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!

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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.

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“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

Garden photos and how to see even better

I recently returned from visiting two long-time friends whose rustic home and gardens are tucked into a wooded hillside in central New Hampshire. Early Sunday morning, long before I heard my sleepy friends stirring, I tiptoed outside to enjoy my coffee in the cool morning air, smiling at the chattering birds and the scolding chipmunks protesting my presence on their porch. After a few moments I also noticed the delicate quality of the early morning light, so decided to take a few pictures on my smartphone. I took more photos than I expected and later shared them with my hosts. That was when I discovered yet again that I notice things other people may not even see: I do double-takes and slow gazes all the time.

This brings me to a related topic on seeing: I received an inquiry this week from a reader of my book:

My question is about the recommended index card style view catcher [pages 19 and 30 in “Look at That!”] for the back of my sketchbook. I sort of get the idea of what it is for but do you have any tutorial (or one recommended) regarding ‘best practices’ on how to best make use of a view catcher?

The answer is yes, of course. First though, let’s take a step back to the beginning, to journey from Looking, to Seeing, to Finding Your Focus, to Designing your Vantage Point.

It’s a whole lot simpler than it sounds.

Whenever you decide to take a photo, or do a sketch, you’ve already begun the process of elimination. Out there in the real world there’s just too much to look at, and if you want the person who’s looking at your photos or sketchbook to see what you saw, to see the specialness of what you noticed, you have to help them.

You simply need to ask yourself two questions:

1- Where’s my focus?

2- Where shall I put it?

The first is easy: Your focus is whatever made your roving glance pause, suddenly stop, or do a double-take.

Look again.

Is it worth an intentional second glance? Is it worth a good stare? Is it worth a photo or sketch?

Yes? Good.

On to the second question: Where do I put it?

Call it design, call it composition, but no matter what, don’t let it scare you because this too is not hard. There’s a well-known “rule” in the art world called the Rule of Thirds. Here’s a link to learn more about it.

I use a slightly different guideline (softer than a rule, did you notice that?)

It’s called The Big X.

Rather than a target area to hit (that’s the Rule of Thirds approach), instead I imagine the two lines to avoid (the middle horizontal and vertical lines).

Oddly enough, the results are more or less the same, with a little less thinking, yay!

With The Big X, you simply want your center of interest to be anywhere other than dead-center. (Isn’t that ironic? It’s true though.) Avoid putting your focal point anywhere along those lines (also not at the far edges of your picture frame, of course!), and you’re good to go.

Here are a few photos from yesterday. I do love folks who garden.

If you don’t have time to sketch, or simply don’t feel like drawing at the moment, head outdoors with your smartphone or camera and take some pictures to see what you see. You’re still developing your artistic skills, simply by doing this.

Then later when you’re having your cup of tea, play with them. Try zooming in and out. Try radical cropping so you get a tall sliver of an image or a long low profile in great detail. See how different the same image looks, and even feels, when you do all that. Remember to use the “save a copy” function instead of simply saving, so you have a whole collection to enjoy later.

Most of all remember: All the art training you will ever need was installed as original equipment the day you were born. It’s called gut instinct. You already know what you like.

And when all the instructions and should-oughtas about composition and design and “I’m not artistic” finally quiet down in your head, the rest is smooth sailing. Your outdoors photo collection will be a gorgeous resource for those inclement weather days when you feel like sketching but it’s too yucky to go outdoors. You will have a photo garden right at your fingertips, any time you like.

Happy playing!

P.S: I still may not have answered that reader’s question, so here goes.

Why use a view-finder? You look through it when you’re stuck, to simplify the scene.

Peek through it, zoom in, zoom out, go vertical then horizontal, move a little left, a little right, until you see a frame-worthy image in that little window. Then rather than clicking the shutter (because you’re holding a little piece of paper, not a camera!), simply take another minute to give the image a good long stare. You’ve just made friends with your location. You did the big decision making with your eyes, not your brain, good job! Here’s a link to another post I did about using view-finders— to see first, draw second, if at all! Enjoy simply looking and seeing!

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, photography, Seeing and looking | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

How clean are your glasses?

Hidcote Manor Garden, Gloucestershire, England

I was prescribed eyeglasses when I was about 10 years old, and for me, wearing glasses is as normal as breathing. My poor mother had three kids who all wore glasses from a young age, and I recall her chiding each one of us, saying, “How can you see out of those glasses? Go wash them right now.” Must’ve been tedious for her.

The problem was (and still is for us visually-challenged people), it’s very easy to get used to semi-smudged glasses.

There’s another kind of “dirty glasses” that clouds our vision without our knowing it. It’s called The Thinking We Don’t Know We Have (TTWDKWH).

Yesterday I recognized one of those subliminal brain hums when a quiet thought came to me:

“I wonder what it feels like to not be hard on yourself?”

It felt so novel to even consider it, like my pondering, “I wonder what it’s like to be a guy?” or “I wonder what it’s like to be seven feet tall?”

A bit of context:

Yesterday morning I finished reading a novel which, for a brief while, threw me back into reliving (or so it felt) some pretty sad and frightening times in my childhood and young adulthood. I don’t “go there” often because there’s no reason to, but when that nerve is hit, there’s no pretending it doesn’t hurt. It’s kind of like the fourth toe on my right foot: I broke that toe several years ago, and despite it being fully healed, it’s still more tender than all the others.

So whether it’s my toe or my psyche, the question is, where is that healthy space between pretending my past never happened, and dwelling on it so much that I bring the pain alive again and again, in some naive hope that with the right techniques, it will feel like it never happened at all? Where is the freedom to own my past, without my past owning me?

Thanks to an understanding I came across several years ago, I now can bypass all the techniques and theories I learned in years of traditional therapy. It’s a way of “seeing” that re-centers me on the road to peace, and although it’s not a cure for living, it has greatly increased my resilience. Here are my own, custom, non-technique steps:

First, realize your glasses are filthy

As with many spiritual traditions, awareness has to come before anything else. With this understanding, I realize that when I’m in emotional pain, I’m listening to painful thoughts, and believing them to be true. Distorted vision, right?

Here’s the important part: it’s those thoughts I don’t know I have that hurt the most, not the circumstances. I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say your boss yells at you. Not fun, but it is what it is. The additional subtext that follows, though, is 100% fabricated by me: “Not fair, I’m a  way better employee than my coworkers!” Or, “What is wrong with me that I thought I could do this job, I’m such an idiot.” Or any number of fabrications to explain the unexpected. This is what a human brain does, it tries to make sense of events that don’t make sense. And when there isn’t enough data to explain a situation, the brain just makes stuff up. That’s it’s job, right?

Thanks to this new perspective, I now see that any anxious, panicked, depressed, negative feelings are simply red-flags, telling me that something has happened that my brain is cramping over at the moment. I see that my glasses are dirty.

Second, start washing your glasses

The “doing” part of step two is more like “gentle skepticism” and after a while it becomes instinctive. I refrain from believing every word my brain is saying, and instead, to the best of my ability in any moment, I create a neutral perspective.

I don’t dive in and start mucking around in the heavy head-traffic; instead, I back off, because, in truth, there is nothing to fix.

In the case of reading that book full of vivid scenes of violence, all I had to do was realize I’m remembering something that was painful years ago, that I survived it, and at this moment in time, my amazingly powerful mind is re-creating a film-studio quality re-enactment simply because it remembered something. Your brain is like a hyperactive kid jumping up and down, saying, “Mom, Mom, hey, I remember something just like this! Mom, hey, look at this monster I just drew, it’s just like that scary book you were just reading.” And like any good, well-rested mom, you acknowledge that yes, that’s true, there is a similarity, but that scary bit isn’t happening right now, it’s in the past, it’s long over and everyone’s safe now. Good job drawing that picture, but let’s remember that it’s history, not breaking news, right?

