Another sketchbook completed, and what I learned

I just finished another sketchbook, six months of Sundays, literally. And because I can’t simply leave it at that, I had to go one step further and try to figure out:

1- how to shoot a one-handed video in a noisy cafe, and also

2- learn how the heck to upload it to this website!

This may be simple-stupid for anyone who grew up with a cell phone in their tiny hands, but since my childhood toys were office scrap paper and a Crayola Box o’ 64 (filthy rich kid, right?), I have a bit of learning to do. My good friend J. in “the other Hampshire” has my permission to have a good laugh here… I use technology every day, I even count on it, but please don’t make me learn new stuff. Mea culpa, I’m not always a willing student.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT…. here goes.

The video, at the end of this post, shows me flipping through pages rather fast because you don’t need to read what I wrote on every page. My notes are often about the weather (“my fingers are freezing!”) or the supplies used that day (“EA med. palette, R16 brush, collapsible pot”), or maybe notes about the lovely people who stopped to chat with us. You can try to decipher what I wrote on any given page, but I encourage you not to do that. Your time is better spent sketching, right?

A still shot from the upcoming video. So far so good!

After the Ste Marie Church spread (see above), I had only one two-page spread left. I could’ve taken the book with me sketching one last time, but decided instead to honor the previous 55 pages and write an extensive “What I Learned” summary at the end. Here it is. (This actually is worth reading.)

1- The large 55° Fude pen is Magic.

2- Rosemary & Co. R-12 and R-16 daggers are the brush eqivalents of the Fude pen. Serious learning curve, yes, but life-changing. (R-12 is best for smaller sketchbooks; the larger R-16 brush is better for larger areas, of course.)

3- A large mixing area on the palette is actually a mixed blessing. (No pun intended!) Better to “minimally-mix” on the paper itself. Like this.

Fude pen lines (!), then Burnt Sienna/French Ultramarine “barely mixed” tree trunk.

4- Ink alone can be wonderful! Let it be!

Pen dancing is so much fun!

5- Sometimes your “focal point” is the atmosphere itself, the temperature, the scent in the air, not an individual object. Trust your instincts!

“June 6th, unusually hot day, but the shade was gloriously cool!”

6- Sketchbooks save Love! A long weekend in June spent with dear friends would’ve been lost in the back of my mind if I hadn’t asked my hosts if it was okay to sketch while we chatted. After no time at all your friends will see that you actually listen better when you’re sketching, that you are fully present every second, and that you’re also memorializing your time together. They will get to see what you see, and will thank you for it.

7- The Lamy Safari fountain pen still rocks for details. Love it!

8- ALL sketches improve in the dark. Finish your sketch, call it good even if it isn’t. Close the book. The next day, after the page has had time to steep like a good cup of tea, you’ll be amazed at how it’s improved. The wobbles will be minimized, the endearing bits become more endearing. (Note: Never let a cuppa steep ovenight. That was just a simile.)

9- Sketchbooks easily become storybooks if you add just a few notes to each expedition. Simple things like what artkit you used that day, was it hot or breezy, did you dump your coffee by mistake and then use the dregs in the bottom of the cup to finish off the stonewall in your sketch, did an elderly person walk by and say, “Nice day, isn’t it?” and smile at you? These details will warm your heart six months hence.

10- Giving up is sometimes wonderful! This sketch was so fiddly, drove me mad, especially that garden trellis fence in the back. I snarled aloud, sprayed it with a light mist of water, patted it just once with a tissue to lift some of the paint, and voila! Impressionism! Who knew!

11- Neutral Tint is relief for the eye after too much colorful eye-candy!

Neutral tint is the color most used by professional cartoonists because it reproduces so well.

12- And finally, a direct quote from my sketchbook: “Sketching time is not merely sketching practice; it’s practice staying present. We met so many lovely people over the past six months. Homeowners, a professional gardener, a pre-schooler, and many dog-walkers. All storytellers, though they didn’t know it.”

This entire book is also thanks to my dear friend and Sunday afternoon companion, Patrick. Together we kept our sketching practice going rain or shine, restless or inspired. I’m proud of us.

And now, the video. If it crashes or malfunctions or in any other way gets snarly, you get the gist of it from all those notes above. Enjoy!

My first attempt at posting a video. Fingers crossed!
…which in America can mean either “good luck” or “I’m lying.”
English is SO WEIRD.

