Learning to Enjoy Ambiguity

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday is Saturday, September 24th, and so is mine, so what better time to write about my very favorite quote in the world.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

F. Scott Fitgerald, 1896-1940

I heard the first sentence of that quote long ago. I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover the second sentence.

“One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

As always, it is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed, struggled with, and was eventually destroyed by alcoholism. He died at the very young age of 44 from a heart attack, exacerbated by his relentless love of gin and lime, which gives me pause because one of my favorite treats is tonic and lime, without the gin. Maybe that taste for tangy elegance is also a September 24th inheritance. Luckily, I got off the party train when there was still time to spare a few brain cells.

But I digress… as usual…

Here’s my point: to hold two opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time, while still being able to function, seems like it’s asking enough, right? But let’s add Keeping Hope Alive to the mix? How does that feel? Too much? I think not.

To see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise: what a delicious challenge. It sounds like the meaning of life itself. For me it’s a 2-part process:

1- Is the situation hopeless, or am I just feeling hopeless? Big difference. It’s so easy to confuse the two.

There is a lovely “Mood-Triage” acronym used by many people:  H.A,L.T. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Any of these four states will distort, magnify, and confuse our judgement. So first, check those areas, and be sure you’re in your right mind, more or less.

2- Second, if you’re okay on all four of those counts, ask yourself, “Does it look hopeless because I am myopic at the moment?” No, I don’t mean that I am near-sighted and wear glasses You can be myopic with 20/20 vision.

That other kind of myopia is when you’re so close to a situation, or a person, that you can’t really see the whole picture. If you sit too close to the screen in a movie theatre, especially during a high-speed chase or a violent attack scene, you’re going to suffer needlessly, right? You won’t even be able to comprehend the entire screen area because you’re simply too close.

When we’re sitting too close, we can also fabricate a sense of urgency for decision-making, because our discomfort is so great. This is the worst time to make a decision!

If your life is not in immediate danger, it’s wiser to push your chair back a bit, or step back to a row in the middle of the theatre and not in the front, take a couple deep breaths and pause.

“Is the situation truly hopeless, or have I been holding my breath? Yes, that’s why this feels urgent, I need to breathe!”

In recent months, running, crawling, stumbling up to publishing my latest book Double Take on September 10th, I learned a life lesson:

If I want to get more done, I must slow down. Counter-intuitive, right? But it’s true.

That’s enough crumbs of food-for-thought for now

How are you feeling lately, with all the loud, conflicting opinions and verifiably dangerous situations floating through the airwaves? Do you “make anything” of your hopeless feelings, or do you just tip your head, say, “Huh…” and carry on, continuing to listen and inform yourself, and also taking a breather from it all once in a while? Can you recognize the difference between discomfort and urgency?

I wish you well during this turning-of-the-seasons time of year. I am planning on a 48-hour party for my big birthday Saturday, deeply indulging in the love of family and friends. Hope abounds.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you enjoyed this post. It helps greatly to defray some of this website’s expenses.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Musings on Life, My Story | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A Slammed Door and an Unexpected New Confidante

On September 10th, 55 years ago, at 6:30am, the phone rang.

It was Dr. Boschenstein calling to tell Mom that my sixty-one-year-old father had a stroke at 5am. My father was dead.

It was a bright, sunny Sunday morning, the first day without rain in over a week.

The funeral was Wednesday.

On Friday, the same week, my mother drove me to a boarding school in another state, 147 miles away. I had never been there before and was not allowed any contact with my remaining family members for three weeks. Official School Policy: Three weeks of Family-Free Quarantine minimized homesickness for all boarding students. No exceptions.

Unfortunately, my birthday was two weeks later. No visitors were allowed. A birthday cake was delivered to my dormitory. Atop the cake were the words, “Happy Sweet Sixteen.”

It was my fifteenth birthday.

Thus began my love affair with my journal, the only confidante I could trust.

September 10, 1967 was the biggest ending of my life, because it was the end of innocence.

