Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help! I Hate My Art Journal!

Okay, I don't hate-hate my art journal, but I'm definitely not happy with it. This is only the second time I've run into this problem, but that still doesn't make it any easier. The first time around I ended up throwing the (unfinished) journal away, in retrospect a bad decision, because now that it's gone, I've realized there were a lot of  pages I totally loved and wish I still had. 

The problem with both journals seems to be:

1. Size. Too small. I like to use a lot of images, words, colors, and collage papers, and a journal measuring only 5" x 6" just doesn’t give me the room I need. I must have bought these journals thinking they were "cute," but cute quickly became tight and cramped.

2. Paper. The journal I tossed had a delicate parchment-like feel that didn’t work well with ink, watercolor, or any kind of water-based medium. When I did use pencil, it felt scratchy and uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, my current journal's pages have a slick, shiny surface that initially felt nice, but now seem like trying to draw on magazine pages. To make matters worse, I gessoed the majority of the pages thinking that would improve them. Not. The result was disastrous—the thicker pages have made the journal so chunky it’s bursting out of the binding, making the book even more unattractive to me. Yuk. So what's an art journaler to do? I don’t want to throw out the pages I do like, but I don't want to continue in this frustrating vein.   

Consequently, I've been brainstorming some ideas I could try to fix the problem, and you know what?  I think they’re going to work! I’m just sorry I didn’t think of them earlier in order to save that first, and now lost, journal. Maybe you can use these too!
  • Keep going. Seriously. Think of the journal as "practice." Sigh.
  • Collage over the bad pages with new images.
  • Take the whole thing apart and re-use the good pages for new material. If you’ve only completed a portion of the journal, cut or carefully remove your favorite pages from the binding. Do the same with any blank pages and use those for scratch paper or practice sheets. Especially gessoed or pre-tinted pages.   
  • Try improving both good and bad pages with ideas from a how-to book such as Collage Lab. 
  • Cut "bad" pages into small squares and divide them into color groupings for future mosaic-style collaging.
  •  Put the journal away and then just . . . walk away.  Forget about it for a while and start something new. 
  •  Change topics—if you’ve been using a particular theme, drop it and start something new, perhaps only using the journal for writing rather than art, or for you daily morning pages.
  • Use the journal for whining.  Call it "the bad, ugly, whiney journal" and put inside everything that upsets you. Burn it when you’re finished.
  •  Analyze why you don’t like this journal—is it the shape, size, color and/or theme choices? Figure out what's wrong and try not to repeat.
  •  Give it away. Ask someone else if they'd like to complete the journal. Or pass it on to friends as a Round Robin project.
  •  Go for messy and dangerous. Try out techniques you would be too afraid to put into your “good” journal.
  •  Keep any pages you tore out and use them to learn book binding. Make small finished journals of only a few pages each. Write poetry. Use them for greeting cards or other types of gifts.
Tip of the Day: The next time you are unhappy with a journal or sketchbook, keep in mind that everything you do is really just practice.  Use a bad experience to propel you into what you really want to do. Write out your findings and goals and then start afresh with a brand new journal. That's what I'm going to do!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Patterns Part II, Writing by Design

Last night while washing dishes in my new kitchen, I was somewhat disappointed to realize that no matter where I go, I still have to wash the dishes. I bet I could land on a desert island and rather than find banana leaves for plates, there would be a set of Royal Doulton just waiting for me to wash. And it's not for lack of a dishwasher. I have a doozey of a new dishwasher. But with only two of us, using the dishwasher for anything other than a feast day seems a tad wasteful. So on go the purple rubber gloves and hello, Groundhog Day. 

Which got me thinking about patterns again. A few weeks ago I posted about how my art practice had led me to work with pattern as a restful way to stay centered and productive at the same time. Tiled borders, fabric prints, wallpaper motifs; I was exploring them all. I'm still enjoying adding pattern to my pictures of cats, dogs, and Barcelona, but after last night I've been thinking about patterns in written work, too.

Using patterns in novels, poetry, or even nonfiction can be an excellent way to take any piece of work to another, and deeper, level. For instance, what about:
  • The patterns of a serial killer or burglar. Rather than random acts of evil, a distinct and unusual pattern can keep the story focused.
  • A main character’s daily routine. (I hope it's more interesting that doing the dishes every night. On the other hand, that just might be the motivating incident that leads him or her to a life of crime.)
  • How characters approach relationships or conflict: fight or flight? Or whipping out the Sunday crossword puzzle to seek out-of-the-box solutions?
  • The story theme--how many related ways can you symbolize or refer to it without shoving it in your reader's face?
  • How do you arrange scene, sequel, conflict, scene? Is there a pleasing rhythm that will keep readers engaged, or do you need something more jarring and experimental to wake them up? What about chapter arrangement?
  • Patterns of misfortune—how does the universe work against (or for) your characters? What do they do (or don't do) to warrant this fate?
  • Secret codes--whether it's a formal cipher, or one of hidden etiquette and body language, codes can be an exciting way to use pattern.
  • Esoteric or sacred geometry: lee lines, metaphysical clues in Old Master paintings. architectural secrets, megaliths and circular standing stones--they're all fun to explore.
  • How about inventing a character who is intrigued or controlled by patterns? It could simply be as a hobby, part of their profession, or perhaps something difficult for them to manage e.g., an obsessive disorder of some kind.
  • How do your characters make patterns of their living space, social lives, and/or working hours? Is there a routine your antagonist observes that can harm your MC?
  • Don't forget about music and ear worms; melodies can be either inspiring, annoyingly repetitive, or a signal that something pivotal to your plot is about to happen. 
Right now the most important pattern I'm working on besides how to get out of doing the dishes is how to most effectively arrange the chapters in my WIP. I'm telling the story through different points of view and I want to avoid an A, B, C, D kind of pattern, yet I still want the story to make sense. Challenges, challenges.
Tip of the Day: We’re all creatures of habit to some degree. Some of us like to write in the morning, others in the middle of the night. Does your current creative pattern work for you--or do you want to make a change? Do you have a plan? Let me know!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Scattered? Me, Too!

Although it's been a good month since I moved into my new house, there is still a ton of work to do before we can say it's actually finished, or even completely livable. The main difficulty is finding both the time and the energy after work each day to accomplish everything my imagination envisions. The same holds true for my creative life at the moment. As much as I want to finish my WIPs, start a new art journal, and sew a winter wardrobe, it's not going to happen as quickly or completely as I would like. And that makes me feel . . . unhappy.

Last night I had trouble sleeping while I worried about what seemed like five hundred loose ends--disconnected projects and ideas that only spun into more projects and ideas. We had an unexpected (and what I would normally consider very welcome) New Mexico thunderstorm during the middle of the night, increasing my feelings of nervousness, incompetence, and outright failure. Consequently I woke up with a sore back and neck and the need for a serious re-think, resulting in some frantic morning pages and a list I titled, "What I Want to Do." It included:

  • Finish my new screenplay.
  • Go back to my screenwriting group.
  • Finish the edits on my nonfiction WIP, A Pet Owners Book of Days.
  • Draw the illustrations for A Pet Owner's Book of Days.
  • Finish the edits on my novel WIP, The Abyssal Plain.
  • Get back to working with clay.
  • Buy jewelry tools and make jewelry.
  • Start a really neat poetry project.
  • Read my friends’ manuscripts when they ask for critiquing.
  • Stay focused on my day job.
  • Finish my new house, as in FINISHED.
  • Keep up with the housework in my new house (amazing how fast dust collects).
  • Read for fun. 
  • Sleep.
  • Blog.
  • Stay current with social media.
  • Promote my books.
  • Buy a sewing machine and start some sewing projects.
  • Sketch more often.
  • Sign up for The Sketchbook Project.

Impossible? You bet.

Long ago, when I sold my first book, my editor said, “You are very ambitious.” I was genuinely surprised. I thought "ambitious" meant you were crazy for leather briefcases and suits with shoulder pads. I had no idea it simply meant I had big creative dreams and wanted to write stories that delved into many areas, topics, and themes.

Either way, I still don’t know how to not be ambitious; how to stop wanting to dive into color and words, how to stop writing multiple stories and chasing after all projects labelled "NEW." So here’s a little scheme I’m going to try. I'm calling it:  Concentration. 

The Concentration Plan

  • For my daily writing, edit and concentrate only on The Abyssal Plain.
  • For my daily art practice: concentrate only on pictures of dogs, cats, and Barcelona.
  • Social media is a reward only after I’ve accomplished a timed amount of work every hour or so.
  • Freewriting time is only for blog posts.
  • Reading is only at bedtime.
  • "Finishing the house" as well as housework is only on the weekends.

To get there I'll have to say no a lot, e.g.:

  • No sewing.
  • No jewelry.
  • No clay.
  • No poetry.
  • No screenplay.
  • No critiquing.

Just looking at these lists makes me feel a lot better; I might even get to sleep tonight! The beauty is that I now feel I have some goals back on track. For instance, finishing The Abyssal Plain edits means I can then move on to marketing the manuscript. Drawing cats and dogs will give me a break from the edits and help me create the illustrations for Pet Owners. And getting the house finished over the weekends means we won't get burn-out. So let it rain, let it pour--I've got it covered.

Tip of the Day: I’ve used calendars, spreadsheets, journal notes, all kinds of things to help keep me get focused. However, the best thing I’ve found to date is a stack of index cards. If my day’s tasks don’t fit on a single card, they don’t get listed at all. 

In the meantime, how do you focus best? I'd love to hear some ideas!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Pearl of a Story

Last week I promised I would share the result of my “take time off from moving” project, and here it is: Pearls! 

First some back story: a couple of months ago while I was searching for interesting blogs to read I came across MiShel Designs, a lovely blog focused on pearls and pearl jewelry. I was intrigued because a) I don’t really know very much about pearls; and b) for the last few years I’ve had a serious desire to make jewelry. I even blogged about it with "Lessons from a Bead Class" after a fantastic workshop I took and that I thought would propel me into the world of gemstones and earrings galore. Except I never seemed to get there. Novel writing, pottery, watercolors, and learning to draw puppies ate away at my "free time." The closest I got to any jewelry-making were the dozens and dozens of little ceramic beads I made last year and have yet to turn into anything useful. (They look very pretty in their plastic case, but I don’t think that’s quite what they're for.) But still I dreamed. . . .

So when I found Shel at MiShel Designs and discovered she was having a Pearl Blog Hop—I signed up, thinking, oh, wow—here’s my big chance to MAKE JEWELRY! I also totally forgot that the hop reveal would be on the day I would be moving and would have no Internet connection, let alone time to make anything. 

I was so excited to sign up and design some pearl jewelry that I also forgot I had no jewelry making tools (other than a very scary and sharp awl), no pearls, no studio space to make jewelry, and absolutely no way to have  these things magically materialize. 

I also felt that despite these shortcomings, if I didn’t participate, even on a very humble level, I would be letting Shel and myself down. Shel's post about the hop did say you could make non-jewelry items, too, just as long as you used pearls. So I put the packing on hold for a few hours and went to the craft store. The first things I found were some sheets of little stick-on faux pearls. Yay! It seemed like a great start—to what, I had no idea, but from there I bought a package of ribbon scraps, followed by some pre-cut, hole-punched brown cardstock tags that looked promising. I took my purchases home, got out my glue stick and collage papers and voila, I made . . . well, whatever these are supposed to be.

To begin with I just had fun making different designs and compositions on the cards. It was super-relaxing to play and not worry about the end result. When I was finished I put the decorated cards in a row and wondered what I could do with them. 

 Brainstorming included:

  • Bookmarks.
  • Writing my name and contact info on the back and then using them for business cards.
  • Turning them into price tags for when I do make some real jewelry and am ready to sell it.
  • Same for my other artistic endeavors: pottery, wall art, etc.
  • Gift tags for birthday or other presents.
  • Mini-collages for an art journal.
  • Add-ons to larger collage pieces.

Whatever they are, I want to keep making more. For this particular project I stayed with an ocean/beach theme that fit with the pearls, but there are many different directions I could go using a variety of stick-on faux gems with matching papers.

So even though I missed the hop (wah) I certainly was inspired by MiShel Designs. Thank you, Shel—looking forward to your next post. Everybody hop on over there ASAP! 

Tip of the Day: Life doesn’t always go as planned, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the essence of your original intention. For me, I truly wanted to participate in my first blog hop, and I was disappointed not to get there. On the other hand, by playing along as best I could, I got some new ideas for future projects while taking a much-needed break. A real pearl in the oyster, if you ask me!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moving Day--We Made It!

We've moved--at last! It's been a whole three weeks since we unloaded one truck, two vans, and more than a dozen car trunks-worth of boxes, boxes, and more boxes. I have never been more tired in my entire life, except for maybe when I wrote my first book and it was edited about nineteen times before publication.

Although the new house is still in the last stages of remodeling-construction mode (next job: sanding, varnishing, and hanging doors throughout) we've managed to make ourselves reasonably comfortable: books on the shelves, sheets and towels in the linen closet (sans door), pots and pans in all the right places. And here I am back at my computer, blogging again. It feels good; I missed everyone and I'm looking forward to picking up from where we left off.

I've moved a lot in my life, and I bet some you have, too. And whether you've moved to another country, or just up the road as in my own case, it's still a big deal, one you can't help but question every step of the way, LOL. What's really been amazing to me is how many people I know who are currently planning and preparing for moves of their own. So far I know of one writer moving house here in Albuquerque, another going to Germany, one more on her way to South Korea, and yet another buying curtains for a new home in Los Angeles. Creativity must make us a restless group! Either that, or we somehow secretly enjoy the challenge  of new floor plans, lives, and career paths. If that describes you to some level, here are my top 12 tips for a reasonably smooth transition:
  1. Pack early. I started putting everything in boxes about 2 months ahead of time.
  2. Plan your writing room in advance--what will you need to make it ready from the get-go? Buy supplies.
  3. Make your writing room "moving headquarters." It made sense to use my room as a home office during the move so I could pay bills and keep up with necessary correspondence in relative calm.
  4. Leave spare copies of manuscripts, discs, notes, etc. in a second and secure place. I left copies of my current WIP and all related documents at my day-job office in case anything got mixed-up or left behind.
  5. Spend a dedicated morning or afternoon to stop packing and instead change all your contact info as needed. Order new business cards, revise your website, let agents and editors know how to get in touch quickly and easily.
  6. Go through your filing cabinet and writing "clutter." Toss whatever you can: old rejection slips, out-of-date marketing info, unread conference flyers and handouts.
  7. Book giveaways! Pass on your TBR piles, "non-keeper" books, and even copies of your own published work--you know, the one somebody used  for a notepad to jot down a phone number at a signing, or dropped on the floor--twice. . . . 
  8. Acknowledge and accept that you won't be able to write for a little while. It's okay--even vital--to stop. Give yourself permission to take a break.
  9. Set up your Internet connections early. The cable guy is always late.
  10. Take advantage of the move to develop a new writing/creativity routine and schedule.
  11. Get to know your new neighborhood cafes, libraries, and writing nooks. Make each trip special by turning it into an "Artist's Date."
  12. Establish a "start date" for when you'll resume blogging, social media, and writing again, and mark it on a calendar. For me this was July 17th--today!
The most important gift you can give yourself during any major life change, moving being just one of many, is to be gentle with yourself. Don't rush. Allow for plenty of time to absorb your new surroundings, neighbors, commutes, and get all the sleep you can. Trust me, you'll need it!

Tip of the Day: Breaks are important. Trying to work on a manuscript or fulfill a deadline during a move can often seem more stressful than the actual moving process, so be sure to have a few escape routes handy. Although I was in a hurry to be out of my rental condo by the end-of-lease date, I still found an extra hour every now and then to shut the door, play with some collage, and forget about the chaos in the other rooms. I'll show you what I got up to in my next post. Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dogs and Cats and Patterns and Moving and . . .

Moving day approaches--just a couple of weeks to go! I am having a terrible time settling down to anything that doesn't involve going to Lowe's or Home Depot (hence my recent lack of blog posts). Right now it seems every minute of my life is geared toward making the new house habitable, or worrying endlessly about having nowhere to live if it isn't.

Amidst all the angst, though, I have had a little respite--somehow I've managed to fit in a new art class on "Illustrating Cats and Dogs." Each of the six weekly sessions is three hours long and may very well be saving my sanity. Not only is the subject super-fun, but our instructor, Debra Klecan, is an excellent teacher, full of great ideas that a) are diverting me from non-stop moving-day nerves, and b) are helping me organize my nonfiction WIP, A Pet Owner's Book of Days, as well as a new (yes!) picture book WIP I began in March--the two reasons I signed up for the class.

I particularly like our main assignment to create a portfolio that is also a scrapbook/journal/notebook of everything dog- and cat-related we can find. Debra recommended we use a three-ring binder and plastic sleeves for storing our reference materials, including magazine cut-outs, greeting cards, and samples of our own artwork.

I've always kept visual reference binders for my novels, full of  character wardrobes and writing prompts, but this is the first time I've tried doing something similar for an art project. For this particular exercise I chose a fabric-covered binder that zips closed and has a large sewn-in zippered pouch for pens and pencils (lots of pens and pencils). The binder itself is also big enough to include two 9" x 12" drawing pads I can tuck into the back (one is newsprint, the other is a medium-quality sketching paper). Finally, in the spirit of Serious Organization, I placed heavy, reinforced card stock dividers between my various categories:
  • Cat Photos
  • Dog Photos
  • Cat and Dog Fine Art
  • Abstract Designs and Patterns
  • Color Combinations and Palettes
  • How-to Info (including our class hand-outs)
  • Notes and Extra Sketch Paper (gray card stock I punched holes in--works really well).
So far I've got a pretty good collection of magazine and calendar photos for the "Cat and Dog" sections, but my favorite category of the moment is "Abstract Designs and Patterns." Copying designs from tiles and decorative architectural borders is meditative and calming, and good for hand-eye coordination. It's also giving me some interesting ideas I can use as borders for the pages of my picture-book-in-progress, as well as any future art journal pages. 

Some of my other reference materials for patterns and borders include:
  • Wallpaper.
  • Concrete, stone, and brickwork. 
  • Fabric.
  • The natural world: insect wings, wood grain, seed pods, leaves, petals, etc. 
  • Embroidery and knitting stitches.
  • Sewing notions, trims, and ribbons
  • Junk mail and print advertising.
  • Decorative packaging, e.g. cardboard boxes, chocolate wrap, luxury bath products.
  • Gift wrap.
  • Door keys (especially vintage/antique models).
  • Piano keys, too!
  • Shelf liner: rubber, plastic, paper, stick-on (been buying a lot of that lately).
  • Book covers.
  • Jewelry.
And that's just the beginning. I'm sure there's plenty more inspiration waiting for me at the hardware store. Today you'll find me in the aisle marked "Closets."
Tip of the Day: Drawing patterns is an excellent way to spend some downtime away from your manuscript, especially when you're feeling stuck or uninspired. Add the designs right to your journal pages, or start a fresh notebook based on pure design work. It's amazing how easily you can problem-solve once you've switched gears from writing to drawing and back again. Happy doodling!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pick a Color, Any Color

Apples and Pears;
Derwent Inktense Pencils on
Acrylic Gel Print Background

When I was in elementary school we used to play a "fortune telling" game that I can only describe as a piece of multi-folded paper that fit over our fingers, had various numbers, colors, and "fortunes" written on each of the folded sides, and was opened and shut like a greedy baby bird mouth, or a type of hand puppet. Anybody know what I'm talking about?

I used to love making--and using--those things. All through math lessons, recess, even story time, I was busy folding my notebook paper and thinking up outrageous fortunes for anyone willing to play along. To get to the fortune, the person playing the game had to first choose a number (written on the outside of the first set of folds), and then a color (revealed when the paper was opened and closed as many times as the number chosen). Over and over:  pick a number, pick a color . . . Once the color had been chosen, you opened a flap to reveal the surprise: Oh, you will win a million dollars! Or: You will get straight A's!

I've been thinking about that game these last few weeks, especially as my life seems a lot like "pick a number, pick a color" as we choose the decor for our new house, from wall paint to carpet, curtains, and breakfast nook lighting. So far the master bedroom and my office/art room have both been repainted twice thanks to some wild and wrong decisions (e.g., salmon and apricot thankfully changed to neutrals with names like "Twilight" and "Taupe Mist") and I still can't decide what on earth I want for the laundry room flooring.

Which is why I think I'm more inclined to want to draw than write right now. There's something I need to express in color at the moment, and the color that is calling to me the loudest is yellow. This spring I've seen it everywhere in Albuquerque: the magnificent blooming Spanish Broom growing in my neighbor's front yard; rogue daisies sprouting in cracked cement in an industrial park; the apples I bring to work for my afternoon snack. Yellow is such an optimistic and comforting color--maybe too strong for my walls, but definitely a much-needed accent for all those neutrals.

Seeking out and concentrating on a single color as a creative exercise can be a great art journal or writing prompt. I don't know how long my "yellow phase" will last, but for now I'm turning my search for it into a daily habit, taking note of my feelings and memories associated with the color's many hues and shades. Although I'm currently using yellow as the focus of my artwork, I'm certain I'll be using my notes later on for some poetry, or as the basis for a descriptive passage in my WIP. 

So how about you? What's your favorite color--or most detested? Sometimes it can be interesting to explore our reactions to colors we dislike as much as those we love. In the meantime, I've got to start finding some ideas for that laundry room . . . Catch you later.

Tip of the Day: The next time you're in search of some creative inspiration, go for a "color hunt" through your house, workspace, favorite store, or nature walk. Pick a single color and note how many times it appears and in what form. Paint or write your results, and who knows? You may experience an entire change of fortune as an added bonus!