PS: And because I know you’ll ask, this delightful sketchbook is a Speedball Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal, Square, 8-1/4 x 8-1/4, 95lb / 200 GSM. Price is $25.99. Considerably more expensive than its only-slightly-smaller kid brother, the Large Portrait (8.25″ x 5.5″) at $16.99. Note also this 200gsm paper is plenty thick for watercolor. Okay, we’re getting into the weeds here…

Posted in Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Introducing the new, larger Look at That! Art Pouches!

I just finished producing my latest batch of fourteen “Look at That” Art Pouches that are, wait for it, big enough to hold your cell phone! Yes, I caved!

Back story: I invented these pouches a few years ago, to address the challenge inherent in sketching or painting while standing on location, especially in a crowd. Too much juggling!

March 24, 2018, sketching at a women’s rights rally, standing elbow to elbow in the cold. So grateful I had my prototype pouch with me, loaded with just a pen and a tint brush!

“The fewer supplies you bring along with you, the more time you’ll have to pause, ponder, gaze, then begin sketching. You won’t waste time wondering which pen to use because you were smart enough to only bring two, not twelve. Your most expensive art supply is Time. Use it wisely.”

-page  14, “Look at That! – Discover the Joy of Seeing by Sketching”

No more reaching into multiple pockets, fumbling for a different pen, only to come up with a pencil or brush instead! I intentionally made the original Look at That! Art Pouches narrow so they’d only hold a couple pens and a water-brush, nothing more. The thing is though, in my book I also say it’s a good idea to take a photograph of your subject matter before you start to sketch, because you never know when you’ll be interrupted or your view will be suddenly blocked by a newly parked car or even a person. So you see I knew all along that a cell phone is also an essential art supply. I was just being curmudgeonly, not wanting to admit it.

All of these pouches, the original as well as the larger version, are designed, handwoven, and sewn by yours truly. I had quite a lot of narrow handwoven fabric on hand when I decided on this design change, so I had to figure out how to utilize it while also widening the pouches. This new version would need to be sturdy throughout as well as accommodate most cell phones. The solution: reinforced grosgrain ribbon.

The top openings on the original pouches were 2″ to 3.5″ wide. The new Ribboned Pouches range from 3.75″ to 4.25″ wide, ample space for many cell phones as well as a pen or two.

Original and the new Ribboned versions

These new “Ribboned Art Pouches” require considerably more work to produce (21 steps each rather than 13), and I’m very pleased with how they’ve turned out. All of the Art Pouches, whether the original design or the wider Ribboned Pouches, are fully lined and have sturdy 2-ply satin neck cords. The Ribboned Pouches feature grosgrain ribbon edging that has been reinforced with fusible interfacing to give the ribbon extra body.

Many hours listening to podcasts while standing in front of my trusty irong board!

I’m always glad to have a chance to use my 1949 Singer Model 301 sewing machine, the very same machine I used back in 7th grade “home ec.” class when I was a young girl. Nowadays, every time I go through the steps to gently open the cabinet top, tilt out the machine, then finish setting it up, it feels like a slow dance of muscle memory, time travel, and gratitude. My own version of a Japanese tea ceremony.

The gratitude I feel every time is for my luck in having had a mom who was so effortlessly, compulsively, creative that I never was intimidated by drawing or sewing or weaving or painting. It became the most natural thing in the world for a girl like me to do day or night.

Family folklore always said the machine had been a wedding present to my mom in 1949. As it turns out, the Model 301 was only sold from 1951 to 1952 , the years when my brother and I were born, so in truth this may have been a motherhood present instead!

Regardless, my initial research took me down several delightful rabbit holes, including this description of “The Revolutionary Singer Model 301 Slant-Needle Sewing Machine.” The fascinating link is here.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the work I’ve been doing these last few weeks, and a link to my Etsy site here. Note: the original version of the pouches remains $28 plus shipping, and I’m charging $35 for the new larger version. Each pouch takes several hours to weave, sew, and assemble, and I want it to be as affordable as possible.

Each pouch also comes with a brief “owner’s manual” where I share my suggestions for a good basic kit and how to stay inspired to sketch.

I hope you’ll think of all the artists on your holiday and birthday shopping lists, as well as people who may simply be looking for a hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind phone pouch for easy-access photography adventures! Yet another way to “Look at That!”