When I arrived at the boarding school, I began writing to save my life. Not the usual teenage stuff I’d written earlier in my little white-leather diary, you know, things about school, and boys I had crushes on, and insecurity about being a girl.

In September 1967, writing instead became a lifeline. I had no one to talk to, no one to help me understand what had just happened, no one to grieve with me. For several months I wrote to my dad in my journal, convinced that he was still alive, and had needed to leave town quickly, secretly for some reason. I knew he could still hear me if I prayed in writing and told no one.

I lived in a dorm with thirty girls I’d never met before, and they were wrapped up in their own teenage lives. At times it felt like they steered clear of me because I was “that girl,” you know, the one whose dad had just died and her family had sent her here anyway. For fear of saying the wrong thing, most girls said nothing. Just like adults often do,

So, by necessity, I found a lover who would never, ever betray me. It was my journal, literally hidden under my pillow. I’ve been writing ever since.

I chose September 10th this year as the day to press the “publish” button for my second book, in remembrance of my dad who met my mom when they both worked at Macmillan Publishers in Boston.

Double Take is an artist’s illustrated memoir, a tiny seven-year slice of this crazy life of mine. This month I also turn seventy. I’m stunned. Seems I’m the only one having trouble believing that fact.

This memoir is now available as an eBook and paperback on Amazon at this link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BDVKM5LV (Click on “see all formats” if you’d like to buy the eBook version for $9.99 without having to join Kindle Unlimited. FYI: that bit of Amazon unhelpfulness is just part of this circuitous publishing game…) The paperback, which is available now on Amazon, will also be available in bookstores in late September. I do hope you will read it, enjoy it, and will let me know what it inspires in you.

Now, I’m up for a bit of a rest. Publishing this book, all 230 pages, 155 illustrations, and in the end, with four different graphic designers (!) has been “character-building” (as an old friend of mine used to say). As it turned out, the writing was the easy part. If there is to be a Book #3, I may become a book-publishing graphic designer by then too.

Maybe it will be another memoir-style slice, of an earlier time in my life, when I was a child living on a six-acre farm in the suburbs, with two brothers, a flock of sheep, bantam chickens, domesticated pheasants, and a dog that chased airplanes. We shall see.

But for now, here’s me and my dad on Easter Sunday 1954. Thanks for being a writer, Dad, and thanks for unintentionally leaving me your Parker 51 fountain pen. It sketches beautifully.

My first true love, Daddy. I’m about 18 months old.

P.S.- I’m stunned. Two-and-a-half days after Double Take was released, this happened on Amazon. Reviews will begin to pour in soon. I am so gratified.

Look at That! and Double Take in the #1 and #2 Best Seller positions in this category. Don’t they look lovely together?

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Very Important Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming memoir, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, My Story, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How heavy are your boulders?

My goodness, a whole month has passed since my last post … because I’ve been birthing this wonderful book, Double Take!

Both versions of the book (paperback and eBook) are finished, uploaded to Amazon, ready for me to press the “Publish ” button.

But wait! Not quite yet.

Not yet because both have also been delivered to “polishers”: two additional graphic designers who will fix the details the first designer was unable, or unwilling, to change.

I’m so pleased I will finally have stellar files that will reflect the seven years of writing, and ten months of editing, that went into creating the book, Double Take.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there’s a life-lesson hidden in this recent publishing experience of mine. Here it is:

“You don’t know how heavy a boulder is until you put it down.”

Story of my life.You too?

For several weeks now, since I began working with the first graphic designer, I’ve at times questioned my pickiness about the book’s layout. I’ve been picturing the final version daily for almost a year, so of course I had a vision of it. I think in pictures, that’s how my brain is wired, for better or worse.

I tried to be open-minded from the start, that’s why I hired a professional, right? But more than once I said to myself, “This is professional design??” I shrugged and tried to listen and learn. I wondered, “Hmm, am I being too fussy, too opinionated?”

