Friday, May 31, 2013

Inspiration vs. Imitation ...

Card I made for an inspiration deck exchange. Hand image: from Teesha Moore's zettiology rubber stamp collection.
There was a time when I didn't make art. Oh, I made *stuff* - cards and gifts for people, things that were useful for myself. For a period of ten years I wrote, edited and mailed a monthly newsletter to about a hundred people. The newsletter was full of whatever I was interested in at the time. Looking back now I don't know where I found the time. Or that many things to write about, actually.

Then I found art. One day I realized that I didn't just want to be looking at interesting stuff ~ I wanted to be making it. There was just one little problem: I didn't think of myself as an artist. I couldn't draw or paint (still can't, really) and didn't even know where to begin. I thought it would be smart to look art that inspired me and see if I could identify what made those pieces "beautiful" to me. Once I'd cracked that, I could start making my own "art". Easy peasy. Or not.

I could feel the creativity flowing through my heart and brain, but when it reached my hands it kind of ... sputtered and failed ... leaving me sad and frustrated, unable to translate whatever it was inside me into some kind of visual form I could share.

One day while carefully examining the work of a famous artist, I began to see all its parts ... the composition, the rich colours, the layers of deep meaning. How all the bits of it spoke to all the other bits of it and communicated something of their relationship to me. I wanted so badly to make Art like this, with a capital A, but I worried that anything I created would only be a feeble imitation of this artist's work, not an original work of my own.

Then I had a revelation.

If the artist of the piece I admired came to me and gave me a kit of his own materials, and even if he stood there telling me what to and I tried my best to imitate him, I still couldn't help but create something original. Through the subtle decisions involved in the creative process, the finished piece would be a reflection of *my* vision, not *his* vision at all. And just as my vision was different from his, it was also different from any other person in the world. Something I'd always known deep inside, but hadn't trusted.

So ... I had "vision" ...all I lacked was skill. I've been learning skills all my life ... walking, talking, reading, cooking ... all I had to do was learn new skills and trust the vision to be there. And it was, and is.

Another thing happened ... I stopped being afraid of imitating art that inspired me. I realized there are some things you can only learn by doing. I'm sure there's some magic brain chemistry going on when we explore new creative territory. It's one thing to passively enjoy a work you admire ... with your eye to follow the curve of a face in one of Leonardo's paintings, it's quite another to put a piece of chalk in your hand to try to recreate it. You have to make a million little decisions as you go along ... angle of wrist, location of mark on  paper, pressure of chalk as you move it, how curved is the curve? And you learn, learn, learn every step as you go.

Recently I was playing around with some fun new backgrounds (remember the "paper pillows" from my last post?), and I wanted to try drawing something on top. Something colourful and playful and ... oh yeah ... maybe sorta like Dan Casado's work, which I admire so much. So using his piece The Boat as a jumping off point, I played a little bit with shapes and colours I wouldn't normally use. I've learned not to bite off more than you can chew, so I selected just the two people in the boat. I ditched the moon. And the dog. I wanted to see if I could understand the posture of the person rowing and maybe capture something of their facial expressions. I wanted to get the angle of the boat in relationship to the water.

Left: Dan Casado's The Boat (reproduced with the artist's permission). Right: My own little boat.

Along the way some things worked and some things didn't. One of my people (for reasons I don't understand) needed glasses. And the other one wanted arms. And a pocket.  The water became more fluid. But the oar is good, as is the hand holding it. And I adore those freaky blue noses. Only later did I realize that my colourful squares in the background kind of mirror the colourful squares in the standing boatman's body in the original.

When I was more or less happy with what I'd done, I then did something rather cheeky. I emailed Mr. Casado (who, trust me, I do not know from Adam). He lives in the Canary Islands. Never met him. I emailed him my artwork and asked if it would be okay if I posted his excellent artwork next to my own and then write about the process of learning by doing. Inspiration, and not imitation. Not only did he answer amazingly quickly *and* say yes (I wouldn't have posted his artwork otherwise), but he also had kind things to say about my work as well. Which makes me like him, and his work, all the more. If you haven't seen his work, go there now ... I highly recommend it to get you into your paintbox, or at the very least to make you see things in new and colourful ways. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The return of Hyperbole and a Half ...

Long days ago most of us watched the same TV channels and had some sort of communal experience. If you heard about something, the odds were very good that most of the people in your immediate vicinity heard about it too. And even if you never talked about it you could go through your life feeling like there was a kind of general fabric of life that most of the people around you operated in.

And then came the internet.

The internet is a weird place. I guess we all know that. You can be attached to people you don't even know. You can pretend people you do know don't exist by un-friending them. You can be amazed, amused and instructed by things created by people all over the world who don't know (or care) you exist. You can chip in a few bucks and fund an landfill orchestra in Paraguay (I did). You can be horrified as well. That's how it works.

That general fabric of life that you thought everyone operated in kinda stopped existing at some point. But time passed and you started getting the hang of that as well. You just accepted that your next door neighbour, your family and even your best friend was surfing radically different sites than you and looking up stuff on wikipedia that you'd never even heard of. That's okay ... you hardly spoke to your neighbour anyway, and your family was miles away and your new best friend might be on the other side of the planet because of your deep mutual fascination with some microcosmic detail of a book you both read when you were 10. That, my friends, is progress. Right?

But, at the heart of everything, we're still human (the last time I checked anyway), and the impulse to attach to other people is pretty strong. The need to feel something in common with someone, to be understood, to be appreciated, and to understand and appreciate in return. The good part of being human.

You probably wonder where all this is going. Well ... there's this blog I read. The person who posts on it is entirely unknown to me in the real world. Don't know if it's a he or a she or how old, or where they live. Let's call this person Allie (which I believe is this person's real name). I think Allie may be a she, but possibly because I'm a she, or possibly because so much of what Allie writes about hits the mark for me. But (having said that) the things that most hit the mark for me are things about being human, not about being a she.

Allie never posted very frequently. The posts were always accompanied by roughly drawn and bitingly adorable characters made in a primitive paint program, possibly even THE paint program that was birthed way back at the beginning of our computer age. I would eagerly await Allie's posts. There was so much truth and pain and funny packed in the posts they would often make me laugh and cry at the same time. One post I particularly remember was about accompanying someone to the hospital and this person being handed a visual pain indicator chart with a series of faces on it. The faces ranged from a smiley face "0" (feeling good, I presume) to a crying non-smiley face "10" (indicating a level of pain). Allie felt this was totally inadequate to the situation and drew a new version which would better represent the experience. Allie also wrote a wickedly creepy story about a teenage boy beset by a birthday party's worth of little girls that raised the hair on the back on my neck.

The last time I read something new was almost two years ago. The last I read, Allie was on the verge of having the posts ~ the stories and the crazy primitive paint drawings ~ published in book form. I told Allie (via the comment section, along with a lot of other readers) that I was *so* looking forward to owning her book. And then it looked like a whole lot of nothing happened.

The internet is a weird place. If someone you're used to reading drops off the net, you can never be sure why. Was their computer stolen? Were they hit by a bus? Did they marry someone fabulously rich who whisked them away to a remote island with no electricity? I missed Allie's truth-speaking, exaggerated whirlwind stories. I missed how Allie got to the nub of life in just a few words. I missed the simply drawn but I-*so*-know-what-you-mean little people faces. I wondered what happened ...

This morning I noticed a new post from Allie. It's about depression.

I think everyone at some time or other in their life comes face to face with it. Some of us are able to bring ourselves back from the brink before it all starts spiraling out of control, some not so much. I read through the post. It's pretty amazing. It made me think of times in my life when things looked pretty bad and how I made it back. It made me worry that some day Allie won't make it back. My first instinct was to leave a comment telling Allie how amazing the post was and that I was glad s/he was better now. Then I noticed that 5000 other people were already there (yes, really - 5000!) saying very much that same thing. I read some of the comments and pretty much anything I'd be brave enough to say was already said in the first 200 comments.

I decided to do the next best thing I could think of - write my own post and send a few people Allie's way. Even if you've never been depressed I'd lay strong odds that you know someone who has. I highly recommend reading Allie's post. It may be the most true, useful, uncensored (and yet still awkwardly funny) account of the illogical experience of depression I've read. If thinking about reading about depression is too depressing, start somewhere randomly in the Allie's post archives. Get a feel for how Allie writes, enjoy the biting wit and the quirky drawings and then read the most recent post later.

And then go out and have some kind of grateful amazing day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A little kickstarter happiness boost ...

What?! Two blog posts in one day? How did that happen ...

I guess pretty much everyone online on the planet knows about Kickstarter (and it's shyer twin, Indiegogo), but I got an update today from Landfill Harmonic, one of the projects I backed, and I just re-watched their video because it made me feel so good the first time around.

I'm posting it here, not because they need the money (they're over their initial goal already, and are now aiming for their "stretch" goals) but because I felt I wanted more people to know about them, and yes, they've still got 4 days to the end of the project, so if you *do* want in, now's a good time. 

I'm not going to *make* you go watch their video, but if you need a reminder there are good people out there doing amazing creative things in impossible circumstances, this would be it.

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit
our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used
for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands
of those who use them properly.
- Clement of Alexandria

Another batch of postcards ready to go out for an international swap ...

Another batch of postcards ready to go out for an internationalswap.
One of the things I love about making art is that you can keep re-creating ideas in new ways. The phrase on this postcard has had more than a few incarnation over the years. I have a weird affinity for sentences where all the words have the same length, and in the past I've put this phrase into a tidy little grid. This time around I gridded the background and let the words be funky (i.e. random type and not lined up, lest you think I mean something else).

This background is becoming my new favourite background to work on ... it's made from the reader's digest pages where I clean off my brayer while using my gelli plate. I love that cleaning my brayer gives me huge stacks of colourful text pages to play with - there truly is no waste ... just lovely texty coloury bits to play with. For this background I cut the text pages into 1.75" squares, glued them down in a pleasing sort of spectrumy order, and then gessoed the borders, dry-brushing towards the middle of each square as I went. The trouble with this background is that I kinda fall in love with each step as I go (well okay, maybe not step one ...). A friend of mine at seeing step three called this background "Paper Pillows" and it's as good a name as any I can think of myself, so here are the steps to Paper Pillows in case you want to give it a go yourself:
The frames are a rubber stamp, and the last step (for my postcards) was to stamp text in the frames. I've also been using this same background in my art journal and then doing non-grid drawings/paintings on top of it, but I'll save those images for a future post because I still want to tweak them and add more detail.

Hope you're all having a colourful day ...