Scotland, 2018, wearing one of the prototype pouches and the ever-present, well-painted wrist-sock!

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Feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it. Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below, private questions, etc. will reach me by using the Contact button on the menu at the top. As always, thanks for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Look-at-That! Pouches, photography, Seeing and looking, Sketching tools | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What a year it has been.

A year ago yesterday I published the Kindle version of my book, Look at That! Discover the Joy of Seeing by Sketching.

Two days later, a year ago tomorrow, the paperback version became available.

In the last 12 months, 3,353 copies have sold worldwide through Amazon, and a smaller total (harder to calculate) have sold through private and online bookstores. It’s been a #1 Best Seller in 4 categories for several months in a row, and ranks in the current top 1% of all Kindle book sales.

Those of you who know me know how amazed and grateful I am. This book was little more than a hair-brained idea 18 months ago, a thorn in my side 13 months ago, and a great relief off my back 12 months ago.

This time last November I was more relieved than excited, I knew I’d done my best, and had no idea if it would resonate with anyone else, just because it made sense to me.

Now I know for a fact that handfuls of people around the world are enjoying sketching just a little more, taking their wonky lines less seriously, and are seeing things they never saw before, even when they don’t have their sketchbooks in their hands. That makes me happier than anything else.

The joy, the flippin’ unbelievable joy of eyesight. The delight of our 5 senses. The shocking privilege of simply being alive.

It’s late, past my bedtime, so that’s all for me today. I’ve been muttering and battling with getting the colors right on the dozens of photos involved in my next very exciting blog post announcement which I had planned to upload today, but no luck.

When I noticed today’s date, I knew a pause was in order.

Thank you so much, to all my readers here, to every person who has bought or borrowed or loaned someone a copy of my book. And to every single person who sees what I see.

Life is so good. Enjoy.

10:15pm: grateful, even when the lights are low.
Posted in Look at That! book, Seeing and looking, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Art Therapy: A Misunderstanding

Troutbeck, Windermere, UK

Let’s begin to address all that is wrong in our human world.

Play with this idea for a few minutes — a step-by-step guide.

Think about the 5 senses of Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste, Touch.

Pick one to be your favorite, for now at least.

I’m going with Sight. (No surprise, although I do dearly love the other four too.)

What if I indulged in that one Sense every single day, for at least an hour, with deep focus.

For a full hour, really look at my surroundings, notice the colors, the levels of light and dark, the textures, the solids, and the shadows. The interplay, including the movement caused by winds or shifting clouds. Just wallow in the full experience of Eyesight for an hour a day, for a week.

I might want to draw too. Or paint. But for now, for the first week, wait. Just look.

Imagine the shift I would have in my soul.

My default tempo would effortlessly downshift.

I would be reluctant to leave that delicious, yes sacred, space at the end of each hour.

I would have more capacity for kindness because I’d spent time revelling in the wonder of looking and seeing and awakening.

If your joy is Sound, you might want to meditate and just listen. Refrain from playing an instrument, and avoid the spoken word if possible. For now at least, simply listen to your world. We’re taking in the full “wow” experience of the Sense Itself, not rushing to create more data to process in those amazing ears and brains of ours.

Imagine your surprise, to meet your amazing Senses for the first time.

The world needs us all to come to our senses, literally and figuratively.

There are many famous people who have used what I call Sense Focus to replenish their souls as well as their enthusiasm for their life’s work. World leaders, social justice advocates, medical professionals, high-powered CEOs, many of them have hobbies that allow them quick access to what’s called “The Zone”: that place of guaranteed focus and fascination.

Perhaps it’s hiking, or playing piano, or flower gardening, or wood carving, or baking, or painting. For each of us, it’s The Bottomless Well of Delight. One of my favorite art hobbyists is Winston Churchill who was a brilliant writer as well as painter and statesman. Here are two of my favorites quotes from him:

“Armed with a paint-box, one cannot be bored, one cannot be left at a loose end, one cannot have several days on one’s hands.”

“I have always had a curious nature; I enjoy learning, but I dislike being taught.”

Yes, yes, yes. I love to explore, I don’t mind being led, I hate being lectured. But when my Senses are the professors, I’m a spellbound student.

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The world needs more painters, more musicians, more bakers, more floral designers. Not because the world needs more paintings, songs, cookies, or bouquets, but because the world needs more people who have recently experienced peace and ample pleasure in their hearts.