Third and finally, is Drying Time (Yes, I can beat a metaphor into the ground, you know that, right?)

Drying time is important when washing glasses, because clean wet glasses still aren’t very easy to see through. The ”Drying Time” for things that feel like a flashback or PTSD is so simple, yet so easy to forget: it’s the Triage of Kindness. It’s an intentional, gentle time-out to breathe, or stretch, or do anything pleasant you like, while the very real adrenalin in your body subsides. We breathe our way back to the present moment, amazed yet again at the phenomenally creative special-effects department inherent in every single human being’s brain/mind.

Most (if not all) of our experience of life is colored by our brains’ innocent attempts to connect past experiences to present life. It’s how our reptilian brain kept us safe, and still tries to, even when we’re not in danger at all.

Our moment-to-moment experience of Life is 100% shaped by the convoluted tales our brains spin. Ideas and opinions pass themselves off as absolute facts all the time (we can see this in others way better than we can see it in ourselves, right!). That is, until we shift our perspective just a little, and see right though our fabrications. It can be no other way, it’s how we’re wired, as thinking, interpretive, creative beings. And yes, it is both humbling and liberating to see this amazing truth.

So what on earth does this have to do with sketching, you ask?

Absolutely everything, of course.

Sketching is my favorite way to see the simplicity and power of this understanding, this new paradigm. Here’s how:

Anyone who has a piece of paper, a pen, a functional hand, and eyesight can look at something and draw it. Literally anyone with these four items (pen, paper, hand, eyeball) can draw. Not accurately at first, of course, but still, you can make an easy, pleasurable beginning. Or can you?

Not necesarily, because sketching often feels more risky than writing a grocery list using those same four elements. Why? Because with sketching, you might have a judgmental subtext. It’s the same brain-voice that tried to figure out why your boss yelled at you, and now it’s having  a field day making up stories about you, about your rotten character, because you looked at a straight telephone pole, and drew a wobbly line instead. It’s so predictable: when “A” doesn’t equal “B”, your brain is off and running to make sense of it, and decides, more than likely, it’s Your Fault. Or maybe Someone Else’s Fault. Silly brain.

Are you hard on yourself in any area of your life? How about your finances, or relationships, or health, or education, or anything else? Is your brain’s message about that situation neutral, or does its storytelling habit restrict you?

Imagine just for a moment what it would feel like with the exact same situation, without the fortune-telling fearmonger voice. What if you listed the same facts, and then said, “Thank goodness I’m never too hard on myself. I can easily figure out the next step toward my really exciting goal.” Would you find yourself suddenly breathing better? I certainly do.

My very bumpy past has given me experience and wisdom and a depth of empathy for people in rough spots because I’ve been there. I remember those times, but those times no longer own me. They are simply resources in my multi-color, multi-texture reference library. Nowadays, most of the time, I can experience Thought Illusions without falling for them. Instead, I smile and say, “Thanks but I’ve seen that trick before.”

That’s why even my most blundered sketches are fun today, because they’re not about me. Any more than my award-winning paintings bought by collectors are about me. They’re delightful marks on paper, moment-to-moment observations frozen in time.

It’s magic really, once you see how easy it is to get out of your own way.

Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life, Pencil sketching, Sketchbooks, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Goldilock’s Sketching Travel Kit

It has suddenly jumped from almost-too-cold to almost-too-hot to be sketching outdoors, which means there’s no time to waste in fine-tuning my art-supply travel kit. I say “travel,” but in truth for me, “travel” usually means leaving my third-floor loft apartment! I was sitting outside in the park today, enjoying all the tree flower buds falling onto my hair as I sat reading my book. Then I glanced up, looked around, noticed the kids and families enjoying the day.

