Merci, 2018

Hello, friends. It has been nearing two months since my last thing here – I managed to miss the new-year’s tidal wave of blog posts, and then some, but am finally getting around to catching up. Having also renewed the domain for another 12 months, I thought it was high time to break my no-post dry spell.

I’ve found it challenging to keep up with blogging this past while. The last few weeks have seen me a little blocked up – it’s been hard to find my yarn-fingers (the knitter’s equivalent of sea legs) and my words. Even my gouache colours have been lying dormant and unsqueezed in their travel-toothpaste-sized tubes. After some attempts at forcing a few creative Starts — a bright orange alpaca hat that came out too small, a garment-unravelling project that hit a snag and stayed there — I’m deciding to get friendly with this period of creative dormancy — to stop trying to fix it, to let it be, and maybe even get acquainted with it.

As I’ve written in past posts, The Block is no stranger in these here parts. My projects have often followed this logic and sequence: there’s the dizzying dream of making something new, the hours of research; brow-furrowed exertion melds into hyperfocus (the sweet spot and superpower of creators!); acuity grows with repetition and concentration, but unfortunately, so does fatigue; the arc of work winds down; soon, I find myself not just tapped out, but feeling a bit like the bikes I’ve seen around town, tethered in place and missing a wheel (am I the only one who likes to imagine the complex emotional worlds of bicycles?).

That said, I’m learning to soften into periods of pause, like this one. Although the needles and keyboard are mostly silent these days, I keep cooking and ironing the odd shirt and puttering around the apartment with my green-bristled broom, witchy and on the lookout for dust-bunnies. I read books and aspire to finish books — one at a time, too, which is very uncharacteristic. I eat milk chocolate and talk to friends and watch funny movies. I try not to let the post-vacation laundry pile creep too high. I drink detox herbs at night, stream episodes of “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo and make an earnest attempt at streamlining the spice cabinet (that’s about as far as I get, but I’m happy, in the process, to rediscover a jar of hidden cloves so I count the effort a success). ūüôā

I also take stock of projects past, reminding myself that Pauses are temporary guests and not year-round roommates. When I think back on my creative journey of 2018, I remember that it was a great year, full of firsts, milestones, growth, and giving — a very first colour-work garment (yay!), breaking into lace in a big way, doll-making experiments, and knitting up a good amount of baby-things and gifts. It was a year of giving away and keeping the learnings. It was a solid year.

In that spirit, I pulled this little blue butterfly out from my 2013 watercolour archives — I chose it as if to say “Merci” to 2018 for all the good things, and to lift a little wing for the flight ahead.

GIMP Art

Happy Monday, friends.

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!

The (Handi)Craft of Writing

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.

A different kind of handmade WIP.

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.

Chapters.

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?

Until next time!

A surprise sloth

…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!”

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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).

Until next time. I hope October finds you well.

PS: Coming soon, a bright green parakeet!

 

Paper Butterfly

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?

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