Then a week ago I asked a dear friend if she would be willing to simply look at the eBook file and tell me her response to the overall design, as a reader. She looked, took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, parts of it are a bit cringe-worthy; not sure if it’s your taste or the designers, but yes, there are things I would change.” They were the same things that bugged me. Then she said, “I can easily fix all of it, if you like.” You see, she’s not just a good friend, she’s also brilliant with design software, something I had not known!

Next, I started thinking, “Hmm, too bad I can’t ask her to fix the paperback too, but that’s an entirely different software, and way too much to ask of a friend. Even if I pay her, it’s too much work to squeeze into the little time I have left before my intended book launch date.”

“But wait!” I said to myself at yes, 4am.

Why not simply ask a local designer if they can fix the paperback file I have? I know they don’t do book design, but they use the same software, and I’m asking for tweaks, not a whole brand-new layout with 154 new images embedded! Why not simply ask?

I made an appointment, walked over to the print shop, and showed her my marked-up proof copy of the paperback. She agreed it was a bit sloppy in places, was easy to fix, and she has time to get it all done before my deadline.

As I started to leave, I mentioned that I knew a bit about the design process because, in the late 1990s, I’d worked for an offset printer business about twenty miles away. She gasped. “I worked there too!”

She had started working there a year after I left, and we knew all the same characters of course. Turns out, we had worked at not one, but two of the same businesses, and yet had never crossed paths. We had worked with so many of the same wonderful artists and designers and magical customer service people. 

The Life Lesson: I had no idea how much that boulder of self-doubt, of “Am I being too picky?” weighed until I put it down.

The relief I felt was immense when not one, but two designers spotted the same problems I did, before I pointed them out.

This is not just about graphic design of course. It’s about learning to honor our gut instincts. The boulder I was carrying was that vintage voice saying, “It’s good enough, stop being so picky,” and “How important is it?”

The bonus was when two experienced designers said, “… and that’s easy to fix.” That was the real surprise. That’s when I felt a huge boulder-burden leave my metaphorical backpack.

How often do you hear your heart’s desire whisper, but then immediately tell it to be quiet? How often do you silence it because you think your idea might be unreasonable, or new, or will be met with a simple “who-do-you-think-you-are” frown?

How often would your crazy ideas turn out to be pure delight for people who desperately need a dash of pure delight?

Ya never know.

That’s my current favorite epitaph. Not that I’m planning to leave the planet soon, but honestly, ya never know.

Onward through the fog, as my big brother used to say.

Onward with a bit of a dance sashay is even better.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Beauty Matters, Now More Than Ever

“Art once made a cult of beauty; now we have a cult of ugliness instead.” Sir Roger Scruton, Why Beauty Matters, BBC 2, 2009

I just spent a delightful afternoon watching a film made by an unexpected ally: the conservative British philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton.

(Disclaimer: After watching this film and writing this article, I decided to do a little research into this man Roger Scruton. I discovered, much to my dismay, that he held many beliefs I find abhorrent. As a result, I thought long and hard about whether to ditch this post. In the end, as you see, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish it. Perhaps in the future I’ll write more on this topic: about how people continue in relationships with folks who have beliefs and values far different than their own. It’s a topic I find fascinating. For now, on with this blog post!)

This one-hour film, Why Beauty Matters, validates my deepest heartfelt secret: that yes, beauty does matter, in much the same way that kindness matters. Over thirty years ago, when I was going through a difficult time, I designed a postcard to help me remember this essential life message. It looked something like this:

“Maybe people have lost their faith in beauty because they have lost their belief in ideals. All there is (they are tempted to think) is the world of appetite. There are no values other than utilitarian ones. Something has a value if it has a use. And what’s the use of beauty?” – Scruton

This hour-long program was spellbinding. I paused it often and replayed sections so I could enjoy them a second time. I even cheered. Of course, my mind had its own collection of “yeah-buts,” disputing bits here and there. And yet, at its core, I agree.

Beauty is an essential human need; ignore it at your own peril.

