Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Word is “Slow”

At David and Leigh’s wedding three months ago I got into an intense discussion about journaling with one of Leigh’s bridesmaids, Kristy Cuskelly. We both agreed we’d like to be more faithful about keeping our journals (or blog for that matter), but unfortunately “life” often got in the the way, and we both kept putting things off.
Kristy suggested that an easy way to keep a journal would be to pick one word that encapsulated what we’d experienced that day and just leave it at that. For some reason, I woke up thinking about her words this morning, and I've been mulling them over ever since.
I think my word for today has to be slow because that’s basically how the day unfolded. But what does slow really tell you? I could decide to take things as slowly as possible in order to savor each moment. Maybe things could go very slowly for me, but not in a satisfying way. Or I might just decide to be lazy and describe it as slow. Yes, the word can mean so many different things. On its own, slow is like a poem, then once you start writing about it, or trying to visualize it, slow turns into something else. So what did slow mean to me today? Go with the flow.

(Speaking of journaling, you might want to check out Strathmore’s free visual journaling workshops at

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Finish: A Vision Grid

Our last assignment for Claudine’s Composition Workshop was to construct a collage in the grid format. I’ve never done this before because creating each section to work on its own as well as in the overall group is a big challenge. It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, a pastime I’ve never had much patience with, I’m afraid (although gluing individual jigsaw pieces to something is always fun).
I’m sure that an artist with a more spontaneous temperament than mine would find this project easier to do, and when you think about it: what does it really matter if the sections don’t work well as a group? I finally got to this point after being overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The plus of Photoshop is also its minus …you can keep undoing and altering until you’re in the it-will-never-be-finished zone. Of course that’s the advantage of an assignment. You feel you must complete it no matter how it turns out. If there hadn’t been a deadline, I would have deep-sixed this project a few hours in. As it is, I don’t know how much I learned but at least I know that I’m capable of producing something complicated if I have to.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Week 3: A Vignette Composition

One of the things I’ve appreciated about taking Claudine Hellmuth’s online class is the opportunity to think about what I’m doing creativity. Most of the time I don’t analyze what I make as I go along, but when you gain some new tools (or refresh what you already know), it makes it easier to solve the problems that come up.
Perhaps this is an unromantic way to view making art, but I do believe that much of the process is about problem solving. Because you have a gut feeling you want things a certain way, it’s all about experimenting until you get things “right” …in other words, until you achieve something that allows you to move on.*
I played a lot with this composition in Photoshop. It’s the first time I’ve consciously tried to make a vignette (usually it just evolves), and I liked the challenge of having boundaries and trying to do as much as I could within them. Of course the beauty of Photoshop is that you can keep doing and undoing to your heart’s content, although I had promised myself that I would use some of my collage stash to do at least one of Claudine’s projects. Oh well, maybe next time…

*It’s not so much that you want things to look a certain way, you’re after a certain feeling which you might not understand until you actually start working on a piece—and then when you get it, you get it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Week 2: Composition with Claudine

Our challenge this week was to experiment with the horizon line. If you go to Sharon Ginzberg’s blog you can see her hands-on approach to the assignment, which I think works really well.
I decided to stick with Photoshop myself, and even though I liked what I did, I got off track pretty quickly. For some reason, when I’m working on an assignment, I usually forget why I signed up for the class in the first place. But I had fun with it.
The game piece is from a handout Claudine included with the lesson, and the digital scrapbooking paper is from a line Christina Lazar Schuler designed a few years ago. As for the hat and diagram background, I used some images from my own line of digital stamps.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Claudine & Composition

