a beast of a blizzard is brewing and making its way to Chicago. We can already hear the wind; it’s howling in the streets, shrieking in the crevices of our windows, and is bringing down fine bits of diagonally-falling snow (it’s the Windy City for a reason). That means it’s time to take out the long johns, stock up on tea and cookies and candles, and gear up for some extended nights in front of the fireplace channel. And, time for art. Painting and drawing have always helped me get through long winter days and nights. Whether in pigment or pixel form, I need those colours — their energies and worlds of feeling.
Here’s a very first tablet painting. It’s keeping my thoughts warm!
Hello, dear folks of WordPress. I hope mid-November finds you well.
I have not, in fact, crawled under a rock, run away with the circus, or joined the witness protection program (as my recent radio silence might have suggested). I have, rather, been wading around, waist-deep in writing territory, chipping away at the Big Project. More than a couple hundred pages into this thesis, and I still underestimate how consuming writing can be. In the living room of the mind, this project has taken up lots of space. It’s been like that inconveniently large sofa-bed we’ve all encountered — the heavy-bulky one with weird contours that jut out at awkward, space-consuming angles. Sure, it’s big and comfortable, but it eats precious floorspace and hampers easy mobility around it, violating all the principles of Feng Shui. What’s more, its upholstery has got a loud, monopolizing print that refuses to match even the best of colour-coordinated afghans. Such is my relationship to this work (and why the knitting needles and art supplies have been mostly unattended these days).
It’s an odd form of infatuation, writing is.
Why I hand write
One thing I’ve come to love about the process has been thinking about all the ways writing intersects with art and hand-crafting. It seems that my crafting sensibilities have invaded my writing process. This has not always been the case! I used to rely heavily on my laptop to make words. But lo and behold, the past few weeks find me going back to what used to be my hand-writing holy trinity: pencil, paper, and Staedtler eraser.
I find the word processor excellent for editing and revision. But when it comes to brainstorming and generating that very first draft — that initial, fear-riddled leap from nothing to something — handwriting fits the bill, for me, for several reasons.
It’s a slower pace of composition that puts no pressure for speed on word-recall. A slower hand, decelerated by the friction of pencil lead, gives my mind time to perform its internal word search. Ideas are so fragile at this first stage, and with the pencil, they get time and space to ripen and coalesce. There’s time, too, to pay attention to rhythm and sound; form does not fight with content.
The hand-written page, I find, is also very low commitment, and that’s good. It’s the writerly equivalent of a laundry-hamper: no one needs to ever see the state of the things that go in there! It’s also a kind of “test swatch”; the page can be a space of freedom and possibility and privacy (and that means the writing becomes a bit more comfortable again).
Also, tactility. A lot of Word processor functions mimic things we habitually do on paper. Whether bolding text, writing comments in the margins, cutting and pasting, or adding a strategic strikethrough, underline or highlight, these are all imitations of the ways we touch words in their making. Wrangling with the tactility of text — restoring words and meaning to their material state — reminds me that working with words is a craft. Word-working is not so different from wood-working, after all. It can be just as fun as selecting a fiber or texture, or planning the hues in a yoke (as the picture above shows, my process now includes literally cutting and pasting sections together, true to my crafter’s heart).
Finally, I love paper. Specifically, there’s something magic and special about that yellow paper — the humble yellow legal pad with the blue lines and pink margin.
This stuff is like chicken soup for the writer’s soul (a fitting metaphor, as it’s about the same chicken soup-colour). In pad form, the paper feels soft and smooth and cushioned and kind — as inviting as a newly made bed in clean, striped yellow linens. “Lay your words here,” the pad seems to say, and, bit by bit, the words come, wanting to find a resting place. The paper itself is thin, dismally rip-able, and bordering on translucent, evoking the flimsiness of newsprint. Strangely, this flimsiness is comforting; it sends a message to the subconscious that, like newsprint, this writing is entirely disposable and chuck-able in the trash bin (or better yet, recyclable). And, like the daily paper, whatever gets crumpled up today will be replaced by more ink and more words the next day; the paper evokes regularity, the mundane, and assurance of abundant things to come tomorrow. So much of writing fluency, I’m learning, lies in managing the state of constantly being confronted with the unknown; for the blocked or beleaguered writer, anything that helps with recovering ease and regularity is nothing short of miraculous. This paper is my secret sauce.