This film includes brilliant observations from the likes of poet / playwright Oscar Wilde, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Immanuel Kant, and other luminaries.

Alexander Stoddart, a sculptor whose work is included in exhibitions around the world as well as in Buckingham Palace, eloquently speaks to my heart. At 48 minutes, I’m almost in tears, wishing I’d heard messages like these before I dropped out of art college.

“Through the pursuit of beauty, we shape the world as a home, and in doing so, we both amplify our joys and find consolation for our sorrows. Art and music shine a light of meaning on ordinary life…the Sacred and the Beautiful stand side by side, two doors that open onto a single space, and in that space, we find our home.” – Scruton

This is why I sketch. This very message is what I tried to distill and tuck into my book Look at That! without the reader noticing. Let them think it’s just a little art instruction book.

Give yourself the gift of a cup of tea while watching this bold film. Perhaps you too will find yourself nodding in agreement.

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions or comments will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Beauty, Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, Tip Jar | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

From Indignation to Grateful Resolve

You’ve been there too, right?

You know, those times when you’ve asked someone for a second opinion, they politely tell you the truth, and your response is to flinch, even bristle.

“Harumph” is not the exact word I used.

On June 30th I sent my draft of the manuscript to the editor, then settled back to wait for his reply.

Twelve days later (a reasonable turnaround time), I received the reply. He’d sprinkled a few red marks here and there on the manuscript, fewer than I expected. I was puzzled; I knew the draft was far from perfect and needed an outsider’s educated response.

Then I read his cover letter, which included this:

Those who bought your first book will love it as well as people who didn’t buy it but love art. But those who look for excitement and drama in memoirs will probably not finish it.”

What my brain heard was this:

“The readers of “Look at That” will love it.

Art lovers will enjoy it.

Anyone else probably won’t finish it.”

He continued:

… the pace is kind of repetitive and slow…. I think you can reduce the slow pace by deleting some of the words that aren’t really necessary to carry the story or give a message. You would be the best to judge where to cut.”

What?? Okay, I see what you mean, to a degree. But where exactly is it slow and repetitive? You were supposed to highlight that part, right?

Then it hit me: He couldn’t possibly highlight the slow parts because the repetitiveness and lagging tempos were embedded throughout the entire 37,979-word manuscript.

Ouch, I needed that.

Deep breath, another pot of tea, then I said to myself,

“You call that editing. I’LL SHOW YOU EDITING.”

I donned my green editor’s visor, pulled out my metaphorical red pencil, and chopped away over the next seven days. Full Bob Cratchit posture.

It took no time to integrate his suggestions for punctuation changes. That was the simple part.

Then I started the meticulous three-step process of rereading, and at times rewriting, the entire manuscript, one chapter at a time. I knew where each of the 158 illustrations would eventually be inserted, but decided, “This has to work as a text-only book, with no images at all. Then we’ll strategically add the illustrations at the last minute, before publication, and the book will really shine.”

I’d been away from the manuscript for a full two weeks (after having worked on it day and night for six months), so happily I had fresh eyes. I paced myself, no rushing allowed.

Step One: Upload just one chapter to ProWritingAid, a paid grammar-and-style-checking app that’s well worth the price for anyone who wants to clean up their writing. After PWA finishes reviewing, you go through each of their suggestions and decide to either accept or reject them. Then you export the results back to a new and improved document.

Step Two: In your new MS Word document, under the Review tab, go to the “Read Aloud” option, and listen to your chapter as if it were an audio book. Stunning experience! Typos missed now jump out. Awkward rhythms become obvious. Redundancy shows itself to be thinly-disguised cleverness. Delete. Distill. Repeat.

Step Three: Do a second “Read Aloud” with no changes, no touching that mouse even once. Delete the original defective chapter from the master manuscript, and copy-and-paste this new chapter in its place. That’s the final blessing of that one chapter.

Check off that step on the massive to-do list.

Then repeat with each of the other chapters.

After seven days (while also developing my first mild case of carpal tunnel numbness), I proudly discover I’ve axed 3,884 words as well as the links to four illustrations. 11% of the original manuscript gladly gone.

The final “Hit Save” then “Save As” steps of the newly polished, final manuscript were intoxicating.

I haven’t opened that file since.

It’s now in the hands of the graphic designer, along with the 154 illustration scans (here’s your preview!)

8 folders, all 205MB, of carefully chosen sketches! No peeking yet. 🙂

The same designer is creating the cover as well as the book’s interior, and despite her lovely examples of possible cover designs, I find I’m hopelessly married to my original concept that you’ve seen here before (it’s on the Tip Jar page too.)

I doodled the Double Take book cover idea back in January, during a brainstorming session with myself. At the time I used colored pencils which were fine but alas, now I crave the look of real watercolor. It needs to be done over. Luckily, I have those skills!

Here we go again, this time with real watercolor!

That’s my next step in this ongoing self-publishing saga. The publication target date of the end of September is still on track. Thanks again to my patrons for their generous donations to the Tip Jar. It will help defray some of the many up-front expenses of self-publishing. I have the best patrons ever!

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments?

Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I did a terrible job explaining viewfinders…

… but this guy does a great job.

Our approaches are somewhat different, but the point is the same. He shows how to make a clear plastic viewfinder, as well as the “hole in the index card” style that I described on page 30 of Look at That! I especially like his explanation of why the gift of peripheral vision (visual field) adds a challenge to sketching. Check it out from about minute #3-4 in the video. Crystal clear.

A great surprise is when you use a viewfinder (thus eliminating peripheral distractions), you suddenly feel like you have a zoom lens available as well. Your focus can magically deepen when it no longer has to go wide.

The good news, as I said on page 41 of Look at That!, is that you don’t even need to sketch. You can just practice looking. And as you practice, you will be able to see more, discern more, enjoy seeing more.

You never know what freedom awaits around the corner. Give it a go!

*****

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments?

Public comments can be posted below.

Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Pen & Ink, Pencil sketching, Seeing and looking, Sketching tools, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time to do a DOUBLE TAKE!

My two kids, before the second one gets her new outfit.

As of 6pm, June 30th, 2022, the draft of my second book, Double Take, is now in my editor’s hands!

His edited version of all 38,000 words should arrive in my inbox tomorrow.

That will be the first time I see my artist’s memoir through someone else’s eyes.

Big gulp.

Thank goodness, I already know Wayne’s work, and I trust him to give me valuable technical feedback (copyediting), and more importantly, subjective responses (developmental editing). There is so much more to professional editing than just being a good reader, or even a good writer. It entails professional training and even certification. That part of the next three months feels rock solid.

Hiring a graphic designer is another matter though. I’ve combed the appropriate websites (they are like Angie’s List, but for publishers), and found a lot of skilled talent there. I sent my pitch to ten designers: five declined because their immediate schedule is already filled so they can’t meet my deadline. I’ve received three quotes and am awaiting two more.

These are people I have never met, will never meet, but they specialize in designing layouts for books, a complex niche market within the broad category of graphic design. When Look at That! was in production, I learned how precise all the requirements are for the final files which are delivered to the printers/ producers, like Ingram and Amazon and Kindle. One measurement off a hair, one KB too many or too few, and your file is sent back to you with minimal explanation, and a flat rejection. Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted.

Nevertheless (I do so love that word!), I have faith that whomever I choose will be able to create a final product that will dazzle me first, and you second.

Now for the most important bit: I need your help.

I’m asking for your help in defraying some of the costs. The book is roughly 240 pages long (three times the length of Look at That!) and contains 158 illustrations. That makes the layout substantially more challenging, and expensive. I will need to hand over between $2,000 and $3,000 in production costs in the next two months to get this ready to launch on September 24th, a very special day for me.

I am asking for your patronage now, via the Tip Jar above, to make sure this book sees the light of day.

Here’s a bit more about Double Take:

Full Disclosure: This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea…

…but if you’ve ever wanted to peer over the shoulder of someone drawing in their sketchbook, listen to them struggle with artwork, watch them cheer at an unexpected victory, and deal with progressive blindness, well, here’s your chance.

Double Take is the back story behind my first book, Look at That! where my goal was to inspire people to look, and see, and sketch, and fall in love with eyesight. Because most of you can see far better than I can.

My illustrations in this book show what a breezy, “no big deal” sketching habit looks like. The text is gathered from notes scribbled in over forty sketchbooks and from journals I kept along the way.

The success of my first book, Look at That! has exceeded my wildest dreams. The hardest part of writing it was keeping it concise. That was my mission: no “deluge of details!” (Ref: page 14 of Look at That!)

Now I get to tell you all the things I left out of that first book.

Welcome to my living room. Tea will be ready shortly.”

As of tonight, two generous patrons have stepped forward with their vote of confidence. I will be mailing out complimentary signed copies to all patrons who donate at the level of $50 or more. When you go to the Tip Jar, you will see that the amount you give is entirely up to you; every bit helps.

As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have purchased and enjoyed reading Look at That! This second book, Double Take, was written with you in mind throughout the writing, scanning, editing, and re-editing process. You will “get it” as no other readers will. You have been my inspiration.

As always, comments are welcome! Post your public comments below; use the Contact link above for comments you would like to keep private, just between the two of us.

Finally, thanks for spending some time aloft with me.

PS a day later: Thank you to those who have already responded! If you donate at the $50+ level, and there’s a chance I don’t have your email address, please send it to me via the secure private contact link above. I’ll need it to send you your book in September! Thanks again, everyone.

Posted in Book #2: Double Take, Look at That! book, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My watercolors are lonely!

I’m sure you’ve been here too.

It’s super hot out, or really humid, or maybe buggy, and you’d love to fit in some time sketching outdoors, but oh my, naw, maybe later…

Then you think, “Maybe if I pull out my palette and just look at it, I’ll get inspired…”

A moment later you sigh, noticing that your watercolor paints look like an artifact from King Tut’s tomb. Really dry. Really uninspiring.

Priceless cobalt blue…a bit parched.

That’s where I’ve been lately, urban sketching once a week with my buddy P. on Sunday afternoons, but not nearly as often as I was before I started work on my second book. (More on that later.)

This week I was researching something on YouTube, when who pops up in that provocative right-hand column of upcoming attractions but one of my favorite people, Emma LeFebvre, a delightful Canadian watercolorist who makes all things seem possible and fun.

You’ll love her. Here’s your assignment, or invitation if you prefer.

This week take all that pressure off yourself, and set aside about an hour one day soon, right in the comfort of your home, to simply play with your watercolor toys. The video attached below is only 27 minutes long but give yourself a full hour. I want you to feel free to pause the video, practice, laugh, cringe, smile, and enjoy playing with the colored water. She calls this practice “drills”; I call it brush-dancing. Fred and Ginger, move over! Here’s the link:

Now that you have the key to unlock some fun for the day, or the week, I want to show you how my book is coming along.

I’ve set myself a deadline of July 4th to get my final draft to the editor, and now that I’ve told you, I really need to give it my best shot. I think I’m about halfway done, at 115 pages and 74 images. Intense work!

After the final draft is safely in the hands of my editor, I’ll start work building my Launch Team!

“What is a Launch Team?” you ask?

Launch Team members will be getting an advance copy of the ebook for free as soon as the final formatting is complete, hopefully in September. In exchange for this free gift, Team members promise to read it promptly, and about a week later, when the book is made available on Amazon, you agree to write and submit an honest review on the book’s page on Amazon. That’s all.

More details will be forthcoming once I have my list of Launch Team members. If you’re interested, send me a confidential private message through the contact tab above (not through the “comments” tab below), including your name, a bit about yourself, if you’ve read “Look at That!” (my first book), and if it was helpful to you.

My second book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, naturally; it’s an illustrated artist’s memoir. But if you’ve ever wanted to look over a sketcher’s shoulder while they’re working, and listen to some of their thought process, this book may feel like one of your new friends. It’s an entertaining, relaxing read with lots of illustrations as well as occasional unexpected drama. It’s not just about art, it’s about life as well. Mostly it’s about how sketching these last thirty years has changed my life.

I’m not “writing to market” as so many writing courses encourage you to do. I already have my market: you lovely folks, and the roughly 3,000 people who bought my first book and liked it. We are a niche market unto ourselves, and that’s fine with me.

Here’s another peek at the cover, and a glimpse of how thick the printout is as of today. It’s 7pm, time for a final pot of tea, and back to the keyboard grindstone!

*******

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful. All donations help defray blog expenses. They are greatly appreciated.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2, Look at That! book, Sketching tools, Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Let Your Momentum Block an Insight

Have you ever purchased an art instruction book, brought it home, flipped through it admiring all the pretty pictures, then set it down to “read thoroughly… later”? 

I’ve done that more times than I care to admit. Here’s my reading pattern:

If a book is 90% words with very few illustrations (say, a novel with a tiny drawing at the beginning of each chapter), I barely look at the drawings.

If a book is 90% illustrations with detailed text, I barely look at the words.

So here’s my current challenge: if I’m writing a book that offers both words and pictures, how do I make both elements equally interesting, inspiring, worthy of the reader’s time?

My next book is an illustrated memoir. I decided to consult professional graphic designers to explore this text/image balance issue. I visited a great website called Reedsy, a multiple-service resource for authors and publishers. I requested five quotes on the layout I’m considering, and as a result, started rethinking everything.

The potential design expense is impressive, so I dove down the rabbit hole of self-publishing software, to learn to do all the layout work myself (in my “spare time”!). I can’t learn software and write simultaneously, so what should I do first?

SCREECH (the sound of brakes squealing in my head…)

Wait a minute, did you say, “Should”? Big red flag!

“You’re writing this book for joy,” I said to my captive audience, me. “You enjoy writing. You’re sharing pictures from your sketchbooks because they’ll let the reader travel through time with you, to sit next to you as you observe, and sketch, and chat while checking out the people and squirrels and traffic in front of you. This is meant to be exciting, not an obligation!”

As William Zinsser says, “Given a choice between two projects—one that you feel you ought to write and one that sounds like fun—go for the one you’ll enjoy working on. It will show in your writing. The reader should always think that the writer is feeling good.” (Writing About Your Life, William Zinsser pg. 48)

So I set aside all the software ideas and wrote quick thank-you notes to those lovely graphic designers. Then I created a simple working document, the same design I used for planning “Look at That!” in the summer of 2020. I’m using my old buddy, Microsoft Word. 

Draft of cover for Double Take

If you would like to write a little book, just for yourself, here’s one way to approach it:

1- Open a new document in MS Word.

2- Go to the Layout tab.

3- Click on Landscape orientation, then click 2 column.

4- Whenever you want to insert an illustration, go to Insert text box —->  draw text box

5- After the box is created, go back to Insert—> Pictures—> from this device, and drop in the picture you like.

6- Then play with the size and shape of the box, and move it around until you like it. If you want to get really fancy, you can have the text flow around the text box.

I print each page after I’ve finished a good “first edit,” fold it in half so the text is on the outside, punch three holes in the “binding” edge, then clip them into an A5 looseleaf notebook.

Possible “look” of the book interior

Viola! This way, I can watch my book grow using actual paper, not just virtual screens. Just think, you too can create a booklet called “My Sketchbook Greatest Hits” for your own pleasure, or to share with close friends and family.

Of course, there are more sophisticated ways of creating a finished product at Staples or at an online printer, and I will surely do that once I’m closer to the finish line. If for now you just want to write and would love to watch it grow, this is my quaint way to enjoy the process.

When I’m done, I’ll have a single copy of a book that I will probably publish. In the meantime, all I can think of is, “This is going to be fun!”

*******

As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.

Questions? Comments? Public comments can be posted below. Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.

The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful.

Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Book #2, Musings on Life, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Vulnerable and scared . . . and okay.

My life as I knew it ended Thursday, March 24th, about 1pm.

At that moment, by mistake (and how it happened is irrelevant now), I gave total access to my computer to a hacker from another country. I have spent the best part of three days doing all the triage I could think of, with professionals, to protect/ re-protect my life savings, my identity, my secrets, my private life.

For now, at this moment, no money seems to have been taken, but the hacker had access to enough things that my changing all my passwords now feels a lot like installing twenty padlocks after the horse has left the barn.

This is not the uplifting blog post I wanted to be adding after a three week break. I’ve been hard at work, many hours each day, on what I lovingly call “Book No. 2”, and that’s why I’ve been gone from this blog for a while. I was going to share with you the current draft of the new book’s preface this week. That was my plan, and I will do so soon I hope. But for now, I’m trying to string together a few minutes here and there of NOT obsessing between “What else do I need to be doing/changing/protecting?” and “You stupid idiot, this is your own damned fault!”

The latter is not useful at all. The former is barely useful.

To you helpful folks out there, yes, I cancelled my credits cards, closed my bank account, and alerted my bank and savings companies immediately, by phone. Luckily both are based locally, so I walked over there Friday morning and they were all wonderful. I called a reliable computer tech support company immediately and got my computer cleaned and malware investigated (there was none).

The result? There’s a chance my meager life savings is safe. My personal privacy is destroyed, and although I miss it, I have a whole new level of empathy for the thousands of people who have been in my shoes through no fault of their own. I learned that being smart, and being careful, very careful, will not necessarily protect you from these sorts of things. But I also learned something even bigger.

I learned that the customer service people at my bank, my credit card company, and my investment company are brilliant in their people skills as well as their technical skills.

Every person who helped me could have successfully worked for a suicide hotline. Calming, but never patronizing. Kind, so kind. They were knowledgeable, patient, calm, skilled, and… inspiring. Yes, inspiring.

And I caught myself revisiting, effortlessly, that brilliant, tried-and-true Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Truth be told, I haven’t had much anxiety in a very long time. I’ve had challenges and concerns, but not the kind that are flooded with adrenaline as well. Not until three days ago, that is. I saw that the Serenity Prayer really does help you to sort out those two things:

“Is there something I can change/do right now, or

… for now, do I have to simply breathe and trust that the professionals who helped me knew what they were doing?”

I’m feeling okay during daylight hours, less well at night, when I roll over, wake up a little, peaceful and comfortable until I Remember What Happened, then I’m again flooded with Thought: panic, depression, fear. And back to the Serenity Prayer.

So the moral of the story (which is what the final paragraph is always for) is:

1- When you find yourself in the middle of a boat-load of lemons, remember there are professional lemonade chefs everywhere. We are never all in deep doodoo on the same day. We take turns.

2- Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. Some mistakes come with a huge price tag, some with a little price tag. Not every big price tag means it was a big mistake. A little mistake can be pretty devastating. It happens.

3- As with art, with life: Yelling Never Helps. (Can you tell I’m writing this blog post for me?)

4- In due time, I will find out the long-term consequences. For now, if I have done everything I can, I have to let it go, not assuming that no chips will fall, but that the chips will fall where they may, and I will deal with that when the time comes. If I’ve learned anything, it is that rehearsing disasters does not prevent them, it just wears down your immune system and makes you no fun to be around. I have witnessed this from both sides of the whining, and it’s not pretty.

So again, again, forgiveness is the lesson. I forgive myself for having made a mistake. I forgive the hacker for thinking what he was doing was a good idea. I am asking God to show me the entrance ramp to that broad highway I was cruising down the last few weeks, writing this book that, so far, has made me laugh out loud as well as reach for a tissue or two.

Each day gets a little better.

No matter what, don’t let life steal your joy, for life is exactly where you’ll pick up your next batch.

Posted in Book #2, Musings on Life, My Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments