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!”

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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

The latest finished sketchbook

I just finished a sketchbook that I began back on June 15th, 2019. An educational ending to a long process!

The paper in this sketchbook is one of my favorites, the same as what was in the big square sketchbook I finished not long ago: Speedball Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal, 95lb / 200 GSM. For me it has just the right amount of sizing and texture, and although it’s just 95#, I only need a small clip or two to keep the paper from buckling much, even with lots of juicy washes. The sketchbook I finished a couple days ago is the panorama format (landscape 3.5″ x 8.25″, and twice as long when opened up). From now on I’ll be using larger ones: either the portrait A5 or Square version. ( For sale here on Amazon. This is not an affiliate link, I don’t get a commission, it’s just FYI! 🙂 )

After many rabbit-holes and dead ends, I was able to upload this 9 minute video, a tour of this last sketchbook. Excuse the amateur videography, I am a rookie still, and want you to know that recent donations to my Tip Jar have helped to pay for some of this ‘continuing ed. for the elderly’!

Let me know what you think, and enjoy!

Pardon the wobble! That will improve with time, I promise. 🙂

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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 Cartoons, Musings on Life, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Time for another episode of . . . The Restless Artist!

Today, the 23rd of February 2022, has been an unreasonably balmy day here in northern New England. Lately we have felt fortunate when the temps made it up to freezing, but today, thanks to insanely strong winds from the south and west, we made it up to 63°F (17°C)! Luckily, I had a mid-day window of freedom, so I loaded up my very small art-kit and headed out for a walk to a park about a mile from my home. It’s a bit hilly between here and there so I had to pause to catch my breath a few times, but even that was a pleasure.

Today was a perfect example of why going for a walk with a sketchbook will change your life.

My first unplanned stop was at a café that serves amazing Greek food, including my all-time favorite, spanakopita. I bought a to-go serving of that, as well as a small coffee, and instead of heading off again, I paused at their high-top café table on their front deck and did this quick sketch.

Stillman & Birn Alpha 5.5″x8.5″ softcover book.

It’s funny, I used to think any time an artist used the term “quick sketch”, it was really false humility, like they were saying, “Look at what I effortlessly whipped up in no time at all.” Maybe that’s true occasionally, but for me, “quick sketch” now is code for, “Luckily I didn’t give myself enough time to overwork the heck out of it.” The color was added with a water-brush because I wanted to keep it quick, but I knew I wouldn’t settle for that later!

More often than not, I still experience that classic sinking feeling of, “Gee, I look around, and I have no idea what to draw…” The solution is something I think I included in my book, and that is the notion of, ”Draw what drew you.” If nothing comes to mind immediately, I just start to slowly scan my surroundings, and whenever I do a double-take, and glance back, I know something has caught my eye. More often than not, it is a sudden change in value, where a very dark object or area is butted up against a light, bright object.  In this case, it was that row of tall evergreens near me, receding into space. Bingo! Worth a try.

Next, I walked along to the park a few more blocks to the west, and after tiptoeing through puddles of muddy melted ice and snow, I found a large wooden box that was housing some sort of controls for either water or lighting and settled in on top of it. There I did the sketch in the upper left of the playground, and the upper right of the stone bridge, leaving the middle of the page open for either words or the next view.

I moved along to my next roosting spot, a granite bench dedicated to a young man who apparently died when he was only 26 years old. I took a moment to thank his family for their thoughtful memorial to their son, and decided to set up my full kit including water container, real paintbrush, palette, and board.

Here’s the kit, which folds down to a mere 7” x 9”, and works perfectly for me, for now. (I think most of us urban sketchers are also closet inventors: we have an unreasonable fascination with creating The Ultimate, Adequate Tiny Kit.)

Coroplast Kit folded, a compact 7″ x 9″
Kit open, taped hinge, hole cut to fit old pill-bottle.
Fully loaded, upper clip holds towel as well as stabilizing the hinge. Expeditionary Art pocket palette.
Et voila! Black clip at top stabilizes book at binding, as well as holding the white coroplast “portable table”!

That below-table-level pill bottle of “well water” has a great advantage over fixing your water container to the top of your board. Any sloshing due to stiff winds or getting jostled still keeps your water fully contained! Yes, this is no time for unintentional sketchbook baptism!

Here’s what I ended up writing at the bottom of this two-page spread, my final moments on the stone bench for today:

Final sketch, see transcript below.

“You don’t get a beautiful day like this without gale-force winds as well in the middle of February. I sketched the playground first upper left, then the stone bridge, then finally made it to the Upper Glen— where now I’m having to hold tight to the book as well as my own seat! A gentle man walked by a moment ago with his bike, paused, walked back. Said what a beautiful day it was, then said, “I have a word for you—Hope.”  and walked on. There are angels everywhere.”

That sort of interaction just doesn’t happen when you look like you’re concentrating reading a book, or heaven forbid, you’re on your smartphone.

 I don’t think I looked lonely at that moment, but after his comment I realized yes, I could always use an extra dash of Hope. Today’s weather was full of Hope. My decision to walk all the way to the park and back was thanks to my hope that I could make it that far (I’m not as spry as I used to be).

When you have hope enough days in a row, it can turn to faith in yourself, your fellow humans, and the world in general. I’m not likely to get that sensation sitting alone at home or hunkered down with my laptop or phone. But give me a piece of paper, a pen, and a place to sit outside, and look out.

Or more accurately, “Look at That!”

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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 2- Bolts: Sketching Tools, Pen & Ink, Sketching tools, Tip Jar, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity), Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Being Bored is a Luxury Not Afforded Everyone

Each morning when I first awaken, I ask myself the same question:

What shall I make of this day?

I’ve entered the minefield of Elderhood, and it’s as jarring as puberty was.

After the shock and insult of puberty, we enter The Growing Years; about fifty of them.

First, we must navigate our way through several years of Formal Schooling, cramming our little brains full of information that may or may not be useful later.

Then in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, many of us invest a great deal of time and money in our own and our friends’ engagements, marriages, baby showers, birth celebrations, and raising of children.

Our minds continue to grow as our careers expand and take unexpected turns, occasionally including cul-de-sacs and dead ends. We become time-management slalom skiers, racing through the obstacle course of each day’s agenda, collapsing into bed at night, grateful that we survived another day.

As fledgling children finally leave the nest, and retirement parties become the new way to celebrate, we discover there’s no map to help us find our way because the next phase comes on slowly and feels different for each person. We stay busy, and if we have grandkids, they may be young enough to want to visit us. Our bodies may still be relatively reliable, so we’re free to indulge in all those retirement activities the sports-minded among us have dreamed about.

People like me, without children or grandchildren, still experience this transition of being over-booked for five or six decades, then suddenly having this new thing called “free time.” We can take a nap just because we feel like it, even when we’re not sick in bed with a fever. If we stay up late, or are awake in the middle of the night, we don’t fret because we have the luxury of sleeping late if our body needs to do that. It sounds wonderful, and it is, for a while.

Then comes the part we thought would never apply to us: The Minefield of Aging. As I write this, I’m thinking, “Do I dare make a blog post out of this? Is this just one big bummer?” Maybe so. I know that as I turn 70 years old in a few short months, it’s no longer a surprise when I hear of an acquaintance’s sudden heart attack or cancer diagnosis or broken hip. Suddenly our calendars become strewn with doctor’s appointments instead of hair cuts and business meetings. We become cautious as we open emails with the subject line “Latest News” because it could well be the sender’s latest diagnosis or a mutual friend’s death.

It’s easy for us elders to keep these stories to ourselves. It takes courage to face the fact that daily life will, at some point, unavoidably shift.

If you’re still reading this, congratulations, it gets better.

The good news is that this grit, gravel, and sandy soil of Aging is precisely where we get to plant our final seeds, the hardy ones that thrive best in adverse conditions. They are the relentlessly resilient dandelions of Elderhood. There is no time to waste, and yet plenty of time to savor. Everything, especially Time, becomes precious.

So, as I ask myself, “What shall I make of this day?” I also ponder:

Am I feeling bored? That’s proof I’m neither putting out fires, nor in triage in the emergency room.

Am I feeling judgmental? Consider the possibility that I was self-critical first.

Am I feeling unloved? If so, I have certainly forgotten my well-deserved place in this world.

The following video, 52 minutes long, may well NOT be your cup of tea. It includes profanity. For some, or for many, it may sound irreverent as well. It may seem to have nothing to do with the other posts on this website, and yet for me it feels like the underpinning of everything that has ever helped me release the shackles I macraméd for myself over decades of listening to others instead of to my soul.

There’s a stillness I feel while sketching outdoors that I find no other way. Some discover it through traditional meditation. I get there by looking, and breathing, and looking some more. It’s a peaceful sense of timeless wonder, awe, liberation; the “now, Now, NOW” that Kyle speaks of here. Toward the end of the video, he laughingly describes how useless his memory has become, because Here and Now are so attractive, so compelling, that he never wants to leave. To others, it looks like memory loss, but it’s not. It’s Now-Bliss. It’s addictive, with no side effects, except perhaps social ones. If you’re in love with Now, people may accuse you of being in denial, or being self-absorbed, or even heartless.

In truth, you are only as heartless as every other infatuated person has ever been. Welcome home.

Kyle Cease video. May 23, 2021  

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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 for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Musings on Life, My Story, Urban Sketching (On-Site Creativity) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In praise of weird-shaped containers

Sometimes all you need is a weird-shaped target area to overcome perceived obstacles.

Notice I said, “perceived.” Most of time, what’s keeping us from writing, from sketching, from taking up guitar, or even harmonica is the crazy notion that we don’t have what it takes to be successful. We think a lousy first draft, or a wonky sketch, or a sour note says something about us, which of course it doesn’t at all. But wow, can it feel like it does.

So what if, as a sketcher, you create an intentional wonkiness right from the start? How might that lower the bar in your mind so you can enjoy “wasting” that piece of paper, because what the heck, it’s already less-than-pristine-perfect?

That’s precisely what I illustrated on page 56 of Look at That!

This is the original drawing, in a well-used 2015 sketchbook.

When I created that two-page spread, I was working through a Stillman and Birn Beta Series 5.5″ x 8.5″ sketchbook, and I was only two pages from the end. Even though the book only has 56 pages, I was bored, really bored. I was using up pages, which is crazy when you’re working in a $20 beautifully bound, hard-cover book made with high quality watercolor paper. Crazy right?

But the thing is, that happens to me all the time. The sage Lao Tzu once said, “Take care at the end as you do at the beginning.” It’s a great idea, and I remember it every time I lose steam before I get to the finish line, especially in sketchbooks. I needed a solution.

The opened book is 11″ wide x 8.5″ tall which is a great shape/working size for a single image if you have an inspiring subject, but I didn’t. At the time I also had no idea how to create a well-designed layout (something I remedied by taking Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design course in 2021). So instead, I just started drawing boxes. No plan, just draw. The big shapes went in first, and little by little I got bold enough to draw that wonky triangular shape on the right, and the tall skinny box in the lower left.

I had no idea what would go in those boxes, but at least I no longer had a blank spread, right? Over the coming weeks I simply left this sketchbook in my car on the passenger seat, and when I saw something that caught my eye and I had a few minutes, I added a quick line drawing in whatever box was calling my name at the moment.

When every box was filled, I liked it, sort of, and decided to splash in some intentionally-uneven color washes to liven up the page. Next, in a few of the boxes, I used my tint brush to add a few suggested shadow areas. Finally, to tie it together, I added the word Viewpoints, written to reflected the overall funkiness of the spread.

Remember: There Was No Plan. There Never Was.

The result? I liked it, what a surprise! There’s no way I could have done that with a master plan; then it would have felt like work, and I wasn’t interested in that. I already had a job; this was what I did for fun!

This year I’ve made a goal to finish all my half-filled sketchbooks before I start a new one. I think I have about five at the moment. All but one are “themed” books that I started when I was taking various online classes and wanted to use a designated book for each course. (There’s proof that I also struggle to complete courses I’ve paid for! If it weren’t for parental constraints, left to my own devices, I might never have finished kindergarten.)

The fifth book, the one not linked to a course, is the one I’m slowly filling now. I took a leaf from a Koosje Koene video (see at 14:37 for my aha inspiration), and decided the best way to use this panorama-shaped book would be to create cartoon blocks within it, all different sizes, as the subject dictates. The book is made by my favorite company, Hand.Book Paper Co. Travelogue Watercolor Journals, and I do love the paper, the cover, the binding. This is the second panorama one I’ve owned (glutton for punishment!) and I won’t replace it, although I continue to use and love the more normal-sized books in this series (5×8 and 8×8). Nevertheless, I’m thoroughly enjoying filling this one, now that I have an approach. I’ve posted a few of the results on Instagram using the tag #bhcartoondiaries.

When the entire book is completed, I will attempt to make my second video and post it here. For now, here’s what this odd little 3.5″x 8.25″ book looks like closed, plus two images from inside. Ahhh, the suspenses of it all!

Hand.Book Journal Co., Panorama version

Here are my questions:

Do you ever panic when you look at a blank page?

Do you get tired of working in “Golden-Mean” shaped boxes that feel like a formula, because they are? (Golden Mean is a ratio of roughly 1:1.6, which creates those very familiar shapes line 3 x 5, 5 x 8, etc.)

Do you want your sketchbook to feel more like a playground and less like study hall detention?

If so, weird-shaped containers just might be your answer. Give it a go, and let me know how you got on!

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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 on the menu bar at the top. As always, thanks for spending some “aloft” time with me.

Posted in Cartoons, Pen & Ink, Seeing and looking, Sketchbooks, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

“But in the meantime…”

I love that word, it describes a period of time that defies definition! Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:

Meantime:

1 : during the time before something happens or before a specified period ends The new computers won’t arrive until next week, but we can keep using the old ones in the meantime. 2 : while something else is being done or was being done. She spent four years studying for her law degree.  In the meantime, she continued to work at the bank.

This is a perfect description of what’s sometimes called “Old Year’s Week.”

Old Year’s Week— that 7 day period between December 25th and January 1st— is celebrated in different ways in different countries. I encourage you to tap into your own inner wisdom and create your own O.Y.W. rhythms and rituals. Here are some of mine:

1- Time is money. In recent years I’ve used O.Y.W. to take a gentle waltz back through my current date book. I pull out a new sheet of paper (or pull up a new Word document) and starting in January, I look for activity in the areas I care about the most. In recent years the five common threads I follow are: Art, Writing, Health, Friends/Spirit, and Finance.

I take notes in each designated column, and I’m often astounded. I say to myself things like, “I can’t believe that was this year!” and, “Wow, I was so frightened by that health scare, but here I am on the other side of it,” and finally, “I forgot I paid for that online class, I can’t wait to finish that.”

2- Money is money. After going through my datebook, I pull out my checkbook and credit card summaries (okay, I outed myself. I’m a retired bookkeeper. so I happily play with numbers too.) I go through these important documents and see where the big out-of-the-ordinary expenses have been. I make a list of all the learning resources (online classes, books, videos) I’ve purchased, and use this list as a Freebie Shopping List for my fun learning experiences in the New Year.

The purpose of this sacred ritual is simply to make loving peace with my own self. It shouldn’t be necessary for someone as old as I am, but I’m afraid I still suffer from Very Distorted Thinking when I look back at where the heck the time has gone. As a result of doing this for several years now, I’ve seen patterns I could never have seen any other way.

  1. “Free things can cost a lot.” (Brilliant quote from my great friend Michelle Geffken.) The words “free master class” used online, especially on Facebook, can easily mean you’re about to give over your contact info to watch a free 1-hour advertisement for a real class (paid) that’s they assure us is worth every penny, actually a bargain! I’ve signed up for some of these slippery-slope freebies, and it occasionally has led to purchasing a great class (like this one, MemoirWriting Ink). I do have one very serious rule though. I never, ever sign up for one of these freebies when I’m in a low mood or if I feel I need “fixing.” That is dangerous fiction.

2- “Stop accumulating things and start releasing!” (Another gem, this time from the amazing Melissa Wiley.) This needn’t be a monumental exercise in Marie-Kondo-esque downsizing. No, it can start with finding a simple way to slow spending, combined with a new definition of recycling.

My “slow spending” is a throw back to the time before credit cards (yes, I was alive then!) when many households would go to the bank weekly to cash a check (pre-ATMs as well of course), and use that cash for all the purchases for the next seven days. It works! Run out of cash? Oh well!

I do still carry a credit card: it’s tucked deep in my wallet with a paper wrapped around it saying, “Medical Only” to remind me I’ve made a promise to myself. Each Monday I walk to the ATM and “cash a check” for the same amount. I use that money throughout the week then Sunday night I take whatever is left in my wallet, pour it into a secret box, and start with a fresh bundle of my weekly cash the next day. That way, when I do need more than my weekly amount, I have a secret stash to dip into.

The best part is there’s no complicated Excel budget or math to worry about. It’s a highly tactile and visual method really: now you see it, now you don’t. And you feel so proud of yourself when you stick to this for long enough to see that it really works. You learn to trust yourself.

The second part is “start releasing.” I did an experiment a while back with my embarassing amount of art supplies. I opened up the cabinet where I keep them, and started shopping. I pulled out my favorites of everything (favorite watercolor cups, favorite brushes, favorite watercolor palettes, favorite pens, pencils, and inks) and put all the rest in a box. The box was then placed under my bed, marked “Open ____”, with a date 6 months hence. Suddenly my favorite toys had room to breath on those cupboard shelves, and I had the opportunity to see if I actually missed any of that stuff I’d tucked away.

It was a great experiment. After a while, I did retrieve just a couple items, but only when I was certain I really missed them. Then when the time came to give away the entire under-the-bed stash to a local school, I was confident there would be no “donor’s remorse.” Painless, and enlightening.

3- “Fall back in love with your own life.” (That quote is actually mine!) As a result of taking stock of how I spend my time and money, and releasing some of the things that no longer serve me, I discovered a contentment that has alluded me in the past. I do recognize this post is all about “first world problems” which many people would envy. All the more reason to tighten my belt, share the wealth, and sally forth with a lighter head and heart. How exciting to begin the new year streamlined, with clear intentions, the spirit of sharing, and pre-paid art classes awaiting me!

May Old Year’s Week liberate you from all your barnacles, and prepare you for bright new discoveries!

A few well-worn tools can become your very best friends!

*****

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Posted in 3- Magic: Art Epiphanies, Musings on Life, My Story, Tip Jar, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Greatness of Blue: a holiday season story

© 2016 Illustration and story by Bobbie Herron

It was the 24th day of the last month of the year, snow was everywhere, and all the summer birds had long since headed south for the winter. Or so the villagers thought. The townsfolk were busy trying to keep warm because the mayor had been called away back in the autumn and no one else knew how to rekindle the source of heat for the village.

Ten-year-old Maggie Wentworth bundled up in her warmest clothes and raced outside to play in the bright evening moonlight with her collie dog McDuff. Suddenly a dark shadow crept across the snow, and as Maggie looked up she saw a great blue heron glide overhead and start flapping his wings in reverse to slow down for a landing at the edge of the frozen mill pond. The bird walked that hypnotic heron-dance walk along the shoreline, peering at the ground as if searching for something. As he reached the marsh at the headwaters of the pond he found it: the Secret Sapphire. He clenched it in his beak and slowly strutted back toward the village in the moonlight.

Several villagers noticed the heron’s landing and headed out from their chilly homes to see what was happening. Next G.B. (as Great Blue was known) walked forward three more steps and placed the Sapphire on the big rock beside the town’s frozen woodpile. Finally he cleared his long throat and asked the villagers to gather ’round.

“Your mayor is sorry for being delayed,” he said. “He sent me here in his place to help you, I will need a volunteer to assist me, anyone?”

Maggie stepped forward.

“Splendid,” nodded G.B. “First, Maggie, please pick up a small twig of wood, touch the end of it to the Sapphire, and hold it there. Now, everyone close your eyes, I mean everyone, and think about how good you would feel if you told your best friend your deepest secret, and they loved you even more because of your trust. Now think, everyone, think hard! And keep your eyes closed until you smell your favorite smell.”

The townspeople were puzzled, but did as they were told and before long, a sound began to fill the air, the sound of sniffing! One by one each person sensed that wonderful smell, the one they’d all longed for. As they each opened their eyes they saw that Maggie’s twig was smoldering, filling the air with gentle wood-fire perfume.

The Heron instructed them to find twigs, one per family, and to light their twig from Maggie’s fire. When each family had lit their fire-stick, they gathered around the Heron to thank him for the miracle. A stout elder of the town stepped forward and said in a deep booming voice, “Thank you for this gift, G.B. Heron. Because of you we will be warm this winter.”

The Heron smiled (which is hard for a heron to do), and looked around at the families huddled together, protecting their small flames.

“Yes, the Secret Sapphire is magic, “ he said, “but not in the way you think.”

“You see, the Sapphire is the deepest shade of dark ice-blue, and it’s a channel of great power. But it was you who started the fire, each and every one of you. First by thinking hard about all the secrets you carry, secrets you’d love to release. Then you thought about how warm you would feel if you did share them with your best friend, with no repercussions. Yes, you started the fire; the Sapphire and I only watched and helped you to believe it was possible.”

The townspeople smiled and nodded, then began to walk together to each house, making sure each family fireplace was well-lit before proceeding on to the next home. Maggie felt responsible for seeing that everyone arrived home safe and sound and warm, so the Wentworth family was last to arrive home. The Wentworths gathered around their slowly crackling fire, warming their hands and hearts and hugged each other. After a little while Maggie left the fireside and walked to the window, hoping she would get one last glimpse of the majestic bird. Sure enough, she did.

The Heron knew it was time to go, so he picked up the Secret Sapphire in his beak and began to flap his wings in that powerful Heron way. His flight began with a large circle over the whole village to make sure everyone was asleep and safe and warm in their beds. As he flew over the Wentworth home, G.B. saw Maggie reach up to the window and wave. The moonlight twinkled through the shimmering Sapphire and cast a beautiful blue light across Maggie’s face. The Heron made one final swoop down near the pond, dropped the Sapphire safely behind some grasses at the headwaters’ edge, and glanced one last time at Maggie before flying off across the fields.

Maggie smiled to herself because she knew the Heron had left her with a very important job. If the fires were ever to go out again, Maggie would be the only one who knew where to find the wonderful Sapphire. She kept this a secret though, knowing that the villagers had all learned how to keep each other warm, and probably would do so for a very long time.

~~~ The End ~~~

Posted in Cartoons, Musings on Life, Watercolor, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 , , , , , , | 2 Comments