The world desperately needs the side-effect of art, not the art itself.

John Lennon hinted at it in his song “Imagine.”

You’ll hear the same spirit in The New Seekers’ 1971 tune, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (leaving out the later Coke commercial add-on, of course!)

Both songs suggest what an idyllic world would look like. I’m suggesting the first baby step to get there.

After enough looking and listening, environmental activism would be instinctive.

After enough deep breathing and delicious food, self-care would become automatic.

After enough joy, there would be too much to not share.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

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As always, feel free to share your comments below, repost on social media if you like, join the conversation in whatever way feels right for you. The Tip Jar is always there too. Thanks.

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Learning how to slog, again

If this post sounds familiar, that’s good! It was originally published on July 15th, 2021 and soon after, I got cold feet.

I mean, really cold feet.

Cold enough for me to sign up for an eight-week online art course that would happily claim all my attention! I loved the classes, but now I’m back, following the admoniton of American journalist Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966):

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

Book #2 is well underway. The daily habit is established. I have a small crew of fellow writers who join me weekdays as we say hello, set a timer, and get to work. It’s a tried and true method that really works.

So read on, to this slightly edited, republished post. Autumn is a perfect time to volunteer to have one’s feet held to the fire, don’t you think?

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slog

/släɡ/

Verb:     work hard over a period of time.

“they were slogging away to meet a deadline”

*******************

Slogging is a brand-new thing for me, I’ve never been good at it. (I’ve never practiced it, so I’ve never gotten good at it. Funny how that works.)

I’m much better at sprinting and collapsing. That’s what I’ve done most of my life: I get up a crazy head of steam, work mad hours with great enthusiasm to the expense of any kind of a social life. When the finished product is done (the trip to England completed, the book finally published), I go into a deep, predictable “jet lag”-like depression. Low mood combined with low energy, aggravation, and general dislike of everything that smacks of a normal life.

It takes a while for me to pull out of the energy-dive, and more often than not, the catalyst for the climb out of the abyss is the next shiny thing that then becomes the sparkly baton for my next sprint. I’m off and running again!

But it’s different now because I want (and need) to learn how to slog. Though it’s not an Olympic sport, it feels like it should be one.

My Slog Project is Book #2.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my next book, but the thing is, I don’t have another sprint in me. In 2020 I drove myself mad in a brief six-month period, and I’m feeling several years older now as a result!

Truth be told, the last book wasn’t that hard to write because I’d already developed the sketching lesson plans over a 3-year period teaching in person. I had to “flesh out” the verbiage, but that was fun. I also needed to create 37 illustrations in three months, but that wasn’t difficult.

The really tough part was Learning How to Self-Publish (excruciating!) so my book would be available worldwide, on-demand, from Amazon, as well as from the brick-and-mortar bookstores who wanted to carry it. I knew that a mere “vanity press” small-run print job of a dozen copies for just me and my local friends wasn’t going to be enough; I wanted a real book, just in case it ended up being my one-and-only book.

Toward the end of 2020 I realized creating “Book #2” made perfect sense because I’d only have to write it (did I say “only”?). I already have the self-publishing skills tucked into my tool kit. The tuition fee for learning how to self-publish was a big investment. It would be foolish not to create at least one more book now that I know the ropes, right?

The first book fit easily into the category / genre of “art instruction,” but the next book will be a bit harder to market. It will be a memoir, the “back-story” of Book #1; that is, a collection of stories that:

  • describe how on earth a half-blind girl came to write a light-hearted book about the joy of seeing,
  • uncover threads of the innate imagination that all children have, that turned me into a visual artist
  • show how my artistic passions traveled from drawing to bronze sculpture to weaving,
  • and reveal finally, how in 1986, I was introduced to my truth love, my endless fascination, watercolor.

Watercolor. Not “painting” in general. Simply watercolor. The history, the artists, the science, the chemistry, the magic.

The book will include stories of aesthetic inspirations and medical setbacks, of the times I gave up and then found out that “giving up” doesn’t even work if you’re trying to give up the one thing that makes you feel whole, that fits you better than Cinderella’s slipper.

The book will meander a bit I’m sure, much like this blog does. It will be part memoir, part motivational celebration, well-salted with humor and lots of praise for so many mentors past and present. Hopefully it will feel like a guidebook for you as well. Now that you’ve discovered the “Joy of Seeing by Sketching” in Book #1, Book #2 will help you see your own innate wisdom, help you discover your own hard-wired magnets that draw you repeatedly to your unique creative calling.

I feel like I’m giving it all away here, and I must be careful. I’ve been told by reliable sources that writers don’t really know what their book is about until it tells them! You and I are both in for a surprise apparently.

The slogging I need to do is more like deep-diving for pearls that dipping my toes in shallow water. So I ask myself:

1) Do I focus 100% on Book #2, setting aside other writing projects, like this blog, or

2) Shall I keep blogging, and simply write my memoir in my spare time, for my own pleasure. (I could barely type that sentence, it sounds so dismal.)

But what about a third option? Maybe I can do both?

Perhaps I could work on hunker-down pearl-diving for the memoir every single day, and give updates here as I go along, sharing any surprising pearls that may arise. How does that sound?

To do this I’d like your help. I want to know if this blog is of value to readers. Your comments, and the Tip Jar, are the two ways of telling me the answer.

I’ve added a Tip Jar to this website and hope you’ll be inspired every now and then to drop in a donation whenever you read something that pleases you, helps you become a braver artist, or shows you how to get to your joy quicker. I’ve happily offered ideas like these for five years, and that whole archive is available to you right here already, via the word cloud and the other search fields. It’s free-of-charge here, as all busker’s music is; tip jars are simply how you help us cover the rent between paying gigs, or published books. It’s finanical applause.

The Tip Jar you see in the header banner is run by a payment platform called Stripe, one of the safest and most respected funds-transfer companies out there. It will allow you to made one-time donations when you read something you like, or you can set up small monthly contributions if you are inspired and want to applaud often! The money I receive will go toward the expenses of publishing (which are substantial), and will allow for the occasional cup of coffee, to keep the slogging juices flowing!

Your supportive feedback, enthusiasm, and loyalty have meant so much to me since I started this blog August 13, 2016. Together, let’s see if we can get another book launched.

Are you with me? Sally forth! And thanks.

Never hurts to play with cover ideas early on, right?

Posted in Book #2, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, My Story, Seeing and looking, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Superpower of Now-and-Next

I recently returned from a four-day vacation to the coast of Maine, and realized that on vacation, it’s easy to slip into a different relationship with Time.

At work, your Time is all tied up with other people’s Time. Time Matters when you’re at work.

On weekends, Time is still important, but you can stand up to it a little more. You declare, “I’m sleeping late tomorrow!” hoping your brain got the memo too, and doesn’t wake you up at the default time of 6 a.m.

So, there’s Work Time.

And Weekend Time.                   

And Vacation Time.

But what if we took Vacation Time, and built pockets of it into our Life Time?

On vacation, it’s pretty easy to wake up in the morning, make a loose plan for the day, and charge off to do that First Thing on the List. If you’re visiting a beautiful spot, the scenery alone may take up your brain’s entire bandwidth. “Now” and “Next” are all that matter. And food. Food is big on vacation.

You are Vividly Alive.

By the end of a vacation day, you’re pleasantly (and surprisingly) exhausted, because you’ve been fully present for every single moment.  It’s exhilarating!

In our regular Life Time, many of us live in the land of “Rehearse” and “Rehash”. It’s not much fun there;  under the guise of Productivity, we dash from regrets about the past (Rehash), to anxiousness about the future (Rehearse). It can feel like it takes all of our time to manage our time, leaving very little Time to actually live.

There’s an alternative though. Ponder with me for a moment.

“What was life like before we were taught how to “tell time”?

When we were little kids, if we were lucky, we had the freedom to live in the land of Now and Next. I wonder if there’s a creative way to get that feeling of timelessness back, even a little bit?

I’m retired so I run the risk of feeling rudderless. Before I created a framework for myself, I could easily spend an appointment-free day just drifting from the couch, to the TV, to maybe a walk, but mostly I was up in my head, wondering what the heck I “should” be doing. Over 60 years of answering to parents then teachers then employers can easily leave one looking for direction from people who no longer exist.

My interest in this new way of looking at Time has been stimulated and reinforced by reading Time Warrior, by Steve Chandler. As he says in Chapter 36, “One hour of planning saves three days of confusion.” I couldn’t agree more.

So here’s what I do nowadays. Hopefully it’ll be useful to one or two of you.

On Sunday nights I create a plan for the upcoming week, using a grid like this:

1) Appointments go in first in those bottom 3 rows.

2) In the “Focus of the Week” row, I write (in large print) a single word, like “Weaving.” Then in smaller print I jot down things I want to accomplish this week that are not time-sensitive. Things like “Finish Lesson 4 of Painting Course” or “Publish Overdue Blog Post”! Mind you, I’m thinking about this week only, not long-range complicated planning. That long-range, overview stuff is done once or twice a year, far outside of this discussion.

3) Each morning, I set reminder alerts on my phone for time-sensitive appointments happening that day. That way I don’t need to keep thinking about them in the back of my mind, a place that’s quite cluttered and very unreliable these days! Then I ask myself, “Where do I want my Focus Magnet to be today?” (Hint: there is no wrong answer to that question. Follow your heart.)

4) Finally, I make a commitment to trust my system by looking at Today Only each day. No glancing ahead at “Coming Attractions/Distractions.” Simply experience a Love Affair with Today.

This might seem a bit contrived at first glance, like a restrictive structure superimposed on endless hours of freedom, but ironically the effect has been liberating.

As a result of doing this daily morning practice for some time now, each individual day is elevated to being Quite Fulfilling.

“Now” is an amazing place. That’s where I sketch, and sit outside watching busy people go about their busy lives. Now is where I wrote a book. Now is full of satisfaction. With this system,  I never feel like I Should Be Doing Something Else.

“Next” is a pretty cool place too. With a bookmark in the place called “Next,” I never get bored with Now, because I know Next is patiently, happily, waiting for me.

The only downside of all this living in the land of Now and Next is that whenever anyone asks me how my week was, I have no idea. I’m in love with Now; everything else is in my date book.

This way of living is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine. It’s what got this blog post written. It’s what is getting the next book written, instead of drifting from Netflix to a nap.

Come to think of it, a little structure can actually feel like a hug.

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Like what you’re reading? Want more? Check out the “word cloud” on the right and follow your favorite tag word. Then consider helping me refill my thermos of coffee for my next sketching or writing expedition! See the Tip Jar above, and thanks!

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

What I’ve been learning

It’s been a busy month since I last wrote: finishing up one course (writing), still in the middle of another (art), loving what I’m learning in both.

Writing

The course I just finished was offered by Memoir Writing Ink, an organization founded by Alison Wearing. Alison is a brilliant, funny Canadian woman whose writing style I find enjoyable and inspiring. Her book Moments of Glad Grace is about her trip to Ireland with her aging father. We learn that her father was fascinated by his Irish heritage and genealogy; Alison, not so much. But she adored her dad, so mustered all the enthusiasm she could, and accompanied him on his transatlantic adventure. I loved this book.

Art

The course I’m still workng on is Sketchbook Design by Liz Steel.

Before you say, “What the heck is Sketchbook Design? ” let me assure you it’s far more than merely adding decorative squiggles to your doodles. (That’s almost a direct quote from an artist friend of mine who obviously doesn’t get it, but thought he did. Argh.)

A Sketchbook By Any Other Name…

For those of you who don’t already know, there are two kinds of sketchbook approaches:

1- The old traditional approach was that a sketchbook was an inexpensive, portable place to work quickly and loosely in pencil, to figure out what a final “real painting” might look like.

2- A few decades ago, another altogether different movement started when skilled artists around the world saw that their personal sketchbook could be a finished work of art in itself. A private, one-of-a-kind record of where they had been, what they had seen, felt, discovered. A place to try out new art materials, and keep a chronological record of those explorations.

In these modern sketchbooks, people could use the skills they had developed as artists to create bound, multi-page one-of-a-kind works of art that were theirs to keep forever. Not every page had to be “perfect,” but every page was precious because it was authentic. The unexpected raindrop that might have hit a page became a cherished flaw, rather than a cause for distress. It organically captured a single moment in time, visceral flashback material.

In this class, I’ve learned how to take everything I already knew about composition, white space, balance, symmetry—skills I used in individual paintings on individual sheets of paper— and incorporated those same principles into what felt more like graphic design, magazine design.

But what’s “good graphic design” anyway?

We all know a beautiful magazine spread when we see one. Just picture the difference between the inside pages of a check-out aisle tabloid magazine, and the look inside, say, Architectural Digest. There’s no comparison, and yet the differences have to be studied to be fully understood. I’ve learned how to juggle a headline, text , and multiple images to work together for a pleasing overall effect.

I’m thrilled to have finally had a peak behind the magic curtain of quality graphic design. Ironically, I moved across the country twenty-six years ago, in 1995, to attend graphic design school in New Mexico. In recent weeks I’ve learned more from Liz Steel than I learned in several months of that school (which, no surprise, has since folded.)

Any sketchbook artist knows that once in a while an on-site sketching session gets interrupted. Then the question is, how do you add finishing touches back in the studio?

Here are some before-and-after illustrations showing a bit of what I’m learning.

Beacon Street before: I liked the echo between the sketch in the lower left corner and the left edge of the painted area.
But where to put the text? Place it to draw attention to that detail sketch.
Lots of small elements, how to pull them together?
Strong border and headline. Preserve white space.
Rollins Park, two very minimal sketches on-site, because chatting with my friend was far more important than focussing on sketching.
Ta-daaah! 2 separate sketches, clarified by borders, single-color sky areas, minimal text, and a single line of text at the bottom to ground everything.

Can you see why it feels like magic?

If you too have fallen in love with having a Sketchbook-For-Its-Own-Sake, tell me about it!

What’s your favorite medium: pen, pencil, watercolor, colored pencils?

Do you like heavy paper, or thin paper that feels less “precious”?

Do you have an appreciation for good design, even if you don’t yet understand all the underpinnings?

Share your thoughts, and as always, remember to pause, look, and take notes!

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If you like what you’ve read, consider helping me refill my thermos of coffee for my next sketching expedition! See the Tip Jar above, and thanks!

Posted in Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

This gentle man changed my life

As I work along on my painting and writing projects, I catch myself every now and then having a spontaneous “bird’s eye view” of my cozy little life.

Does that happen to you?

Are there moments when you suddenly feel like you’re watching yourself from the outside, as an objective observer, and find yourself smiling a bit?

I am a very different person than I was five years ago. I’ve learned how to be more gentle navigating the hills and valleys of my health and energy. My moods, unfortunately, often follow those hills and valleys, and for years I’ve craved having some sort of buoy, a mooring rope to steady me when the waves are choppy.

I found this gentle buoyancy when I came across the work of Michael Nobbs.

I mention him on page 63 of my book, and thought you might enjoy meeting him right here, right now, with the click of your mouse or tap of your finger. Here he is (along with his cat Ounce) back in October 2018, walking the beautiful hillside behind his home in Wales, followed by one of his Creativity Sessions.

I’ve been following his work since 2017, and now am honored and pleased to be one of the folks who supports his work on Patreon. He reminds me and my fellow patrons (and himself!) that moving your creative life along, one small bit at a time, is a very good use of our time and energy.

Before you protest that you don’t see yourself as “A Creative,” let me reassure you that anything you do that fills your heart, and bubbles over so those around you benefit as well, is a very creative use of your time indeed.

If you are wondering how to get more satisfaction out of whatever your lot in life currently is, Michael Nobbs may have your answer.

Here are the important links. Make a pot of tea and enjoy. Thanks to Michael I am deep in the bliss of a writing retreat, which I wouldn’t have managed without his guidance.

Michael’s website: https://www.gogently.co/

Michael’s Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/gogently/posts

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If you like what you just read, have a browse over at the “word puzzly thing ” to the right (called a word cloud, who knew?) under the word Tags. Click on whatever word interests you and you’ll see several of my posts linked to that word.

And as always, your support is very much appreciated at my Tip Jar.

Posted in Musings on Life, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no…it’s a brick!”

So here I am, several days later than expected, still enjoying walking around my lovely city. A little FYI about it: Concord is home to about 43,000 folks, residing in a 67-square-mile area. We have lots of hills, trees, rivers, and ponds, and we’re a whole 288 feet above sea level, 60 miles from the ocean. To me, that’s just about perfect.

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Here’s a continuation of My Ode to Bricks, and the Artisans Who Put Them There. Enjoy.

That’s all for now. I’m juggling painting, sketching, writing, blogging, loving every minute of it except when I forget that I do all of it, every bit of it, for pleasure, yours and mine. Every once in a while, I wake up to the fact that I’ve turned several very pleasurable Hobbies into Jobs, with deadlines, and scrutiny, and even final exams that I dread right up to the point when I remember, “Hey, I’m both the teacher AND the student! Chill out!”

As my dear friend M. used to say, “Take my advice . . . I’m not using it!”

So if you too are working on a book or two (yes, mine has turned into two!) or if you are taking one online art class after another because you love the sense of community so much, remind yourself to breathe and enjoy every bit of it.

No one is watching.

You are free to even take a nap if that sounds right to you.

Ahhh, yes, a good rest is one of your finest art supplies.

Enjoy.

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If you like what you just read, have a browse over at the “word puzzly thing ” to the right (it’s called a word cloud, golly I’m learning a lot today) under the word Tags (you’ll need to scroll up a bit probably). Click on whatever word interests you and you’ll see several of my posts linked to that word. And as always, your support is very much appreciated at my Tip Jar.

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life, photography, Seeing and looking, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Brickwork of Concord

Do you ever stop to think about all the brickwork in your world?

It’s everywhere, and yet almost invisible.

Interesting facts: A standard red brick in the United States is 3.625 inches deep by 2.25 inches high by 8 inches long (9.2cm x 5.7cm x 20.3cm), and weighs about 4.5 pounds (roughly 2 kilograms). I discovered so much more about brickwork at this website, things like how many bricks it takes to build a 10 foot by 8 foot wall (answer: 549). The bricks would weigh about 2,470 pounds, and that doesn’t begin to include the weight of all the mortar needed to hold the wall together. Heavy work yes, but not unmanageable for a wall that’s standing on the ground.

But what if you had to carry load after load of bricks up a ladder (using a brick hod of course), 10-12 bricks at a time, then climb onto the platform of the scaffolding, up another ladder, eventually getting to the top where the actual work really begins?

Nowadays the load of bricks may arrive at their lofty destination with the help of a crane, but the brickwork itself cannot be mechanized. It is done by human hands, one brick at a time.

Way up there at the top of the building, as you perform your precise artistry, you realize there are only four parties who will ever notice your hard work: they are you (the brilliant exhausted bricklayer), the architect who dreamed up this intricate design, the hundreds of birds flying overhead, and the crazy lady a hundred years later who has this habit of saying, “Wow, look at that!”

I had such fun taking these pictures to share with you. As I aimed my camera skyward on a busy weekday morning, people walking by looked up too. Most had no idea what I was looking at: after all, there was nothing new up there, no plane flying by pulling an advertising banner behind it, no recently launched rocket ship, not even a child’s escaped balloon. Nothing.

But oh, if you could see what I can see. Now you will.

I have far too many pictures to put into just one post, so Part 2 will arrive in the next few days. I’ve intentionally left out most identifying features of these buildings, because my motive is to show you what you’ve never noticed before. Then after you breeze through this post, I encourage you to look around your own town or city, especially up at the skyline, at the eaves of buildings, and the chimney tops. Do you see any decorative elements that you’d previously overlooked? Smile and look again.

I believe embellishment is in our nature. I do admire the minimalist artwork of Mondrian, Albers, and others: those styles are a cool glass of water on a hot summer’s day. Refreshing, until I’m again aware of my need for nourishment, for real food, for delight. For me, that is found in embellishment.

Decorative brickwork of the mid-1800s, dancing high in the sky where few bother to look, has a special appeal for me. I suppose it’s because it looks mildly tongue-in-cheek: after all, that brilliant design work and heavy-lifting labor could have been featured much closer to eye level.

But no, something that grand needs to soar. You have to stop in your tracks to really see it.

And there’s the point. Stop. Enjoy.

First, look down, notice all those custom cuts.
Custom cuts are everywhere. . .
. . . and invisible to most people.
Now look up to that skyline you’ve never seen before.
Marvel at the beauty of a curved wooden frame, but did you notice the brick arch as well?
Sometimes the brick stepwork is simple . . .
. . . but it can also be insanely complex, and over 60 feet up in the sky!
I wonder, did any laborers ever say, “Are you kidding me?”
How many artisans does it take to make a city shine?

And how many stories throughout the centuries are mixed into the mortar between all those bricks?

Part 2 will be coming to you in a few days. Until then, don’t forget to stop and look up!

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Heartfelt thanks to the kind folks who have already dropped a donation into the new Tip Jar. It helps me pay the rent, keeps me writing, painting, sketching, editing photos, and yes, enjoying a cafe coffee now and then. Your support is most appreciated!

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Seeing and looking, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment