Creating space to create

I hope this post finds you well and easing into holiday things. I’ve seen my days take a very nocturnal turn recently, in a good way. Where we are, the sun sets by 4:30 pm. As elsewhere, a longer part of the day is now spent in darkness. We are also currently under a stay-at-home advisory in Illinois, so the usual holiday visits and anticipatory shopping trips have been replaced, this year, by nights at home. These conditions have given me the opportunity to explore the unique qualities and possibilities of nighttime.

I am biased, of course. I have long been a night owl who has had to learn to curb my nocturnal habits in order to participate in daytime things. I love mornings, in theory. Every well-organized sunlit workspace I’ve seen on Pinterest has given me the feeling that daytime is the best time — it’s when we fry sun-coloured eggs in a pan, brew hot energizing drinks, migrate to the work-desk, and expend our efforts. Light allows plants to photosynthesize, makes colours vivid, and makes us feel good. In reality, though, I hit my stride in the late afternoon. My mornings tend to be a bit of a mental jumble. My thoughts flood with the numerous to-dos of the day; it’s as though waking up twists the handle on a spigot and out everything comes, all at once. For this reason, organizing tasks and being productive in the daytime often feels like corralling wayward sheep — doable, but requiring that I marshal my mind’s most industrious herder dogs.

Most days, my inner border collie looks like this… (I’m sure this means that I need better organization methods, or at least more caffeine).

BUT. As the sun sets, a shift happens. The call to activity quiets down, and I properly wake up. A stillness and slowness begins to set in at around 4:30 pm (dusk, here) bringing a feeling of calm and openness — a smoothness to things, and a freedom from daytime rushing around. There’s time to uncoil, and I can almost feel my retinas relax and become newly receptive again. Seeing and sensing the outside things is replaced with seeing inside things in the mind’s eye (characters, scenes, colours… little animals). Night is the time for fireplaces and candles, imagination and inward thoughts. I believe the word-friendship between “hearth” and “heart” is revealing.

I hope I don’t sound like a villain, but I love the night. I’m cultivating this night-time creativity and have started practicing a creative ritual at sundown (4:30-5:30 pm): I light a candle or two, turn on my favourite lamp (the one with the orange glow), queue up a nocturnal playlist, brew a cup of non-caff tea, and give myself an hour to create before dinner — whether writing, editing photos, drawing, knitting… whatever my heart desires of the day. It’s the hour I give myself to set my creative hearth/heart alight. It’s a warm and comforting time for pencils and inks, music, doodling, and orange light. Like all good things, it is bookended by cooking. 🙂 As we approach the cold days, painting and comics have become my staple.

Here’s my messy creative space, replete with handmade pom poms, some unfinished weaving, and deer pals (I am a clutterbug).

The elements of the space are simple and few:

  • colour pencils
  • gouache paints
  • primary watercolours
  • Copic multiliner pens
  • Black Magic and Winsor & Newton inks
  • brushes, brushes, brushes
  • laptop for reference images
  • speakers
  • my big ringed sketchbook
  • a lit candle to signal that the creative light is ‘on’
  • and a copy of Lynda Barry’s Making Comics (2019) which has been inspiring some new artwork and thinking about artwork (more on this in an upcoming post)

In the meantime, here is a little bird-friend — a portrait in gouache of my childhood parakeet, Richard, who was with us for 7 years and was known to mistake a plate of red spaghetti for worms (we let him fly around, he loved it). He is showing me how to glow in the dark.

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!”

sloth .jpg

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!

 

Deer hug #2

Happy Wednesday.

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.deer scan2I 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.

deer pencil sketch
Pencil sketch: most of the background was inked with a Winsor & Newton Kolinsky sable watercolour brush (there is really nothing like these, who knew that little weasel hairs make for a super precise point!).

deerpic2
When they’re not hanging with the loom, the deer get to scrutinize their likenesses.

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!

Four reasons to love gouache

Sometimes, you get bitten by the bug that urges you to try something new.

I know that I have been bitten when I find myself buying art supplies – they are one of my bug’s ‘new things’ of choice. In recent years, this bug urged me, out of the blue, to try brush and ink work. Watercolour followed soon after. And when a dear friend gave me a set of technical pens a few years ago, the bug didn’t bite for a while. Last week, the art-supply bug struck again, however, and I found myself coming home with something special: a set of gouache paints.

This little painting (gouache and ink on paper) was an introduction to how gouache works: how it thickens up, thins out, how it mixes, what will sit on top of it, and what can hide underneath it. It’s messy and improvised, which is how most of my art-learning proceeds: make little messes, and keep making messes until things make sense.gouache 1 8-3-2018gouache 3 detail

I learned that I really enjoy how gouache works. In fact, I love gouache.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Specifically, four.

1. Gouache is versatile, with incredible range. Depending on how it’s applied, its coverage can range from washy and almost watercolour-style to smooth opaque sections of flat colour. It comes thick out of the tube, but is fully water-soluble, allowing for different degrees of saturation and layering. For this property, gouache often gets described as lying midway between the wet transparency of watercolour and the opacity and saturation of acrylic paint. I like to think of gouache as the gelato of paints: it has a very smooth and velvety consistency, and just a tiny dollop packs a big colour/flavor punch. It also dries nicely matte (not at all glossy). This last quality was particularly useful to graphic designers before the heyday of digital imaging; because it provided a saturated and fast-drying pigment that was also matte and non-reflective (i.e. great for scanning or photographing images for print), gouache was the retro designer’s medium of choice.

But there’s more.

2.  Paints on both page and palette can be reactivated and reworked with water after they’ve dried. While paints like acrylics and oils are generally indelible once dry, gouache can be revived and “fixed.” All is not set in stone! There is, of course, a limit to this, and this advantage poses its own hazards: painting with a too-wet brush on top of an already-dried image can sometimes dissolve underlying layers of paint right off the page, leaving white ‘halos’ or spots. The key is to get the right amount of water which, I’m finding, takes trial and error and likely differs across paint brands. A related implication is that finished paintings need to stay bone dry; stray drops of water on finished gouache could be potentially not a good thing (the caveats on this point are lengthy, but this is still an interesting property because… paint that can be revived with water!!).

3.  Gouache provides a great drawing surface. Its matte, almost chalky surface once dried is great for layering paints and other media; ink (from either a brush or technical pen) seems to sit quite happily on top of a layer of gouache.

gouache 4 detail
Black and pink ink on layered gouache.

Pencil sketching and erasing on gouache also works quite well. It sits solidly on the page, and doesn’t fade easily, despite repeated – gentle – erasings (I have left white patches on past watercolour paintings this way). Gouache adheres well.

4.  And finally, bold colour.This is perhaps what gouache is known for; the medium is great for creating bold, flat and layer-able fields of pigment. I found that it may take several layers of paint to get, say, a light pigment to appear fully opaque over a dark one (see the dog below, where one layer of white paint isn’t fully opaque on the violet background). Layers of paint are ok, though (and I suspect this opacity will, again, differ by brand and quality). The paint generally allows for sharp contrasts, crisp contours, and simple, bold graphic forms (what I love).

gouache 2 detail

So, there are some initial thoughts on gouache. I’m excited to continue experimenting (and if you’ve had any gouache experiences, I’d love to hear about them!).

And, introducing…a new hybrid website

To encourage myself to stay productive in painting and drawing, I’ve rearranged handmadehabit.com – now a hybrid blog-portfolio! The chronological format of regular blogging meant that my favourite work was getting lost in the archives; I felt it should have a corner of its own.

The general menu now includes links to 2 portfolios where I plan to continue to create collections of work: painting + drawing and short comics (feel free to have a peek, these still-sparse galleries will be updated on an ongoing basis!). I’ve also added a place for the occasional sketchbook doodle, and have updated the about page. The Blog menu navigates to the regular blog and its categories: posts on knitting, art/craft projects and process, good reads, and inspiration (the usual).

Thank you for reading, and wishing you lots of creative mojo into the week ahead!

Rainy day reading

Today is one of those rainy, overcast Chicago Saturdays – the kind that makes the pavement wetly audible and keeps you inside with tea, a top bun, and time for quiet reading. It’s the kind of low-lit, indoor day where I’d rather listen to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and dream about the city than go there myself.

Anyhow, just a doodle and a song to share today. Wishing you many good times with many good books!

reader sketch.jpg