Tag Archives: Creativity

Recommence

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I find myself struggling with my art. I don’t know what to draw. Cats, of course, but I feel as if there should be more to it. Should I expand my subject matter? Create more complex compositions? Work larger? Draw in a series? Switch to acrylic? Build little theatrical scenes? Print and sew more fiber-related works? Work in a series? Develop a narrative? I want to do everything, and so, feeling overwhelmed, do very little.

 

Pencil drawing. Woman on Bench.

I made this drawing during a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport when I was traveling over the holiday.

The next two months will be consumed with creating costumes for a local high school production, and teaching adult art workshops. I look forward to do both of these things, but they also distract me from the work of my own art. At the same time, these experiences can also invigorate my personal practice. Maybe there something about the costuming that I want to incorporate into the personal lexicon of my art making? And, I always learn something new by teaching what I already know to others.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? I’d like to hear how other creatives work through their less productive spells.

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Challenge Accepted

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Last year, I participated in Drawlloween, a challenge for artists to post a work every day for the month of October based on Halloween themed prompts. Despite my most sincere efforts, I can not draw anything that looks really scary, but, I proceeded anyway, rendering my subjects in watercolor and pen. You can look back on my interpretations starting with Drawlloween with Cats, where I present the first four drawings I completed, including Return from the Dead, Mansions and Manors, Spider Day, and Better Homes & Goblins.

Drawing of a cat running

Day 1: Fast

I contemplated joining in the spooky fun again this year, but, instead, opted to do Inktober, which follows a similar format by providing daily drawing prompts. Inktober is decidedly non-seasonal, and the only rule, really, is that the drawing must be executed in ink. I find the discipline of using pens quite appealing, and I admire artists who do fine inking work. My favorite of all time is Edward Gorey, but a recent find is the illustrator Franco Matticcio. Both of these artists employ fine, directional marks, layering, and a variety of patterns and textures to create contrast and build form. Their drawings are also whimsical, and they both draw cats, among other things.

Drawing of barking collies.

Day 2: Noisy

Across the board, interpretations of these prompts varies wildly, with incredible artists submitting their works. It is SO inspiring and fun to see what other people draw. You can see what other artists are doing by searching #inktober and #drawlloween on any social media site!

Already a couple of days behind the Inktober schedule, posts will arrive as I complete more drawings.

 

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!

Cats Always Land on Their Feet

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A friend and I were talking about the process of art making, and how much practice is needed to create art –and especially to get a piece that meets one’s artistic expectations. We were also discussing how a desire for perfection can sometimes keep you from creating at all. That’s one of the reasons I like to participate in drawing challenges like Drawlloween— and make it public– it gives me a little extra kick to commit to my work. Whether I like the results or not, the work must commence.

For today’s prompt, Circus Sunday, I dug out an old painting that I had abandoned a few years ago because I just didn’t like how it was turning out. Inspired by the conversation with my friend, and hoping the circus image would be work for Drawlloween, I tackled the old painting, adding more darks and color, not worrying about the previous expectations I’d had for the piece.

It didn’t take me very long to give the flat image a little more life. There are still things I would do differently, but it’s not sitting neglected in a drawer. And, while the image isn’t eerie, or even Halloween-y, I figure there’s nothing more scary than confronting your creative demons, so here is my Circus Sunday.

Circus cat on a trapeze.

Circus Cat

Make Your Own Cat

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Make Your Own Cat

A few years ago, I constructed a prototype toy cat using scraps of hand-dyed fabric and some beans for stuffing. The resulting creature, let’s call him Stuffed Cat One, was entertaining, but not quite what I was trying to achieve. I learned a lot at that time, like, I don’t like working that small, the arms should be longer, the head isn’t dimensional enough, it needs a puss nose and whiskers. It’s kind of a long list. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning, three years later, determined to take another go.

Pink Beanie Cat

Here’s the original! Stuffed Cat One.

Stuffed Cat Two, assembled from black cotton, is fresh off the design table. It was not easy going. First of all, black is impossible! A lint collector of the first degree and hard to see details, I struggled with keeping it clean and concise.

Making a Stuffed Black Cat

Heads, legs, arms, and a tail. Plus, the unstuffed body of Cat Two.

Second, there are some proportions I would change. The distance from the nose to the neck seam is too long for a cat. The narrow arms and legs next to the puffy torso make Stuffed Cat Two look like a cousin to Piglet from the Hundred Acre Wood. The size and placement of the ears may be adding to this problem. The eyes give him that Toothless look from How to Train Your Dragon. However, these eyes are an improvement over the first attempt where I sewed on amber-colored jewels that made Stuffed Cat Two look like Super-Freako Sparkle Kitty.

Stuffed black cat.

The finished prototype. He has whisker issues, but he seems friendly.

Don’t get me wrong. Prototypes are important. I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to make Two, the Amazing Forever Cat. Besides, frustration is instructive. I learned that I like working this size better. I think the overall shape of the nose is improved over Stuffed Cat One. And, during construction, I figured out some shortcuts that would help if I wanted to make more than one at a time.

Stuffed Cats

Stuffed Cat One and Stuffed Cat Two, side by side, for comparison.

It is unclear whether or not I will now, or sometime in the future, create Stuffed Cat Three. All of my observations will guide me should I decide to make adjustments and try again. I just have this romantic notion of a herd of Stuffed Cat minions, all fun and funky, looking down at me from a decorative shelf. No matter what I decide, I’m sure you’ll hear about it one way or another.

Caterday Costumes

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I’ve been working on costumes for a local production of The Wizard of Oz. First dress rehearsal is this Monday, so I’ve been super busy creating munchkins, flying monkeys, and the rest of the characters. Here are some snapshots of my faithful assistants “helping” me with the costumes. Vera does quality control by laying on all of the fabrics, testing them for comfort and durability. Lucy goes through the scraps and trims, looking for useful bits of decoration before the broom takes away the excess. And Miss Bean is the project manager. She oversees the operation, keeping the work orderly, ensuring that the pattern pieces don’t get disheveled by anyone but her. Thanks for checking in! Now, I’m off to see the wizard!

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Done is Wonderful

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One of the circus horse heads, and the more or less successful, Baby Kangaroo.

One of the circus horse heads, and the more or less successful, Baby Kangaroo.

Do you remember a few posts ago when I mentioned that there are times when a creative project might benefit from adrenaline-induced mania, like on Project Runway? Well, I am in one of those zones this week! Tomorrow is costume parade/first dress for Seussical, Jr., the show I am costuming for Platte River Elementary.

Every character now has a completed main garment, so I’m doing things like gluing matching feathers on shoes and making animal hats. I just finished the Baby Kangaroo puppet. It didn’t turn out how I envisioned, but I’m happy with the results anyway. That’s what happens when you get down to the wire. I used to work for a costume designer who would say, “Done is wonderful,” when we’d get close to a deadline. That’s me right now. Done is wonderful.

As you approach your own creative endeavors this week, find something that needs finishing! Deadline or no, your projects deserve to be fully realized, so let go of expectations and just go for it.

Thanks so much for checking in.

Creativity is Child’s Play

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“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung

Artwork by Clayton McCracken, one of my former students. Clayton is currently attending Savannah College of Art and Design.

Artwork by Clayton McCracken, one of my former students (2013.) Clayton is currently attending Savannah College of Art and Design.

There is a ton of evidence to support the idea that play is essential to invention and creativity. In his TED talk, Tales of Creativity and PlayTim Brown, CEO of IDEO an “innovation and design” firm talks about the importance of play in the design process, which includes experimentation with materials, and role-playing to understand behaviors. Super-interesting stuff! Watch it here.

Many top firms now include play as a component of the workplace. From Google’s famous indoor slide, to Apple’s volleyball courts, employees are encouraged to play at work and to work at play. Companies are realizing that to have innovative output, there must be a culture of trust, encouragement, and collaboration that is enhanced through shared discovery. There’s even a National Institute for Play, which supports research about what play can teach us at any age.

One of the happiest times in my life was when I was in my final year of working on my MFA. I was preparing my thesis exhibition and teaching 6th grade art part time in a rural, public school. I taught the first three periods of the day, finished around 11 a.m., and then made the 30-minute drive back to my studio in the city. I had just completed two grueling, serious, emotional years of study where the competition for shows and attention was cut-throat. Getting the job with these kids saved my soul because they reminded me that art is FUN! I watched the students learn by taking risks, being goofy, not necessarily succeeding, but trying anyway, and being proud of their efforts. It was refreshing to take that attitude back to my own studio where, frankly, I was so stressed out, that making art was not so much fun. I had become nearly immobilized by critiques and exhibitions and competition and output, that I forgot to play and explore. As a result of my experience with those awesome 12-year olds, I was able to find the vigorous part of my spirit in art making once again.

Do you give yourself permission to discover, experiment, and suppose? When you were a kid, what activities were the most fun? How did you investigate your world? How can you imbue your adult life with more silliness, inspiration, and inquiry in order to advance your creative ideas now?

Compare and Contrast

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This was one of my creations based on the Chindogu challenge. It's a piece of bling that sounds an alarm when it's wearer uses incorrect grammar.

Here’s a piece I designed as part of the Crash Course on Creativity. It’s a flashy piece of bling that sounds an alarm when it’s wearer uses incorrect grammar.

I encounter the strategy of juxtaposition in almost every resource on creativity. Roger vonOech includes it in his Creative Whack Pack, as does Tina Seelig in her book inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity. (Here is a TEDx talk where Tina Seelig talks about the 6 characteristics of a creative person. Definitely worth the watch.)

As an aside, I enrolled in a MOOC (massive open online course) a couple of  years ago taught by Seelig called, A Crash Course in Creativity, offered through Stanford University. It was a free, six-week class that explores strategies similar to those I’ve been writing about. Anyway…

Juxtaposition asks you to compare things in order to extrapolate a meaning. When trying to develop or push an idea, it’s often worthwhile to force comparisons of things that may be dissimilar. The resulting vibration of oddness can pique the imagination into looking for solutions that may not been evident to you before.

This is one of the classic examples of Chindogu.

This is one of the classic examples of Chindogu.

Take Chindogu, the Japanese art of unuseless inventions as an example. By “unuseless” it has to appear as if it would be a great idea, but isn’t really practical. In fact, if you’ve made something truly utilitarian, then, according to the tenets of Chindogu, it’s not a Chindogu. Think of little umbrellas for your shoes, or a motorized work desk so you never have to stop working.

I’m not suggesting that everyone go around making absurd or unusable work, but rather, how does the introduction of new or unexpected information enable you to explore the problem in a new way? How can the compare-and-contrast of juxtaposition help you to expand your idea’s usefulness, context, scope, appearance, or unique qualities?