Even just looking at that tile encourages me to take a deep breath and relax.
This next one is busier but was equally fun to create.
This morning I stumbled across an excellent post on meditation and people's misconceptions about it. It's quite short and is by Arnie Kozak, a guest blogger on the wonderful Susan Cain's site; you can read it here. He really touches on the most common assumption about meditation--that it's about "stopping the mind." It isn't.
But drawing frequently does stop my mind and pulls me into total absorption on the one line that I am drawing in this moment. Thus, meditation and drawing serve the same purpose in different ways for me.
"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."
My first title for this post was going to be "Miserable Selfies." Because so many selfie-sketches (as opposed to selfie-photos, where everyone is consciously smiling) make the artist look grim. But the fact is, I am so far from miserable it's funny. I'm actually incredibly happy.
Oh yeah? Then why do I look so miserable?
Such a good question...I look at a lot of sketching and visual journal websites and I often notice how totally grumpy everyone looks in their hand-drawn selfies. People who don't draw often see these and complain, "But you look so unhappy! I never see you looking that way."
No, actually, what one usually sees in selfie-sketches is a face devoid of any type of expression at all, and that often makes the artist look entirely miserable--because we just aren't used to seeing others with no expression. Think about taking the subway; you often see expressionless people there, and they can look quite miserable (they might be, on a crowded subway), but in fact, we have no idea about their interior states.
In fact, I was in a state of delight drawing this. Not that you can tell! But it has been months, perhaps over a year, since I've spent more than a minute drawing anything representational. This hardly qualifies as a great piece of art; I'm too out of practice and I don't pretend to be a great artist even when I have been practicing. I know I have a lot to learn. I did this on a post-it with a ballpoint pen, in about 5 minutes. When I finished, I looked at it and felt GREAT. It was so much fun to do! Even if it closely resembles a mug shot.
And it does resemble a mug shot--it appears someone has just slugged me in the jaw and knocked my mouth off-center so that it has settled under one nostril rather than being balanced between the two. (I hope that isn't true in real life) And what happened to the nose, which is also migrating to one side of my face and looks vastly white?
Perhaps the cubists were onto something, when you look at that face. Ha.
I DON'T CARE. The point is, I did it. I drew something and I had so much fun doing it. It felt great.
Practice at selfies does allow one to eventually add expression to the face. (Check out Rembrandt's selfies or Frida Kahlo's selfies to see masters at work.) But you know?...this actually WAS my expression while I was drawing, because I was totally in the present moment, totally focused, totally absorbed, and not thinking of anything else.
So I may look miserable, but I am happy, happy, happy with my tiny drawing. I feel more practice sessions hurtling in my direction.
The daily small painting, a small resource and time commitment, is an exercise in absolute focus for that time period. It's like a meditation, really.
- Gaye Adams
Long ago and far away...or so it seems...I spent an entire day drawing. Ahhhhhhhh...
In reality, it was recently and not that far away. But I have traveled such a distance interior-ly between then and now.
What I am referring to: I had a chance to sit and tangle for an entire day a couple of weeks ago, and experienced all the benefits: the inner silence, the lovely calm focus, the lack of worry about outcome, and the great sense of peace and timelessness.
All these things can also come from meditation, although since meditation (vipassana) invites us to turn towards and become aware of whatever is present, there are frequent times when meditation asks us to sit with difficult feelings or sensations. A very wise process, though sometimes a turbulent one.
The only difference I find between drawing/tangling and classical meditation is the incredible focus that drawing evokes, and how that focus prevents me from being aware of anything else. Sometimes this is more useful than meditation.
Since that one lovely peaceful day of drawing, life has ramped up and things are, at the moment, confusing and unsettled. I am sitting with this in meditation and just observing that.
But clearly there is a place for both practices in my life, meditation and drawing, during times like this. Both feel as precious to me as breathing, and both lead me to clearer perspective and inner peace. Each method works in its own way.
Every day I meditate.
But so far, I have not mastered the practice of daily drawing or tangling. I see the benefits of both, and I always make time for meditation. But too often I do not make time for drawing. Instead I pay bills, or work, run irrelevant errands, or knit while watching television. Or--although this is nearly as beneficial--I work on designing, dyeing for, or hooking my latest rug. Rug hooking is incredibly meditative. But it still doesn't have the effect on me that drawing does, and the past couple of weeks have proved to me how true that is. I frequently feel I want to draw, but tell myself that other tasks are more important.
But are they?
Life is complicated. Drawing, breathing, seeing, following just that one line at a time, is so very simple. Perspective in drawing...perspective in life.
The viewer of art can go into a kind of meditation, a bit of a different sense or feeling.
- Dorthe Eisenhardt
I believe that painting should come through the avenues of meditation rather than the canals of action.
- Mark Tobey
These videos are all on YouTube and contain lots of information. All are under 10 minutes (most are much shorter than that). While I hope you all benefit from this, I confess I have begun to collect these videos for my own practice. Enjoy.
1. Blick Art presents Prismacolor Tips & Techniques. She crams a lot of great information in here--first, how the pencils are actually made (very interesting & brief), then how to hold the pencil (usually), then blending and burnishing with the colorless blender pencil, when you may want to use a "workable fixative" and why, the colorless blender marker (I'd never heard of this before). 4 minutes 14 seconds.
2. How to sharpen colored pencils. This also covers battery-powered & electric sharpeners. You may never have seen this technique. Surprise! 2 minutes 16 seconds.
3. A review of Prismacolor Pencils by someone who is enamored of them (as am I, to be honest)--while doing the review, he draws an apple and it's completely hypnotic to watch him layer the colors. 8 minutes 23 seconds
4. A wow! very short tutorial on blending without blending pencils by a master artist, with great tips and techniques. Fascinating. 3 minutes 40 seconds.
I'll stop here for today but hope to include more collected videos in the future.
THE INITIAL RANT:
I've never been much of a tchotchke fan. (If you aren't familiar with the word, click on it for a short definition.)
Why? Imagine you have mentioned to a friend that you like a particular image--say, an image of an apple--and suddenly the friend is giving you magnets with apples on them, aprons with apples on them, ashtrays in the shape of apples, stickers and stamps of apples, little clay apples, little plastic apples, playing cards with apples on the back...you get the idea. You are inundated with "cutesie" apple tchotchkes and you feel obligated--because you like your friend--to display them, but you hate having them all over the house. All because you liked one specific image of an apple, and had the misfortune to mention that.
Has this ever happened to you?
All you want to do is figure out a reasonable way to yell, "S-T-O-P! Thanks, but I'm all set with that."
WHY I'M BRINGING IT UP:
...because I've been very worried that, in trying to give a "Happy New Office Location" gift to a dear friend, I would be guilty of the same thing that I am complaining about above. Here's why: In visiting her home, I noticed a picture of an elephant in her home office, and commented on it. She mentioned immediately that she loves elephants. Ok...I confess that a couple of times since then I have sent her video links to amazing stories about the intelligence of elephants; but bearing in mind that I don't want to overdo it, I've tried to be selective. (I also like elephants, for their intelligence, but am not that interested in pictures of them. Or elephant tchotchkes.)
Recently the friend moved into a new office location that she's very excited about. I wanted to give her a celebratory gift. I thought and thought about what to get her. She had mentioned that, when she originally went to look at the space, the current tenant happened to have a picture of an elephant in the office. That seemed like an odd "coincidence" to my friend, and that plus the wonderful space and all the attendant great amenities caused her to sign the lease. My ears perked up. Should I, maybe, draw her an elephant? But what about the one in her home office--mightn't she just bring that in to her new rented space? And would I be guilty of Tchotchke Syndrome?
I really agonized over this. Bottom line: I did draw her an elephant, and here it is. She seems to like it. She named him Jimmy, and he's now in her new space. (Boring technical details about the drawing are after the photo).
Not the greatest photo, but it's the best I can do. Ok, so here are the technical details:
I promise to join a TA (Tchotchke Anonymous) group as soon as I find one and start attending meetings.
PS, This post is indeed the follow-up to the teaser I embedded in the post I wrote last week.
All the hot humid weather is making me cranky. Really, really cranky. I don't want to do any substantive walking outdoors or real exercise...I just want to hunker down in the a/c. So now I have an intense case of summer cabin fever. Restless to the max! I just want this heat to break so I can get out there again and M-O-V-E.
I thought I would work on a black tile today since I was in a dark mood and I don't get enough practice with black tiles. It's time to put in some serious work and experimentation with them. I also have a seemingly endless supply of three different types of gellyroll pens in wild colors, and I need to learn what the difference is between the three types. Gellyrolls show up dramatically on dark tiles.
Today I limited myself to a white gellyroll with white and red Prismacolor pencils to do a simple duotangle on the black tile.
At first I just did the white-on-black, but then later added the red to reflect my impatience with the weather.
Contrast this to my tile of August 12th. I think the heat wave had just begun then and I was still feeling chipper. I've been paying with the mirror app on my iPhone, and so after I did that tile and posted it, I ran it through the mirror app and came up with this:
Whoa, I love that! And talk about a different feeling from the tile I did today...I liked this so much I'm having some greeting cards made from it. That mirror app is really fun.
While I'm at it, here are a few more portraits that I did long ago. These are from 2007.
Opening a file folder this morning, I found a number of ten year old sketches, neatly clipped together and blatantly misfiled. Strange, since I looked in this folder as recently as a month ago, read through it carefully, and these sketches were not there then. I do not remember coming across them recently, so how did they get in there?
(Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme music here)
But I was very happy to see them. What surprised me most was that they were dated June and July of 2005, and yet I still like them. They are pretty simple, but they really capture the people I was drawing. Everyone whose portrait I drew that summer was on staff at Omega.
It was the first time I took Omega's annual week-long Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain workshop, which was taught by Lynda Greenberg and was superb. (You can read the book and not do the work, but in this workshop, you have to do the work.) I saw all the participants improve radically in just 5 days. The show-and-tell at the end impressed us all with the dramatic differences between day one and day five. I loved it so much I took it again a few years later. But I digress.
Here was my first attempt to draw a portrait. This is a young guy named Alex who was on the Omega staff that summer, and when I ran across this sketch and the subsequent one, I found myself wondering what he looks like now, ten years later, what he is doing, and how he is faring in life.
The following day we had a chance to try again, and I produced this sketch of a young woman calling herself Nola. Once again, I wonder where she is today and how she is doing. I still love this sketch. What amazed me was how much the finished pictures actually resembled their human models--they really looked like this.
Although I'm hardly a Leonardo, I must say I astounded myself with this portrait and still like it a decade later. I loved every minute of drawing it too, I remember that distinctly. The world disappeared while I worked on it.
Because I was apparently drawing faster than everyone else, I finished first and had time on my hands, so I snuck in another sketch while waiting, using another angle.
The other revelation for me was how much enjoyment I got out of doing the drawings. I remember leaving the workshop wondering if I might become a portrait artist in later life. Something that still interests me--at least, I am still interested in drawing more portraits.
A quote from much-beloved Jimmy Durante on what we think when we see ourselves: "My nose isn't big. I just happen to have a very small head."
Some days, you get outta bed and you know you just have to draw. Or at least that is true for me. I'd been putting it off for days, but I wanted to work on a mandala today, and told myself this morning that I wasn't going anywhere until I had it done. After dragging my feet a bit, I pulled out the initial string (draft format) I had created at Ann Grasso's workshop in CT last month (blogged about that here) and began to plan what I would do with it. Here's the start:
Doesn't look like much. "Fengle" is the name of that center tangle. Then a bit of free-form tangling around it. I looked at it for awhile and then added this:
"Shattuck" is the name of that tangle. Love that one; it's a go-to for me.
More looking and thinking...After some hand-wringing and trepidation, i added Citrus and a variation of Mooka, and some more free-form tangling, and ended up with this as the basic form of the mandala prior to shading:
I thought I might just stop there for the day. But I couldn't leave it alone and just had to add some shading.
Before shading, I made 3 copies of the basic form--one to shade, one to color later, and a spare. Here is the shaded version below.
Quite a difference, huh? I'll try coloring it next, but not today. I used a 30% cool gray Prismacolor pencil, Periwinkle Prismacolor pencil, and a Uniball Signo White pen for the shading and highlights. Plus the tile itself is tan and I did the tangling with a Brown Micron 01 pen. I really enjoyed the heck out of doing this.
I continue to be amazed at how frightened I am before I begin all of these projects, what fun they are when I am working on them, and how much I enjoy the results. I can only get better, so what have I got to lose by trying?
I swear, it's an adventure and a lesson every time I sit down to work on any piece of art, even if I tell myself "It's only practice." It's all only practice, no matter what! It's similar to meditation in that way. Here's a wonderful short blog piece reinforcing that idea.
At this very moment, I have 3 guys hammering on my front door and yelling.
Ok, not quite...
But I do have 3 guys hammering on the wall that's just inches from my front door, and yelling instructions to each other. They are the team that's moving around the house blowing insulation into the walls, and at the moment they are working on the front porch around my door. LOUD! But I am very grateful. Two days ago they were in the back of the house doing the exterior kitchen walls, and darned if I didn't notice that the room suddenly stayed cooler than normal during this awful heat wave. Not cool-cool, but not as fiendishly hot as it usually gets when the weather is stinko for multiple days, as it is now.
Next: what does that picture have to do with sand dollars (referred to in the title of this post)? Nada. But it accounts for some of the other excitement today; my new mattress arrived. Yes, in a box. This may be a huge mistake, but I couldn't resist trying a mattress from Casper, a startup based in NYC. I love the concept; now I hope I love the mattress. Will report back. Before I can open the box, though, I have to get my old mattress out of here (bought in late 2001, so you know it is time for a new one), and I cannot do that until the workmen leave later today.
So now, let's get on to the sand dollar reference. I am still working on the "Tints on Tan" concept that Marty Deckel, CZT, has been teaching. My last two posts have referenced this and showed two other pieces I did. Today I tried a sand dollar. I took a few liberties with it--to put it mildly--and then, insanely, I also added a few water droplets to see if I could do them. You can see the results on the tile below, and then in the bottom picture you can see my preliminary "practice" water droplets.
The water droplets scared the pants off me when I thought about trying to draw them. Clearly I still have a lot to learn about drawing water and about the Tints on Tan technique, but I am having fun blundering my way along.
I put off trying this for 2 days because I was intimidated, then got irritated with my "spineless creative self" and forced myself to jump in today. It's not perfect, but so what? I couldn't believe how much fun I had working on it, and once again I was perfectly peaceful during the process, which is the most wonderful part.
"Ready or not, tell yourself to jump." --Chris Gardner
Apologies for being absent, but I've been sidelined by severe sinus pain--my first-ever experience with allergies. How lucky am I that I have never had to deal with allergies until now! Living through the past week and the havoc it has wreaked on my system gives me such sympathy for others who have allergies from childhood. A huge challenge.
In any event, "3-H weather" is here (hazy, hot, humid) and that means no studio work so I've been busy with other things. But I wanted to pass along a link to a marvelous blog that I've been reading for years now; the topics are incredibly varied and the author must spend 100% of her time reading, since she recommends the most wonderful and unusual (or forgotten-but-fascinating) books. It's also lavishly illustrated, and thought-provoking. This entry is on what drawing does for the way we see the world.
I'm a textile artist (traditional rug hooking, punch needle rug hooking, and other textile arts), long-time meditator and coach, focused on learning about the interplay of art, creativity, and mindfulness every day.
NEXT INTRO TO ZENTANGLE CLASS:
No immediate group classes scheduled (I'm always open to hearing about a good venue in the Cambridge-Somerville area). I am always happy to teach 1-1 and/or in a small group in your home.
Come and amaze yourself!
SITES TO WATCH:
Insight Meditation Society
Oxford Rug Hooking School
Zentangle: The Official Site
Green Mountain Rug Hooking
Massachusetts Tarot Society
Skillful Meditation Project