I’m glad I signed up for Claudine Hellmuth’s new online class: Composition for Collage. It’s not only helping me to take my mind off losing Lily while I’m doing it, but I’m also gaining some much needed focus.
Both Martha and Marissa have written on their blogs about how they enjoy online classes, so I’ve been wanting to experience one myself. I thought I’d start with Claudine’s because I’ve taken a couple of real time classes with her, and she always gives you 100 per cent, plus you come away a better artist. One of the things I admire about Claudine’s work is her sense of composition, and it’s great the way she explains how she makes decisions regarding the placement of her picture elements.
Our first assignment was Asymmetry (see above), which I did in Photoshop using (mainly) elements that Claudine provides as part of the class materials. I was surprised how challenging this was and how much I learned. Because I worked for years as a layout artist, composition isn’t usually a challenge for me. However, I do think that a large part of creativity is self-correcting in order to make your work better, and I really appreciate the tools and vocabulary Claudine is giving us to do just this that.
P.S. I think today is the last day to sign up if you’d like to.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

My Fair Lily: 1995 to 2011

I know there must be worse things than losing your beloved dog, but right now I can’t imagine what those things could be.
On Tuesday afternoon I got a bad feeling about Lily, so I left work early and rushed home. When I looked through the door I saw her lying there waiting for me. Her eyes were open and she looked very relaxed, but I knew immediately that she had passed away. Her little body was still warm and I tried to revive her, but it was too late.
Even though I am grateful that we had her love, joy and companionship for fifteen and a half years, there’s a hole in my heart that keeps filling up with tears. Goodbye sweet girl. Your joy and innocence will always be with us.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Y’all, eh? David & Leigh’s Wedding

We’re back from David and Leigh’s lovely church wedding in Austin, Texas. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding where people cried more. There was a string quartet, a flower girl and bevy of bridesmaids including Emma. The maid of honor was Leigh’s sister Marilyn; David’s closet friend Neil was best man.
After the ceremony, we went to the Daniel H. Caswell house, which is just a few blocks from the Texas State Capitol Building. Built around 1900, the Caswell House was the perfect venue for a romantic reception. After plenty of classic Southern cooking like grits, collard greens, black eyed peas and Texas-style brisket, the speeches began. Leigh’s mom Suzie sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which was the hit of the night.
Suzie, Leigh’s dad Gayle, Marilyn, and all the extended family and friends from Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and California welcomed us into their hearts and demonstrated true Southern hospitality. Now that Texas and Toronto have merged, we have a new saying: “Y’all, eh?” Love those accents.
P.S. Click photos above for a larger view.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Now on Sale ― Artopia Digital Stamps

You’re invited to visit my new blog Artopia Digital Stamps, and check out the unique collections I’ve designed for artists and crafters: French Hats, Vintage People and Art Gizmos.

 Whether you’re into mixed media, card-making or digital collage, my goal is to provide you with low cost images to inspire you creatively.
If you’re not familiar with digital stamps, they’re black and white images you download and use in your art:
  • You can print them on paper, fabric and film.
  • You can resize them, and then add colored pencil, pastel and paint.
  • You can import them into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, and transform them digitally.
Why not take digital stamps on a test drive
by downloading my Free Images?

And visit my Project Ideas page for creative suggestions. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Digital versus Physical

Even though I’ve reorganized all my art supplies and I’m set up to paint again, I don’t seem to be doing anything yet. Thinking about it (definitely). Fantasizing about it (always pleasurable). Generating ideas (never a problem) ...but actually doing it? I’m afraid not.
Since I don’t have this problem with digital work, I’ve been debating lately about whether or not I should give up the physical act of painting and focus entirely on Photoshop.
And it’s not because Photoshop is faster. If anything, it’s a slower process for me. Because there are so many possibilities to explore digitally, I can lose myself happily for hours and then emerge with something that pleases me.
When I pick up a brush and dip it in paint, though, there’s usually some hesitation on my part. Am I making the right decision? Could I going down the wrong path? What am I trying to do anyway? It’s just plain easier for me to be more playful and spontaneous in Photoshop. Plus, just think uncomplicated my life would be without all those art supplies!
Unfortunately, while Photoshop might be mentally tactile, it doesn’t translate to the physical—yet. Won’t it be amazing when three-dimensional stuff starts emerging from your printer? I just hope this happens in my lifetime.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Reading and Writing Poetry

Emma told me recently that writing poetry (and reading it) not only gives her ideas for her novel, but also makes her feel more creative. This surprised me. Although I used to teach fiction and poetry writing workshops, it never occurred to me that the two could be of benefit to each other. But it’s obvious really. Part of what makes a great poem—movement and strong imagery—also contributes to great fiction.
Back in May 1998, I set myself the task of writing a short poem every day. It’s not that difficult if you think of them as haikus: short and sweet.
What was interesting about this project to me was that I had to be deliberately aware of the something deeper that’s always going on. And re-reading these poems today, I could remember what inspired me to write most of them.
For example on May 6th, 1998:

Her heart
travels straight up the lead
into my palm…
As I recall, I was walking Lily very late at night and we passed by a bizarre girl. Even though it was a warm night, she was dressed in heavy, dark winter clothing from head to toe, and vibrating with anger. She terrified Lily who started barking madly—I could actually feel her doggie heart pounding at the end of the lead.
I’ve never done much with my poetry because I really don’t consider myself to be a poet. I think it’s partly because that kind of writing tends to be such a personal thing, you don’t want to admit to it unless you can polish your words up properly. (It’s a lot more fun not to feel you have to, though).
I had to laugh when I picked up the latest issue of The Oprah Magazine. There are several articles on poetry, but the P-word does not appear on the cover. Maybe the editors were afraid they would scare prospective readers away with the word POETRY, so they chose instead to lure them in by promising …How to Inspire the Best in You: Words That Sooth, Ideas That Delight—36 Pages You’ll Want to Keep Forever!
Enough said.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Fifth Year Blogiversary

Just this morning I realized that I’ve been blogging for five years today. Obviously not always faithfully or with consistent quality, but I’ve never thought seriously of it giving up.
It was Carmi who encouraged me to start a blog, and who could ask for a better cheerleader or mentor? Frankly, her enthusiasm, energy and willingness to try something new gave me the courage to try it myself. I have to admit I needed that push because my tendency is go inside rather than outside, and keeping a blog is a good way to stay connected to the big picture. True, I wish I had the drive to post original art several times a week and to write something transformational, but when you get right down to it, you have to blog in the way that’s best for you and groove to your own inner timing, even if is kind of hit and miss.
One of the good things about blogging is that you become accountable to yourself and others. Three or four years ago, I was posting a digital ATC here on a regular basis. That activity, more than anything else, helped me to develop my Photoshop skills. But developing your creativity is just one of the benefits of blogging. For me, the most important thing has been establishing important friendships with people I would probably never have met in the pre-blogging universe. It’s exciting to know there are so many kindred spirits out there to share the world with, so thank you for stopping by and being one of my readers!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Sketchbook Project

If you’re interested in artist sketchbooks, there’s a big exhibit on right now at the The Brooklyn Art Library that will also travel to Portland (Maine), Austin, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and Winter Park in Florida. (See locations and dates below). I have a sketchbook in the exhibition—along with a ton of other artists including my good pals, JK Gent and Jennifer Pearson Vanier—although I would have to use the word “sketchbook” with some latitude in my own case.
Because the topic I chose was Secret Codes, I fully intended to invent my own arcane language, and then draw on every page. But when the reality of what I intended to do sank in, I remembered the saying: Don't let perfection get in the way of good. In other words, there was no way I was going to finish (or even get started) without drastic compromise.
I ended up using rubber stamps and adding to them with pen (see above). Saul Steinberg included stamps in his drawings and I always loved the effect, except I started from the other end. And since I didn’t have time to work on every page, each image showed through on the opposite side ...not an effect I would normally go for, but sometimes it’s just a relief to finish something without stopping to critique it along the way.
P.S. The purplish textured background I used to display my pages on is from Lennie Locken’s set of textures on Elemenopea, a new blog of custom brushes, textures and photography by digital gurus Nancy Donaldson, Marie Otero and Lennie herself. Check it out!

Click map to enlarge.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

More about inspiration…

I’ve always thought being inspired meant that Spirit was activating something wonderful inside you that wanted to come out. When I actually looked up the etymology of the word inspire, I discovered it means, “to influence or animate with an idea or purpose.” Presumably inspiration can be activated by anything from a sunset to a person with a clear vision of how things could be. At the heart of it, though, Spirit is always there, always available; the challenge is aligning ourselves with It.
One of the things that inspire me is making Artist Trading Cards. Because they are so small, you don’t tend to over think what you’re going to do and can be more spontaneous. I find this whether or not I’m doing them digitally or puttering around with paints and collage bits and pieces. The same feeling extends to making backgrounds. Because you’re basically playing and don’t have an endpoint in mind, you’re freer to express yourself and you don’t worry about making mistakes.
While it’s true that expectation can paralyze the creative drive, strangely enough, it can also motivate you. I sold the pink shadow box sample I did last year for my workshop to a woman who wanted a second one, so that both her young nieces could have their own piece of art in the bedroom they share.
I’ve never been comfortable with commissions, and this one was no exception. My client wanted the shadow boxes to be different, but to still compliment each other. I wasn’t sure I could do this since I’d had so much trouble getting the first one together. But sometimes it’s good to move outside your comfort zone. Rather than second guess what my client would like, I decided to just do something all in one go, and she loved it. So did the two little girls. The six-year-old asked me how I did it because she wants to make one herself!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Inspires You?

I can’t honestly say that a lack of inspiration prevents me from doing something creative. In fact, it’s probably just the opposite. I have so many ideas that it’s hard to choose what I’d like to work on especially since my creative time is limited at the moment. Still, I’ve noticed that when I do have the opportunity and start vacillating, there are things I can do that put me in a more creative frame.
Here are just a few:
Looking at books: These can practically based like Digital Paint Techniques, which my friend JK Gent sent me for Christmas, or a book on a particular artist like Joseph Cornell and Astronomy (another current favorite). I believe books open the door to that part of you that’s big, colorful and bursting with possibilities.
Looking at Photographs: Lennie’s blog on Vivian Maier a month or so ago was really inspiring to me. Not because I wanted to go out and start taking pictures, but because the revelation that there must be thousands of unrecognized artists out there doing brilliant stuff right now really moved me. We tend to think that if we’re not recognized, we don’t have talent or the right to create. Vivian obviously wasn’t concerned about this. Her attitude seemed to be: “I love taking pictures and I’m just going to keep doing it no matter what.”
Watching TV: I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me on this, but I find watching TV and doing art at the same time energizing. My theory is that I don’t obsess about how good a “job” I’m doing on a particular piece of art because I’m too distracted by the TV. Plus I’m getting in guilt-free junk time, which I seem to need. Maybe this is a weird kind of multi-tasking?
Loving my dog: When I cuddle Lily I feel this clear, beautiful sense of love. There’s nothing complicated this. It’s cleansing and liberating. Loving your pet enables you to see how you complicate things when simplifying them would be much healthier and more creative. Nothing gets to the heart of what’s important like Love, the source of true inspiration.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Word for 2011 is Focus

For the first time in ages, I decided to set some goals for the New Year. I usually avoid doing this because I don’t want to disappoint myself when I fail to achieve what I’ve promised myself I’ll do. However, the reason I changed my mind for 2011 is that not setting goals hasn’t been working for me either!
I accomplished very little last year. This was understandable given the challenges and circumstances, but still hard to deal with anyway. I’d like to feel better about myself at the end of 2011 than I did in 2010, so I know I need to focus to tackle some of the things on my list—like starting an Etsy shop, doing more with Photoshop and working on different writing projects.
Bob Proctor says you should only work on one or two goals at a time and I’m sure if he looked at my list he’d probably burst out laughing. Nevertheless, I think the way to accomplish some of this stuff is to Focus and to Put in the Time. The good thing is that I still have 362 days left to accomplish a number of my goals (and come up with a fool-proof system of beating procrastination).