Thanks for reading my writing ramblings, with likely more to come. It helps me tremendously to take a breather from the work and reflect on what helps and what hinders the writing process. And, my crafter’s brain is always looking to stitch up the connections between writing and other forms of creative practice. I would love to hear how others make this connection. What role does writing play in your non-writing creative practice and productivity?
…that’s me! The sloth below is the one that seems to pop up out of nowhere, as if to say “I’m still here!”
I’ve been incredibly slothful this month and last with updating this blog. September was a challenging, busy, but also very enjoyable month, and when I returned back to the US at the start of October, I jumped right back into work, clean-up, and playing catch-up with all the bills. Oh, and work on the longstanding writing project (the thesis).
I’m sad to say that I haven’t yet mastered the art of keeping the writing and the drawing on the burner at the same time — when writing is on the agenda, I tend to limit the drawing so as to give the writer in me lots of space and rest, and hopefully keep the words coming for the next day. I’ve found that drawing + painting tend to have a powerful momentum of their own — an almost monopolizing and consuming kind that will keep me up late into the night because a bright green parakeet must be made. Now. Sleep and clock-time are unheard of. Of course, this kind of late-night work process upsets the writer in me, who values more predictability in routine and, above all, sleep — the only time when ideas can, of their own accord, coalesce, take new shape in dreams, and ready themselves for the page the next morning. As I continue to hone different skills, I hope that the artist and the writer can learn to live in more peaceful and mutually supportive coexistence!
I drew this sloth a while ago because I’m 100% certain that sloths are my closest animal kin (in spirit, and maybe a little in likeness!). Like my furry and clawed counterparts, slowness is my super-power and secret to survival. If ever you watch a sloth ambulate, you’ll notice their slow deliberation (and maybe the odd bit of algae that’s begun to thrive on their fur). It’s really quite amazing. There are all kinds of costs of doing things slowly, of course, but I like the equanimity of keeping things at a manageable pace when possible; this is something that art, knitting, and writing are helping me to cultivate.
I hope to have more things to report in the coming weeks as I slowwwly catch up with all things WordPress. In the meantime….a baby sloth yawning! (if this doesn’t instantly turn your innards to goo, then I don’t know what to say).
Fall-like weather is gingerly making its way to Toronto, and with that the monarch butterflies are starting their southern migration. It’s common to see little butterfly friend-groups flitting just above city traffic – playful and hovering and disappearing into the still-green boughs of trees. Is there anything more bittersweet than this flying away?
Here is a butterfly I can hold in my hand – in cardboard and coloured pencil.
Any signs of the changing seasons in your neck of the woods?
Today’s post is another gouache + ink painting – one that revisits the hand-sewn, felt deer pals I designed earlier this year, in a different medium. It seems that these inseparable pals are still hugging, and thus still reminding me of the importance of embodying a little kindness and care – toward ourselves, others, and our precious world.I chuckle to admit it here, but I was very loosely thinking of The Two Fridas (1939) when penciling this picture out. I changed the colours on the original sewn deer so that they’re a little more alike here – like two sides of the same doe-coin.
Thanks to the wonders of scheduled posting, this post went live while I was sitting in a chair in the sky: I’m en route to 🇨🇦 today to spend quality time with family and friends, and get lots of work done. There is nothing quite like homecoming and reunion.
I’ve kept the creative kit simple for my travels – one set of knitting needles (just one) and some drawing paper. I’m excited to find new yarn and coloured pencils. My internet access may be spotty, but I look forward to keeping up on your creative doings when I catch a wi-fi wave.
Thank you for reading, and wishing you lots of creative contentment, in the meantime!