It was time for a quick sketch, so out came the tools. My kit doesn’t change much from year to year, how about you? I’m sure fishermen, kayakers, and all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts are always comparing their latest tools and toys, why not us too? 🙂

Here’s the tiny bundle of supplies that lives in my purse:

Moleskine sketchbook, Pocket size, 3.5″ x 5.5″ (soon to be replaced by the next size up, an A5)

Wrist sock, well-used, more on that later

Look at That! pen pouch, full and beautifully self-limiting so I don’t carry too much. It usually contains my Lamy fountain pen, my fude fountain pen, a felt-tip pen, a water brush, a pencil (which I almost never use), and just a few watercolor pencils (blue, green, brown, tan) for preliminary linework (instead of using pencil.)

Expeditionary Art palette (see first picture) tucked into a customized ziplock bag so post-sketching leaks stay contained (Note: the stickers on the palette and sketchbook are all thanks to my friends at Goulet Pen Company. )

The latest additions to my kit are worth their weight in gold, and are so simple! A medium and a small binder clip (see below).

This is a tight close-up, hope you can see it. First I clip a medium size binder clip right over the spine of the book, so the book stays open easily. Then I used a small binder clip to fasten the Expeditionary Art palette right to the “wings” of the larger clip. It’s surprisingly stable, and solves that ever-present challenge of how to hold a book open and a palette stable, all with one hand! Of course this trick only works with that compact Expeditionary Art palette.

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I was in my usual haunt of Bicentennial Square in Concord NH, the centerpiece of which is a marvelous stone sculpture garden that has delighted childen of all ages for years.

Start with simple, expressive lines made with the fude pen. I could have stopped here and been pleased with my day. (I was sitting in the shadow of a tree so the pictures are a little dark.)

Then clip on the palette and discover moment-to-moment how far I want to go. Again, just these dashes of greens would have been enough. Note: I’m learning how to create what Liz Steel calls “Watercolor Magic” by under-mixing the paint, and getting it onto the paper with as few strokes as possible.

Close enough! Many inaccuracies, but it works as a stand-alone example of several minutes well spent. Finally, time to pack up.

All but the sketchbook fits easily into the side pocket of my shoulder bag.
The closed version. Beware anyone spotting your tissue splashed with lime green paint though– they may worry that you’re very ill!

That’s the joy of having an every-day, rarely-changes, always-with-you sketch kit. Like Goldilocks says, it’s not too small, not too big, always just right.

As a final note, don’t forget to remove the wrist sock you’ve been using as a convenient rag to wipe your brush on. If, like me, you go out for coffee after you’ve been sketching, you too may get to hear a wait person say, “Oh my goodness, what happened to your wrist!” It does look like a bandage that’s been through the war. I just smile, wearing it with pride, and say, “No worries, I’m just an artist. . . “

What’s in your art kit nowadays? Have you discovered a way to make it both tiny and adequate? Share your answer in the comments below, or on our Facebook page at “Look at That! Sketchbook Adventure Club.” All of us look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in Look at That! book, Look-at-That! Pouches, Pen & Ink, Sketchbooks, Sketching tools, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A time of gentle peace, with W. B. Yeats

Basingstoke Canal, Hampshire England, watercolor by Bobbie Herron, inspired by Judy Coleman photo

“We can make our minds so like still water

that beings gather about us . . .

that they may see, it may be, their own images . . .

and so live for a moment with a clearer,

perhaps even a fiercer life

because of our quiet.”

–William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore, 1893

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This is my favorite prose poem in all the world. I aspire to this state of mind, and manage to visit it occasionally.

Lately I’ve been spending much of my time sketching/painting, at home and out in nature; that explains the recent quiet spell on my blog. No worries, I’m still here, just not bubbling over with words. Instead, I’m enjoying admiring and creating images.

This Yeats prose poem has haunted me for years, and now is the perfect time to share it with you. I hope your gentle sketching sessions allow your soul to be a bit more still from time to time. Happy spring to everyone, I do so adore May.

Posted in Musings on Life, Watercolor | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

An inspired podcast about “Why bother?”

You think you know someone, and then you listen to a podcast that launches your understanding to a brand-new level.

