Monday, October 31, 2011

The System Works: pArt 2 -- *How* I Work Within My System

Gesso is like primer -- it gets me started.
I start with gesso, partly to give the paper tooth, partly just to get my hands moving, and get me out of my head. 

After a quick dry with my handy heating/drying tool (formerly my hair dryer), 
Today I like the blues of the starfish and the numbers.
I sort through my papers to find the color and style of what I like for that day. I started what's called an "ephemera" file years ago by going through magazines and saving images and patterns that I like. 
I play with the main images -- there's usually a focal point -- by moving them around in different layouts. 
Then I layer, adding paint, ink, stains, tape, odds and ends..
..until the final "piece" reveals itself fully.
And it's all in line with My System. Throw a cog in it, and it's very likely I won't finish what I started that day. I get distracted, and whammo! I'm like a writer who's lost her story. My Systems give me a framework. I can go crazy because it's safe; there are boundaries.  .. ugh, boundaries? That's a whole other post..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not Knowing

My partner Emily and I were discussing this blog the other day, and I said that I thought perhaps my next post could be briefer, less verbose.

This is not that post.

Recently, I was at a discount store and saw many rolls of shelf liner jumbled in a bin on the bottom shelf.  Most rolls I quickly dismissed as cutesy, plain, or garish, but I was strongly drawn to one print.  I found it elegant, with a rich color scheme (soft blue with deep brown being a personal favorite for me), and a lovely floral theme that managed to be intricate without being dated or busy.  I studied a roll for quite some time, just admiring it.  Then I put it back in the bin and walked on down the aisle.  I didn't need shelf liner.  I already have shelf liner in my cabinets, and even if I didn't, there were only 4 small rolls, not nearly enough to line all my cupboards.  Then at the end of the aisle, I pulled a u-turn and went back to put all 4 rolls with that print in my cart.

I am going to make something with these rolls.  I am not going to line my cupboards.  I am going to craft something beautiful with them.  I have no idea what, yet.  I just know that I am drawn to this print, I like looking at it, and it inspires me.  It's very important to bring into your life whatever inspires you, even if it means an impulse buy of shelf paper you don't need. What is most important about this shelf paper is that it makes me want to use it, makes me want to create something.  Maybe I'll cover a journal in it, or cut out shapes for a card, or wrap around a picture frame.  No idea.  But I know I want to experience it more deeply, in the way you do when you are creating.  You ruminate and imagine, and look into the material and feel around with your soul, asking what it wants to be.  Much like that Michelangelo quote: 

"I saw the angel in the stone and I carved until I set him free."

 As Emily revealed in her last post, you develop a relationship with your materials, with the tackiness of a glue, with the familiar and forgotten treasures in your box of ephemera as you rifle through it, with the consistency of your paint under your brush, even with where your tools are placed on your work table.  And the more time you spend with a material, with that shelf paper, the more comfortable and specific and unleashed you become.  You delve in, knowing it more thoroughly and also being surprised by what you find.  The longer you are willing to spend just being with your material in exploration, in a "not-knowing" state, the deeper your understanding becomes of its possibilities.  So I don't know yet what I will create with this shelf paper, but I am excited at the prospect of trying, failing, succeeding, exploring.  I can't wait to discover what I see in it to carve out.

And yet.  In my real life, there happen to be a number of large areas at the moment where I am in a state of "not-knowing."  And rather than being excited by this prospect, I am distinctly distressed and uncomfortable.  I would very much like to know what is going to happen, what the best choice is, and what I am supposed to do.  And it occurs to me that this is exactly what we teach in Doodlebugheart:  that the not-knowing state, the transition, is where the art begins.  And that nothing is more creative than the lives we are creating every moment, every breath.  That the transition is where the possibility exists most.  And to stay in that moment and let it show you what to carve out of your life.

And my reaction to that is:  {bleeecccchhhh}.

I suppose this is why they say you teach what you most need to learn, because I definitely do not want to sit in this state of not-knowing.  But imagine if I did treat this uncomfortable place of not-knowing what my future will be in the next 6 months the same way I treated the delicious not-knowing of crafting.  What if I reveled in my not-knowing as a chance to ruminate and imagine, and looked into my life with my soul, asking my life what it wants to be?  The longer you are willing to spend just being with your material in exploration, in a "not-knowing" state, the deeper your understanding becomes of its possibilities.  This is the material of my life right now, all these questions and uncertainties.  So this is my chance to understand all of my possibilities, to see all the opportunities I can create for my life.  Maybe if I can just explore, just rest calmly in the unknowing, then I can  become comfortable and specific and unleashed with my future.

My reaction still is:  {bleeecccchhhh}.  But also:  {yes}.

I am going to create something.  I have no idea what it is going to look like.  But I am going to make sure I create something beautiful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The System Works! pArt 1, with a 360 degree view

my cheap paints (don't tell my real artist friends!)
I don't like routine. I rail against conformity. But take away my systems and I'm sunk. School days, scheduled babysitters, regular meal and bed times, all these things are very important for creating stability and a feeling of security. And not just for my child! I find its just as important for me, a 44 year old, working adult. 
One of my biggest system needs is for PLACEMENT. On my art table, I have a placement system: 
scissors, pencils, ruler, brushes, and water bottle to my left; 

gesso and Yes! Paste
gesso and Yes! Paste directly in front. And my studio has to have the table situated so i can look out a window, 
turn table with Max
with my turning shelf unit to my left,

ephemera box and spray paints to my right, all within reaching distance.
the lapboard Dad made me for Christmas when I was in college
I use a lap board my dad made for me 20 years ago for my actual working space. 
Gramma used to say, "Everything has a place and everything in it's place!" (i.e. The System Works, when The System is in place!)
Tune in next week for pArt 2, the HOW of my system.

Friday, October 21, 2011


My children are too young to be aware of most boundaries.  They have to be taught to watch for cars when crossing the street, to not touch things that are boiling hot, to not hit or spit or kick or generally abuse people, to eat something other than sugar, and to wait their turn and to share.  And when confronted with a coloring book, it does not even occur to them that the random lines on the page, which may or may not look like Barney or Dora or Woody, represent some sort of boundary they should respect.  They are still at the age where they scribble.  Scribble with enthusiasm and speed and absolutely no judgment.

  They actually don't even seem to care about the finished picture at all, they just love the feeling of intensely scribbling their hands back and forth, and the more colors the better.

Well, my goodness, when did I lose that ability?  To not care about the boundaries of what I'm "supposed to" do in life and especially in creating?  To blithely disregard the black lines someone else imposed on my blank page?  To not care what I ended up with, to just revel in the feeling of moving my hands without preconception, to drink in color, and luxuriate in the process of creating?  I certainly recognize the necessity and desirability to train my children to be a part of society.  But what I would like to preserve, and what I would like to recover in myself, is the complete unselfconscious joy of the scribble.  The lack of criticism, the abandon, and the satisfaction they clearly feel is so precious, and I want to protect that for them.  And I want to recapture it for myself again, and I want it for you.  So this week, scribble.  I mean literally scribble.  Take a giant piece of white paper and a box of crayons or colored pencils or paints, and just let your arm make giant unformed loops, and scribble the paper hard in one place until you rip through it, and then smear everything and allow whatever else you have an impulse to do.  Let yourself scribble and create without once caring about the finished picture.  Then tear out a small portion of it, and put it somewhere you will see it every day, as a reminder.  Then every time you see it, attempt to scribble that moment in your life too.  Ignore the expectations someone else imposes and just create that moment.  Make your life free, joyous, and full of color.  Scribble!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10 ways to get stuck on you

Glue is soooo important. When thing fall apart, you cannot underrate the effectiveness of glue. So here in my humble estimation, is what I have learned about different glues, their adhesiveness, usability, and durability.

1. Arlene's Tacky Glue -- good: when you need thicker adhesion, like to hold fabric or sequins. Bad: too thick for delicate (i.e. magazine, tissue) paper.

2. Elmer's -- good: for your kid's school projects. Bad: it's messy and goopy.

3. Glue stick -- good: when I want something to come up again. It's portable, handy, and quick. Bad: it doesn't seem to hold very well. I like Scotch or UHU brands.

4. Glue dots -- good: pasting on little do-dads, like when you're making a card and want to attach a gem or button, or want to add another page. Bad: incomplete, elevated coverage.

5. Rubber cement -- good: the smell! I have two friends who swear by it. They love the applicator brush. Dries clear, cleans easily; good for paper. And you can slide things around.  Bad: personally, I think it's too goopy, too wet, and seems to evaporate. (I like the buggers.)

6. Spray adhesives -- good: for bigger projects. Bad: the spray's not easy to focus and it is difficult to time it's optimum tackiness, which I've found is essential. I also find it's hard to keep the attaching papers smooth and wrinkle free. 

7. Mod Podge and/or medium -- good: for sealing things. A couple artist friends love this and say put it on both sides of the paper and to 'take your time'. Bad: I find it just doesn't stick well and it wrinkles and buckles. a lot.

8. Scotch® Quick Drying Tacky White Glue -- (my partner's newest favorite!) good: it dries quickly, is very strong adhesively, and it has a fine point applicator good for working with details. Bad: dries white, so have to be extra careful to not smudge and to wipe clean any mistakes or the glue will show. It has great hold: where you put it the first time better be where you want it to end up. (Not as forgiving as some other glues.)

9. Tombo Mono Aqua Liquid Glue (with blue lids -- my second favorite glue!) Good: two different size applicators on either end, you can either swipe on a strip, or dab on a dot. Bad: it's a little wet and buckles paper.

10. Yes! Paste (my favorite! One of my Fab 5's; I can't craft without it!) Good: it dries clear and slow enough that if I put something down and need to move it, I can. It can be dissolved in water, even after it's been down for a period of time. It's application ensures full coverage (because...) Bad: I put it on with a palette knife, which can be a little messy.

What do you think? What's your sticking point?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Do Me A Favor

This past week, my youngest daughter turned two.  This absolutely astonishes me, and lands me solidly in the cliched camp of bewildered "It Goes So Fast" parents who wonder who replaced their baby with this running, talking, opinionated, fully-formed miniature person.

We had a small party at our house for her, full of friends and family and food, with bubbles and chalk and tricycles for the kids.  I had a very vague theme of "flowers" but mostly I was aiming for relaxed and happy and fun.  Which we achieved, thanks to gorgeous weather allowing the children to play outside and a generous dose of sugar in the form of lots and lots of homemade cupcakes.

Now, I will admit that one of my pet peeves is children's party favors.  There is a giant industry built around it, and pressure on the parent to provide something amazing (read pricey) and theme-related to hand out.  Invariably, you either end up walking out the door with a giant bag of candy that you have to try to manipulate out of your already sugar-riddled child's sight, or a bag full of cheap, made-in-China dollar store nonsense which ranges from dangerous to useless to incredibly annoying.  (Whistles?  Really, whistles?)  At the other extreme are favors which are overly extravagant, so that you are embarrassed at the expense someone incurred on something you are still going to throw away.   So for this little party I was looking for party favors that would be inexpensive, not too sugary, preferably homemade, hopefully in line with my nebulous flower theme, wouldn't annoy parents, and that would still appeal to kids.  World peace seemed easier.

But here is what I came up with....I started with a large bag (purchased for $4 at Home Goods) of organic Vitamin C Lollipops.  (Kids love lollipops, moms love Vitamin C!)  I also bought one container of mini-cupcake baking liners...

...and dug out some leftover fabric leaves from an abandoned floral wreath project.  (You can also cut out your own leaves from green construction paper or green felt or green cupcake liners.)

I glued the lollipops to the center of the outside of the cupcake liners to form the flower halo (glueing to the backside allows the vibrant color to show instead of the paler inside.)  Then I folded the fabric leaves, punched a hole in the center, and slid them onto the lollipop stick.  Easy, quick, cheap, and kid-friendly.

I could rest easy knowing the kids would gobble them up without going into a sugar coma, enjoy the fact that they made a cute table decoration and fit into the flowery theme, and most of all, that I didn't break the bank making them.  Next up, world peace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Quick! What would you take to a desert island?

Going on holiday means stepping away from everyday life. It also means stepping away from everyday comforts, routines, and systems.

I'm sitting here, on my 'bare-bones' retreat by the lake, thinking about necessities and tools. What are my basic tools for doing visual journaling and art? Beyond everything the Basic 'Bug Craft Kit, which I really can't live without (Kits can be purchased at -- packed with paint, stamps, journal, scissors, glue, ruler, pencils, etc.), what are my Fab 5? What would I take to a desert island?
My Fab 5 -- from clock-wise from top left:
Yes! paste, spray water bottle, stamp cleaner pad, rag, palette knife

(1) Yes! paste. My must-have glue. It comes in a big tub, it's lid just begging to get stuck. It's a clear paste and hardly bubbles with paper. It can be gently un-stuck with water, otherwise, it holds. Awesome.

(2) Spray water bottle. For unsticking my hands (full of Yes! paste), watering-down paints, and making water marks on my page. I usually have a cup of water of water for dirty brushes on the side, but a *good* spray bottle is even more important.

(3) Stamp cleaner pad. I found this one at Michael's years ago and it rocks. I can stamp, clean, dry, and put away stamps in seconds. I keep the fuzzy stuff on the bottom damp, the top dry. It makes using stamps and ink pads super efficient and easy.

(4) A rag! Simple stuff here, but I gotta have a rag. More than baby wipes (which might round out a Top Ten List), a slightly damp rag not only cleans my hands and spills, it pushes around paint, removes glue, and rubs off hard lines and softens everything. Any old rag will do!

(5) Palette knife. These can be hard to find, but they're cheap and worth their weight in gold! It lays down the Yes! paste, scores lines in paint, lifts gloppy messes. Lightweight, easy to clean, and the plastic lasts forever -- longer than metal that erodes if left in water too long (note to self).

I can't live without these Fab 5. There are more to come -- as in, 6 through 10, but these are my tried-and-true essentials. What are yours?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Time Out

Like many families today, we utilize "time out" as a disciplinary tool.  With two spirited girls, timeouts are essential for me having a moment to cool down and collect my thoughts as much as for the kids.

Our spot for timeouts is on the bottom of our stairs.  They sit down there, and I explain why they have timeout ("You are on a timeout for hitting.  No hitting, hitting hurts."  I really should just record this on my ipod and hit replay for the thirty-seven times a day I say it).  They have to stay there until I come get them, at which point they are supposed to apologize and hug me or whomever they offended.  This really works quite well most of the time.  It mostly seems to work as a re-set button for my kids.  Takes them out of whatever situation they are in, and gives them a second to cry and calm down.  The parenting books I read say that you shouldn't really present the timeout as a punishment so much as a time for the child to reflect and gather themselves.  So we try to do that, being calm and patient, and watching tone of voice.  But the kids still pretty much recognize it as a punishment.

My youngest daughter is nearly two, and she seems to be particularly fascinated by this whole timeout concept.  When the older daughter is irritated, she puts the younger in timeout -- the most amusing part is that the younger one complies, not yet aware she can resist.  When the older girl is herself in timeout, my youngest goes and sits on the step with her, in solidarity.  Mostly I see my youngest process this whole timeout thing by her putting everything in a timeout.  Everything.  Her most frequent offender is a little freebie doll that she totes around.  We call him Baseball Man.  And apparently Baseball Man is a pretty shady character, because he gets in trouble a lot.  Many times a day, she picks him up, scolds him soundly, and deposits him roughly on the step.  So I frequently round the corner and encounter this:

Poor Baseball Man

Or even more likely, this:

Total despair

And when she's on a roll, she will put everything in time out -- Baseball Man, books,  trains, stuffed animals, furniture, everything -- so there's a lot of this type thing:

The chair was too heavy or it would be here too.

But really, these little timeouts are a pretty terrific parenting tool.  And I started thinking that maybe I should be using timeouts in other areas of my life.  I mean, it's really a smart idea to take a moment to remove myself from a situation I'm not handling well, and to give myself a chance to cry, reflect, and gather myself when things are tough.  So maybe when I yell at my kids in frustration, I should give myself a timeout instead of them sometimes.  Maybe when I'm tired at the end of the night, I should sit on the stairs and think and breathe for a moment instead of numbly turning on the tv or getting a snack.  And I bet you anything, if I were to put my quarterly tax returns on a timeout, I would feel a whole lot better when I went to pick them up off the stairs, even though they most likely still would not have filled themselves out.

This week, find a creative way to give your frustrations a real life timeout.  Put your annoying co-worker's business card on the step in a timeout.  Put the overcooked pasta on a timeout.  Put that stack of papers you don't want to file on a timeout.  Put yourself on a timeout for snapping at your husband.  It might give you giggle, might make you feel symbolically like you have done something.  Give yourself that moment to breathe and reflect, to push the re-set button.  And then pick up your Baseball Man, give him a hug, and go play.

Friday, October 7, 2011

You deserve it!

Happy birthday to me! Do you do that? Do you gift yourself? I'm giving myself a huge gift, one I'm embarrassed to say, I'm struggling to receive: a *vacation*. I scored a super affordable flight and free accommodations. My husband is sticking around the house; childcare on point. And I'm going. For a week. A {whole week}. Recharging and rejuvenating. 

It was my birthday Monday, and I've been showered by love from friends and family. Out-of-towners came to visit. Family came for festivities. Friends changed plans and popped over. Wishes came from all over! And even with my "no presents -- your presence is the gift" clause, they gifted, thoughtfully, generously: an afternoon at the Lion King, a new beeeeautiful leather-bound art journal book, handmade pottery, gift cards, jewelry, candles, a new computer! So many gifts and so much love, I kept questioning my deserved-ness. What have I done to receive so much?

While I can't fully answer that, I'm still going. I'm sitting here in the airport, with my bobbles on, typing on my new computer, headed out of town for my secret gift retreat.

I hope in this next year, you treat yourself generously, lovingly, unabashedly as you would one of your nearest and dearest. You deserve it. (..Just don't ask why!)