Saturday, April 28, 2007

Thoughts On Drawing...

I've been thinking a lot about drawing lately. I love to draw, always have...always will. I love pens, pencils, crayons, and now I even use my computer to draw. I was pretty lucky as a kid. Both my parents encouraged me to draw and there were always art supplies around. My dad and I would even "draw stories" together, telling tall tales as we sketched out collaborative scenes on paper. In my small Catholic grade school, I was friends with the other 3 'artistic' kids. At recess, when I wasn't busy tying the classroom crybaby to a tree for bawling his eyes out over a lost game of four-square (sorry, Mark) my little arty buddies and I would draw.

Then I started 6th grade at a public school. The new school was huge. It smelled like bleach and hot dogs, there were boys who had those downy pre-teen mustaches, and girls with big boobs and bigger permed hair. I barfed on my first day because I was convinced that my preppy Esprit outfit, bob haircut and I would be devoured by the secular freak fest even though I was 5'7", and stood head and shoulders above my mini-mustached classmates. And then there was the mandatory Art Class, which scared me even more than climbing the rope in gym. My teacher was awesome and also good looking (he had a full-on Tom Sellick mustache). This guy really tried his gosh darndest to make art class an all inclusive atmosphere. But despite his best intentions, over time it became known amongst the tweenagers who the "good artists" were, and I didn't make the cut. This lucky half dozen were the kids who possessed that freakish ability to draw things with photographic realness. It bored the crap out of me, because I was more interested in making up weird looking people with big pointy noses and bulgy Gene Wilder eyes, and writing funny job descriptions for them. It's not that people didn't like my stuff. Sure, my drawings got the laughs but it was the smudgy shaded, pencil drawings of "realistic" unicorns, long stemmed roses, and portraits of Boy George that got the "oohs and ahhhs". These were proudly displayed in the trophy cases after winning blue ribbons at the county fair or the prestigious mall art show.

At that point my drawing practice became more and more private. I never really stopped drawing, I just did it less publicly. By high school I was convinced that I either wanted to be a doctor or an architect so I focused on science classes and drafting (which was still drawing, but I just didn't call it that). I had to walk by the art department every day on my way to the drafting room and jealously scoffed at the moody still lives in the display case outside the door. Somehow I'd become convinced I wasn't "good enough" to be in art classes, but yet I can't ever remember anyone telling me that I wasn't. What the heck was happening?

After I graduated I got the hell out of dodge and studied abroad in Holland for a year. I absolutely won the Exchange Student Lottery with the amazing family I got placed with. For my birthday two months after I arrived they bought me a museum pass that was good for any museum in the country. I skipped a lot of school those first few rainy months and spent my long afternoons visiting museum after museum getting buzzed and chubby on strong Dutch coffee with cream, and bags of black licorice. I had no idea who any of these artists were, but standing before gigantic Rembrandt paintings wacky Jeff Koons sculptures blew my mind. Then, just when I thought things couldn't possibly get any better, my sweet family signed me up for drawing classes in the center of Amsterdam one day a week. Maybe it was the fact that I was really in a place where no one knew me, or the fact that my Dutch vocabulary at that time made me sound like a 2 year old, but drawing was something I could do to communicate, and so I began to trust myself again. I kept an elaborate sketchbook journal that included writing and drawing, and it is still one of my most prized possessions. I love it for the honesty and fearlessness recorded on those pages.

When I came back to the states I enrolled in art school at a big university. It made me nervous in the same way 6th grade did, but this time I didn't barf and luckily mustaches were out of style. I soon found though that art school shook that confidence that I'd built up in my year away. Being surrounded by such varied and intense talent sometimes made me want to throw my art supplies out the window, and there were professors and grad students who tried to tell you that you weren't good enough. But instead of listening to them I listened to more interesting people like the professor who told our class one day that drawing was anything you wanted it to be. It didn't have to be with a pen or pencil. In fact, this guy had an art show where he showcased a large mason jar full of a year's worth of his family's collected toenail clippings. He called this drawing. If that was true, then my 6 by 4 foot drawing of something I called The Flying Cupcake Lady had every right to exist too. And I stared to notice something very curious. The more I put myself out there, the more people responded. It didn't matter what I made, it was more about the confidence with which I put it out there. I listened to the people I wanted to listen to and drew ugly pictures of those who I thought were full of doo-doo butter.

Just recently I left my job at a local theatre to pursue another life path. At the theatre I was the lucky soul who got to illustrate and design all of the posters. I remember the first time I saw one of my posters in public. It was hanging front and center on an espresso stand outside a cafe. I almost rear-ended the car in front of me, partly out of shock, and a little bit out of pride but mostly out of a kind of panic I hadn't ever felt. My stuff was out in the world, on espresso stands and the sides of busses and on free bookmarks in cafes. Everywhere. Exposed! Surely people would see right through me, call the theatre and demand I be fired for putting such ridiculous stuff out into the world. But guess what? That never happened, people actually liked what I was doing. Complete strangers wrote me emails to tell me so, and ask for my "secrets" (I promise I really don't have any). Again I was reminded of what I have been shown over and over. Show up at the page, do the work, and the rest will come. Trust.
What is it that keeps us from trusting our creative instincts? It is something that I and many other creatives struggle with consistently. It doesn't matter what the medium or how much experience you have, it just happens. But I do feel like I am turning a corner, and just starting to understand that doing the work is pretty much 99.999% of the equation. It doesn't matter if it is 'good enough'. I'm giving myself permission to expel those 6th grade art critics from my head, and get back to the work I love. How about you?

All images copyright The Flying Pencil 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Illustration Friday: Polar

Last week I heard a story about this guy on NPR. It got me thinking not only about adorable polar bears of course, but how our rapid consumption and commodification are having globally devastating effects. For Illustration Friday I give you Polar Pops, probably the worst product idea EVER! If you see them at at store near you, please don't buy them.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

For Frances

My little friend Frances is celebrating her first birthday this week. Today was her super fun kid and adult party. She is quite the character, which is no big surprise as her parents are both blessed with a love of laughter and a wicked sense of humor. She entertained us by repeating her new favorite word "shoe", while pointing at my feet. A girl after my own heart!

Ever since I knew she was coming into the world I've loved making stuff for this little sweetie. Not only does Frances have a smile that melts your heart right into a big ole puddle, this girl has the most amazing head of auburn red hair. One afternoon she arrived at my house in a robin's egg blue polar fleece jacket. The color looked incredible on her and I knew I had to make something for her in that very color.
Frances is just starting to walk, and I thought a cute pair of cropped rompers would look adorable as she practiced toddling around over the summer. Can't you just see the little ties flapping about? As a soon-to-be mom of a little girl I am finding it really hard to find clothes that are anything but pink. Not that pink is bad (I own plenty of it myself), I just like to mix things up with a little orange and turquoise from time to time. This is why I love sewing. The options are practically limitless and you always end up with a something that is truly one-of-a-kind, just like sweet Frances!

Here are the specs for this project:

Pattern: Burda 9652
Fabric: 5 Funky Monkeys by Erin Michael for Moda Fabrics
Notes: This was my first time sewing a Burda Kids pattern. It was really simple, but I had to improvise some of the directions as they were a little lacking in the detail department. The pattern is great because it includes sizes 6 months to 3 years. The pattern called for snaps, but I was more comfortable using buttons. I will definitely use this pattern again. I've got a lot of extra fabric and may sew a matching pair for our little gal.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Illustration Friday: Fortune

This week's topic for Illustration Friday was Fortune. Here you have Mr. Anteater snorting up a juicy hill of ants. Said ant hill may seem like a pesky nuisance to you and me, but Mr. A feels like he's just won the lottery. For him this is better than Ben and Jerry's free cone day (which I missed this year, darnit), fresh made donuts, or a trip to the beach. Fortune is where you find it, friends.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chocolate Banana Bread = Happiness

There's a lot of banana buying around our house. Problem is, I'm kinda picky. Once they start turning spotty-brown, I'm done. As a result there are a lot of frozen, skinless, over-the-hill bananas just hanging out in our freezer, waiting for their reincarnation as muffins or bread.

About a year ago I found an awesome recipe for Chocolate Swirl Banana Bread in Cooking Light Magazine. Looks fancy and sounds fancy but it is really very simple. If you have your own trusty banana bread recipe already, you can still work some chocolatey swirl magic on it. Just melt 1/2 cup chocolate chips in the microwave and mix in 1 cup of the banana bread batter. Layer the chocolate batter with the plain batter, swirl it with a knife and bake as you usually would. The Cooking Light recipe is a good one. I like the addition of yoghurt, but I ignore the egg replacer and just use in 2 eggs instead.


Getting Started

Meet Mississippi Charles Bevel. I had the chance to meet him a few months ago when he was visiting my town. A super-talented musician, and a sweet soul to boot. One gray and rainy afternoon I looked up from my dreary desk to see him walking by my window wearing his signature bowler cap adorned with a feather and this humongous rainbow umbrella. It was such a cheerful scene, I knew I had to make a drawing. I made a quick sketch, reworked it a few times in my sketchbook and then began laying it out in trusty Illustrator. I sent a digital print to Mississippi, but I wanted more!

I've been looking for an excuse to purchase some new silkscreen supplies, and this seems to be the perfect reason. Back in my art school days I was addicted to screen printing. I loved mixing the pudding-thick colors, planning out separations and watching the ink seep into the paper. I even stole my lucky squeegee (named Peterson) from the supply cabinet in the studio before I graduated. As time went by my screen printing obsession was always in the back of my mind but jobs, computers, and small spaces got in the way. I'm in a much bigger space now, and I have a lot more time on my hands. So, taking a cue from The Police, Peterson is ready to come out of his retirement and rock the screen once again. I may document the process and post it here.

And, as if I needed even another reason to get going it is also time for the Print Zero Studios Print Exchange. What started out as a small local exchange organized by a former classmate of mine has now grown to include many national and international artists. The last exchange included something like 200+ participants. All you have to do is make a wee edition of 15 prints, and you get 15 back from all around the world. A pretty good deal if you ask me. If you are a printmaker or even curious about getting started in printmaking and need a little extra motivation, I'd strongly suggest looking into this!

Printmakers unite!