I just finished listening to Episode 14 , “Making It Look Easy” with Liz Steel and host Nishant Jain on his podcast The Sneaky Artist, and had to pause it at about 50 minutes (it’s a 90-minute interview) to sit down and write to you.

Liz is talking about how you get a much clearer understanding of what you know – and what you don’t know – by teaching. That was certainly my experience for the three years I taught at Kimball Jenkins. During that time I found myself stammering, then pointing, then demonstrating, because words simply didn’t show what I was trying to explain.

After years of collecting art instruction books and feeling disappointed in myself as a learner, I now understand that some things are much better taught through videos or in-person. Think about it: How could a single frame from Casablanca or The Godfather or The Color Purple tell you much at all about the movie?

Of course a lot can be taught through books, thank goodness! Take art instruction for example. Picture yourself reading one of those books right now; it takes you down a lovely country lane of learning, then you find yourself at a fork in the road.

The fork to the left is marked DRAWING. You can learn a lot about drawing from books. You can use graphite pencil, or colored pencil, or ballpoint pen, or fine-liner, or even fountain pen, and the instructions in a book will serve you very well. (I like to think I did that reasonably well in my book, Look at That!)

But the fork to the right says PAINT, so you add water and all hell breaks loose.

Can you imagine trying to learn gymnastics or equestrian prowess from a book? Only the very basics could be conveyed and then the wise teacher would find a way to say, “Come with me, I have something to show you, not tell you.”

I love books, and sometimes I love video-learning even better, but today I was shocked to realize that some things are conveyed even more clearly using just audio. The podcast mentioned above comes closer to revealing the heart of this artist than a book full of her gorgeous illustrations. Why? Because of one thing: The colors in her voice.

Listen to Liz in this interview. Over and over again you hear the bubbling enthusiasm in her voice, you hear her smile. You feel the “why bother” of creating a sketching habit in a way that no book or blog could ever explain, no matter how well written.

And isn’t “Why bother?” the most important question you could ever ask yourself?

Let’s zoom out for a moment: What are you doing habitually with your days lately? Why bother?

Yes, yes, there’s the food and shelter and dishes and laundry and bathing of daily life, but beyond that, what are you doing with yourself, and why?

I’m as guilty as anyone of binge-watching movies or a TV series when I don’t think I have the energy for anything else, but that’s a slippery slope, as we all know.

Daily living drains the well, so what are you doing to refill it?

I’ve discovered a surprisingly simple thing that changes the flow in my well from draining to filling: Change Tempo.

An example: my main meal most days is a very large complicated salad. I can rush through preparing it, annoyed that there are so darned many things to chop. Or I can slow my pace 50%, actually look at each vegetable or fruit or pickle or piece of tofu, and marvel at the journey it went on to arrive at my kitchen cutting board.

I can fold laundry just a little more slowly, and be amazed at how many years those slightly worn-out socks have protected me from my shoes.

I can sit just a little longer on the granite stoop downtown, where I must pause to catch my breath because my lungs are struggling a bit lately. I can be aggravated that I have to waste time sitting in the middle of my walk back from the market, or I can look up, really look at the street lamp that I’ve seen so many times, and I can think, “Wow, that lamp is so ornate! I thought I’d seen it before, but no, it’s far more decorative than I ever realized.” And instead of just pausing to catch my breath, I find myself pausing to sketch something that takes my breath away.

So simple, no lines, just water brush, neutral tint watercolor, and look, look, and look again.

Once again, I’m not amazed at what I see— I am amazed that I see. It’s such an exquisite privilege to be able to open your eyes and actually see. Not everyone can do that. I’ve had more than a few adventures with dicey eyesight so I know. When I say, “Look at That,” I’m also saying, whoa, slow down, this life we have is more amazing than we know, especially if we’re rushing through a to-do list, acting like that list is our reason for living. It’s not.

What’s your reason for getting out of bed and participating in this day today? Why bother? What’s in it for you?

Have a good ponder— I hope your answer makes you smile.

Posted in Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments