Category Archives: Journals

Recording Summer

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I was an art teacher for 20 years, so I always considered summer as the time when I could “catch up” on my art making. I couldn’t wait for my schedule to be free so I could start drawing again. Now that I’m working full time as an artist, I draw with more frequency, but I’m still habituated to the arty pull of summer.

I like to record my travels as I am inspired by my surroundings. Sometimes these drawings are quick sketches, with impressions that are grabbed quickly to preserve a memory, color or thought.

Colosseum drawing, Ancona, and gelato

The Colosseum, the coastline of Ancona, and an empty gelato cup from a trip to Italy in 2011 demonstrate on-the-fly sketches I might collect.

Other times, I rework or create new drawings or paintings back in the studio after collecting sketches and photos. These entries are more complete impressions of my surroundings where I incorporate objects, scenes, and details to capture what has seeped in during my visit. Like with the quick sketches, colors, objects, and landmarks dominate the work resulting in a portrait of the place I visited.

St. Francis, Ganesh, and a wildfire

Top: My homage to Georgia O’Keefe after visiting her home and studio in Taos, New Mexico. Bottom: St. Francis and Ganesh were both images I encountered in the mountains of Santa Fe. I was there in 2013 while a large wildfire raged on the mountain.

I rarely leave the house without a means to record the world around me. I wrote a post about what to include in your portable studio, which you can see here.  I find that having a sketchbook is a great alternative to staring at your screen in the airport or on long car rides. The drawings don’t have to be perfect, just a sincere effort at recording your impressions. You don’t have to travel far to find something to put in your sketchbook, either.

Watercolor landscape sketch

The perfect spot to draw. This small beach is just down the street from my house.

After all, as an artist, it is your duty to find the beauty in the seemingly mundane things around you, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I’ve drawn things ranging from other travelers to my kitchen serving bowls. I even spent one summer drawing the salt shakers in restaurants in which I was dining. You’d be surprised at the variety!

I hope you are inspired in your own way to record a memory this summer. Happy art, everybody!

Your Itinerant Attack Cat

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Handmade Books

Just a sampling of my handmade sketchbooks and journals.

Directly after Drawlloween, I turned all of my attention to production for the Holiday Art Market where I sold my handmade paper goods. Namely, journals and sketchbooks that I bind by hand, with covers of original design. In preparation for the show, I completed 90 books and orbs in just fourteen days! I’ve been blogging about my progress and describe one bookmaking process here, give an update here,  and then discuss my paper orbs in a later post.

Art fair booth set up

Attack Cat Studio at the Holiday Art Market.

I had a successful showing this weekend and visitors to the market seemed to really like my work. Since this was the first full-on beta test for Attack Cat Studio, I feel pretty good about the results. It was especially interesting to watch people interact with the displays. For example, some of the book stands are a little tippy. But, the flow of traffic through my booth seemed to work well. I also collected a few contacts who are interested in taking a bookmaking class with me in the winter.

Attack Cat Studio Logo

In addition to connecting people with sketchbooks and journals, I get to talk with cat lovers who notice my logo. The most frequently asked question is, “Which one is the attack cat?!”

Now, I prepare for another show, this one in December, at the Merry Maker’s Marketplace. I have new images to print for book covers, larger sketchbooks to create, and lots of pocket-sized journals to replace. If you’re interested in seeing some more of my work, you can check meow-t on Etsy.

Cat in a Box

Miss Bean, the original Attack Cat.

A Stitch in Time

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Today, in an attempt to catch up from being totally distracted by Drawlloween (see this you don’t know what I’m talking about,) I sewed together 45, yes, f-o-r-t-y-f-i-v-e, books just waiting for covers. I have an art show the second weekend in November, and I’m a little behind on production as I was having too much fun drawing kitties the entire month of October. Aside from being tired from sitting for 15 hours, I did binge watch about 8 episodes of Grimm, season one. And, while I was flanked by cats both on the couch and in the studio, sadly, there are no felines in the photo of today’s efforts.

Pile of text blocks.

I sewed all of these together today.

There Be No Werewolves Here

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Powerful and mysterious, the moon tugs at the oceans, determines our calendar, and causes mischief when we see the sun’s reflected light during the full lunar cycle. I always welcome that illuminating glow and the moon’s transformative luminosity. The succession from full, to waning, to half, to waxing is a comfort and a beacon, connecting me to my friends all over the world because we all gaze upon the same moon. So, today’s prompt, Beware the Full Moon, is more like an invitation for contemplation than a warning against danger.

Cats on a branch.

I Was Stumped

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I’ve never been much for movies starring evil villains wielding power tools, so when I considered what to do for the today’s prompt, I Came, I Chainsaw, I Conquered, I couldn’t help but think about how vast areas of trees have been unsustainably harvested, and are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Clear cutting, deforestation, habitat loss, and climate change. Now, THAT’S scary!
Drawlloween 2015

Cat on a stump in a clear-cut forest.

So, technically not very festive in the Halloween department, but a frightening thought, nonetheless.

Learning By The Book

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Learning By The Book

It’s been an interesting transition for me from teaching in a school setting where there are requirements, grades, and some continuity from one class period to the next, to workshop teaching where the time is limited to a few hours, and the class is more about acquiring an experience based on a single skill. Believe me, this is a BIG adjustment for me. I’m used to having multiple class periods to introduce, reinforce, and direct an in-depth project or skill set. Instead of thinking long-term, I have to focus more on teaching something that can be accomplished in a short period of time, yet still be a challenging, rewarding experience for the participants.

Beautiful books made by adult students in my bookmaking class.

Beautiful books made by students in my bookmaking class taught at Blackbird Studios.

I recently guided students in a bookmaking class, keeping in mind the shift to one-time experience-style instruction. The participants were determined, yet nervous, in their intention to make a book, so I went step by step through the process, which included:

  • selecting and folding all of the papers,
  • preparing the edges for sewing by poking carefully measured perforations on each fold,
  • binding the pages together by sewing over the tapes, into each page,  and linking the ends,
  • and, finally, gluing the covers together.

The class was scheduled to meet for two hours, but ran over by about thirty minutes, as I underestimated how long it would take the group to finish. (Every time I teach, I learn something new about my process and how I might do things differently.) Despite the extra time, I think all the participants were amazed with their creations and left proud of their new books!

Building A Book

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Building A Book

You may (or may not) have noticed the intermittent, yet ongoing, production from my studio. There was the fabric dyeing day, followed by multiple screen printing sessions using my old thermofax machine to burn screens. Now, I’m finally turning the printed and dyed fabric into blank journals and sketchbooks.

Steps showing sewing on tapes.

Top: The finished cover before the pages are attached. Bottom Left and Right: Shows what the in-process sewing looks like from the inside and the outside of the book.

The books have soft covers that I create by attaching the fabrics to Pellon Fuse-n-Shape, a thick, iron on interfacing that gives the covers some thickness without making them too thick. The binding is a variation of the coptic stitch and sewing over tapes. I like this binding because it leaves the spine exposed, and allows the visible stitches to become part of the aesthetics of the finished book. This binding is also sturdy and allows the book to lie completely flat when opened, a desirable quality when writing or drawing.

Orange Cat Book

Hand-dyed fabric with thermofax screen image, exposed-spine sewing on decorative cotton strips. Book is bound with waxed linen.

I have fun coordinating the cords, threads, and fabrics to individualize every book– no two are identical. Sometimes, I choose contrasting fabrics for the front and back of the book to add visual interest. So far, I have constructed six of these soft cover books and, with each one I complete, I learn a little more about the small things I’d like to finesse.

Cat on table with books

A selection of books, guarded over by the original Attack Cat, Miss Bean.

The Journey’s the Destination, Especially in Your Sketchbook

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The Journey’s the Destination, Especially in Your Sketchbook

I used to write in copious detail about the events of my travel day, inserting flowery adjectives, and composing play-by-play explanations. I do not poo-poo that kind of journaling. People write for many of the reasons that artists art. Now, however, I tend to take a more visual approach. Sometimes I pre-divide pages with shapes, not really knowing what content they will hold. On other pages, I respond to a scene, or, just draw things that inspire me on the journey. For the first time on this trip, I included some of the thoughts of my travel companions, and discovered that by doing so, the story became more complete.

Sketchbook Pages from Panama Trip

Left: I designed this page in pen without knowing ahead of time what the squares would contain. Right: Special things I wanted to remember after the trip.

It’s not as hard as you think to make full pages of drawings when you’re traveling. I tend to block a few things in, or throw a few words on a page, and then, when when I’m waiting for a meal, in transit on a plane or in a taxi, or back in the room for the night, I fill in with more drawings or bursts of text. Sometimes, I use photos I took during the day as reference. My travel kit (see this post) allows me a lot of flexibility so that my supplies are easily at hand.  When I get home from vacation, I continue to add color and detail until I have a complete collection of pages from the trip.

Sketchbook Drawings

Left: An unfinished page inspired by molas, fresh avocados and a cat. I’ll paint this in now that I’m home. Upper Right: A quick sketch of the skyline from a photo I’d taken earlier in the day. Lower Left: Memories, impressions from traveling companions, and a description of our hike written on the leaf shapes I’d encountered on the trail.

Don’t Leave Home Without It

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Art supplies

Here is what I’m taking along this trip.

Drawstring Bag

It all fits in here!

I can’t bear to be away from my art supplies when I travel, so I always assemble a portable studio to tote in my carry-on. I try include my favorite tools in the most space-economical way I can. The trickiest part is how to bring watercolor brushes without compromising their tips. Normally, I carry them in an old cosmetic bag, but that can results in bent or scruffy bristle issues. So, this time, I used part of a non-skid mat and some elastic to make a carrier.

Paintbrush holder

Left: I wove a piece of elastic through a piece of non-skid mat. Center: Inserted my brushes. Right: Rolled the bundle, and, presto! my brushes are protected in a lightweight, portable blanket.

Here’s what I put in my art travel kit:

  • Pencils, a sharpener, and an eraser
  • Mechanical pencils of different lead sizes
  • Black pens with permanent ink in different tip sizes
  • A few pens with colored ink
  • Highlighters
  • Scotch Tape
  • Mini-scissors (to get past security)
  • Glue stick
  • Travel watercolor kit
  • A few brushes
  • A trusty sketchbook or journal

Do you have any traveling-with-art tricks or tips?! Please share them with me!