What will it be?

There is something I feel compelled to make. It’s been simmering in my subconscious for almost a year now.

The catch?

I’m not really sure what it is or how to go about it.

I know this: it’s a story. I woke up one day and watched the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. It was a weird experience. But I saw it. Fully formed. There in front of me. Made. Done. Dusted. Out in the world. And I somehow knew that I was the one who made that happen.

Here’s the thing though. That’s all I know. It could be a book. It could be a short film. It could be lots of things – all of which I have absolutely no idea how to make.

The second catch?

It has no words.

Everything I see about it is illustrated. It’s all in images, no dialogue. But I am NOT an illustrator. Okay, I spent a lot of time last year practicing illustration because of this idea. I took drawing classes. I sat every day and doodled. I practiced drawing my breakfast, the view from my window, anything I saw. Still, I don’t know that my skills are up to this task.

That means I have three choices: get my skills up to the task (that could take a really long time), do it anyway even though I don’t think I have the talent, or find a collaborator, someone who does know how to illustrate and who could capture the idea in the way I saw it.

All of these things are freaky for me.

I really have no idea the best way to go about any of those. I don’t know that I will ever have the illustration style I envision for this project. I don’t know if I would be happy with it if my attempt doesn’t capture what I see in my head. And I don’t know if I trust someone else to feel the essence of the story clearly enough to draw it out.

It’s a conundrum. But I do feel really drawn to this project (pun accidental, but I’ll leave it). So I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either do it or don’t do it, and the doing it will happen as it happens. I’ll just have to see where it goes and how it unfolds.

Watch this space.

Next!

Hi friends,

Well, it’s finally finished. It took a little longer than I hoped but I am happy (and  pretty proud) to say that I finished my mandala project! Yay!!

Now that I am on the other side, I can definitely say I will be making more of these (they have a tendency to doodle themselves out all the time now). With well over the required 30 attempts under my belt, I now have a much better feel for what kind of style I like and what is natural for me. I tried a lot of things and played with a lot of ideas, and in the end I found myself constantly going back to the Indian motifs. There is just something about those patterns that moves my soul. I can’t get enough.

Although I made more mandalas than I have pictured here, I wanted to show you a sample that reflects the process as a whole, not just the best pieces. Some of them are absolutely awful and that’s part of the reality of testing things like this out. I had some brilliant ideas that I just could not get on paper. I also had some days where I thought it was going pear-shaped and then it ended up becoming a piece I really liked.

So without further ado, I give you: my mandalas!

Along with the photos, I’ll share with you some things I learned in the process about mandalas in general and my style and preferences in particular. Hopefully it’s helpful for anyone trying to figure out their own groove with their art. Continue reading

My Mandala

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I don’t like being stuck.

To give you an example, let’s look at my work history, shall we? In my 15 years as an adult, I have worked:

  • at a chocolate shop
  • at a book store
  • at a vet clinic
  • in a hotel
  • at a university
  • at a human rights NGO
  • at a financial institution
  • as an accountant
  • as a manager
  • as a financial advisor
  • as an intern
  • as a nanny
  • as a tutor
  • as the owner of my own business
  • as a blogger
  • a walker
  • as a newbie artist

I don’t like being stuck.

I don’t stick with things for long because, you know what, I don’t have a lot of time and I want to do lots of things. My work philosophy is that if I know how to do all the parts of my job, it is time to move on to something new. If I apply for a job it is because I want to learn how to do the things I am meant to do there, not because I know them already. I like learning, I like growing, I like a challenge.

Here’s the downside though: I get scared of committing to things because I think of the innumerable other things I *could* be doing with that time. I get scared that if I throw myself into a project (like, I don’t know, learning how to make art or illustrate a book, hypothetically) that I will be stuck with it forever…dun dun dun. I give it a half-assed attempt and then when I still suck I tell myself that it was obviously a bad idea and I should find a new project.

Combine this train of thought with the fear (of both failure and success) I have over becoming an artist, and pretty much nothing gets done. I find ways to stay busy so I feel like I am making progress, but not very deep down I know that I am actually running away from committing to the things I sincerely want to be doing.

It’s a problem.

I was pondering on this situation and it reminded me of relationships. You know how sometimes people are scared of getting married so they just move in together? I was thinking that might be a good approach to this problem. Marriage is big and scary and forever. Moving in is a month to month kind of deal.

If I apply the same approach to my art, it’s much less scary. I don’t have to make grand announcements to the world, promises about things I will do forever, vows to remain loyal to a project. I can have a  month to month relationship with a project; agree that we’ll see how it goes and move forward from there; give it my best shot, make it my one and only, but understand that we aren’t legally obligated to each other for as long as we both shall live.

To that end, I decided that this month I will move in with mandalas. I’ve found some amazing artists on Instagram who do incredible things with mandalas and it is really inspiring stuff. I haven’t ever made them before but I’ve always been drawn to the Indian/tribal/folky style that accompanies them, and I’d love to learn some of the techniques. I’ve made a few this week and I notice small improvements every time, which is really motivating to see.

Here are a few for your viewing pleasure:

The Earth Reversed

My first mandala! To learn the basics of construction, I went to the great site CreateMixedMedia.com. I titled this The Earth Reversed because it made me think of an inverted view of the universe: the core of the earth is on the outside then it moves in through the ocean, the land, and into the sun and heavens. Drawing it reminded me that life is all about perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mandala #2. This was a late night session where I couldn’t get to sleep because I was too excited about drawing. I was feeling Indiany and went with some of the motifs I have seen in lots of henna patterns recently. I like how delicate it looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my third attempt, I was inspired by Anna Eidenberg (probably the person I most frequently stalk on Instagram). She does amazing things with mandalas. I noticed that she doesn’t always hold herself within the boundaries of the circles or other geometric elements but often breaks out with beautiful organic shapes. I used that idea as a starting off point for this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So for this month, I am moving in with manadalas (does the plural have an s?). I’ll make 30 of them. It might not be one every day – we’ll aim for an average – and I’ll see what other projects call my name at the end of that time. I’m not committed to this being my thing forever, but, to paraphrase Andy Grammar, during this month I might meet other projects at the bar who are super hot and want to buy me drinks, but I will stay true to my mandala (hehe – I am pretty pleased with that pun).

See you next time!

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PS you should probably listen to this song right now. I’m slighty obsessed.

Some Postcards for You

Hi friends,

I’m writing to you from my sister’s dining room table in Lexington, Kentucky today. I’m sitting by the garden door and revelling in the cool breeze that’s coming in. It’s so fresh I even have to wear a shawl. Imagine that! After the scorching temps in Muscat and the small heat wave in Tel Aviv on my visit last week, this is absolute perfection.

Anyway, onto the good stuff.

A few weeks ago, I asked you to help me with my postcard project by telling me three things to put together in drawing. So without further ado, here are the first three cards that I’ve made and sent off for you.

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Three things: Marmite, One Direction, bunting. Sent to: Slovenia

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Three things: mermaid, hula hoop, wine Sent to: France

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Three things: a child, an umbrella, a star Sent to: Saudi Arabia

Thanks for all the ideas you sent! They are all really exciting and challenging in different ways. I look forward to making more for you! If you haven’t requested one already (or if you want another, I suppose) you can send me your ideas here and I’ll draw one up for you.

Cheers,

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Choose Three Things….any three things

Hello again.

It’s me again.

And I need your help.

I’ve been tinkering around a lot with the book I mentioned last time – making lists of people whose work I admire and lists of the people they find inspiring so I can read them all as soon as possible; spending excessive amounts of time perusing graphic novels and making note of which styles appeal to me most; sketching a very rough layout of the key points of my story…I’ve been busy.

As I mentioned previously, I have no real history in illustration. I doodled a lot when I was younger and I sketch here and there when I journal, but I haven’t really tried to publicly express myself in a visual form before.

This is where you come in.

I need practice drawing. And I want it to be a real challenge – something that will push me forward by changing my frame of reference and force me to work with new concepts while I learn this new skill. I don’t want to get boxed in. I want to play with different forms, different styles, different ways of drawing. I want to try lots of things.

So.

I have 24 postcards sitting on my desk. I want to send one to you. All I ask of you is that you tell me three things to draw on the postcard. Any three things (obviously within socially appropriate bounds) for me to ponder on and decide how to stick together on one card.

Two examples so far are:

  • a mermaid, a hula hoop and a glass of wine
  • bunting, One Direction and Marmite.

I’m still working on that last one…

Anyway. I would love to make a card for you and use it as a way to practice this whole drawing thing. So click this link and tell me three things (any three things) I can draw for you. The sky’s the limit.

I look forward to staring at the screen in bemusement and trepidation when I receive your request.

Love,

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PS. For those of you who have requested cards already but haven’t received them, first, my apologies. Secondly, I will use the ideas from the brilliant descriptions of yourselves you gave me to make a special card for you.

Thanks for sharing about yourselves, by the way. Your stories make my day every time!


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Just Like That

Ok. This is going to sound crazy. It feels crazy. But it also feels like exactly what needs to happen.

I’m going to write a novel.

With no words.

For someone who has always relied on her words, this is kind of a strange situation. I woke up last week and watched an entire story play out in front of me. I saw every scene. I felt the whole story. But it’s all images. All snapshots. No dialogue. No description.

It’s all coming from my chest – from a feeling deep inside that I can’t describe.

I sat down this morning to doodle and my pencil carried me deep into the story, laying out the sequences, showing the emotions in each scene. I have threads. I have arcs. I have characters. I have relationships.

I have a story.

But I have no history in illustration, no background, no experience, no skills.

It’s all a bit overwhelming!

I need to make this book. I have to make this book. It’s dying to get out, to be a part of the world. And yet I am not entirely sure how to go about it. I have my sketches. I have my feelings. I can see it all. I just need to get it on paper, to refine it, to tell it like it is, with images and colors and expressions.

This is going to be an interesting journey…

Inklings

If there is one thing I have consistently wanted to be good at, a talent I have desperately envied in others my entire life it is this: illustration.

From time immemorial, I have had an absolute obsession with all things paper and pen. The closet in my childhood bedroom was absolutely enormous (not just in kid relativity) and one entire shelf was full of paper – top to bottom, side to side. I had all the colors, all the thicknesses, all the textures you could possibly imagine. The shelf above that was rammed full of pens and pencils – jars of them, bags of them, drawers of them. I had skinny ones, fat ones, glittery ones, inky ones, scratchy ones, markers, sharpies, colored pencils, crayons – anything I could convince my mom to buy or get away with accidentally not returning to whoever lent it to me (yes, I am the place where all your missing pens end up. Mystery solved).

Pen and paper are the perfect marriage for me. They are all I really need in my life. They let me write, they let me read, they let me doodle, they let me fantasize and wander and daydream. There are few things I love more than black ink on a white page. I love coloring in the spaces. I love appreciating the lines. I love whimsical swirls. I love ominous images. I love it all. I cannot get enough of it.

In my adult life, I can and have quite easily gotten quite lost in the world of illustration online. I used to haunt a series of blogs, watching the artists talk together, listening to them inspire and support one another, and feeling utterly despondent that I couldn’t be a part of that world.

This envy comes from the fact that every time I put my own pen to the page, I produce the most infantile scrawlings known to man. My dogs look like small, deformed elephants. On a good day, my people are stick shaped. I am either the very best or absolute worst partner you could ever have at Pictionary – it all comes down to how much you like to laugh.

I have never let myself imagine that I could call myself an illustrator, that I could put myself in this class of people I respect and love so completely. That I could actually belong with people who are so creative, so incredibly inspired, so beautiful. Every time I have ever touched my pen to the page, I have heard the tape in my head start to loop “I can’t draw. I can’t draw. I can’t draw.” and I have stopped – broken, sad and completely defeated.

For the last few weeks, I have been going through the Artist’s Way book (a truly amazing read and creative adventure I think everyone in the world could benefit from), and it has stirred up a lot for me. It has made me address some of my ideas about what creativity means, about where it comes from and what it is capable of. It’s also made me see a lot more clearly what it looks like when a creative person stops themself from doing the thing they are compelled to do.

This realisation came to me as an image – as it always does – and I was desperate to express it as a drawing. All I wanted to do was draw a stick figure carrying a hobo bag on a stick. That’s it. But the thought terrified me. My hands were shaking and I was absolutely panic stricken that I wouldn’t be able to draw even that simple image.

And yet, I started.

I drew heads that were too wonky. Smiles that were too creepy. Legs that were anatomically impossible. It was kind of a mess – but I kept going.

It took me two pages of practice to get the beginnings of the image I wanted. But after some tweaking and some wishing, I sat back and saw exactly what I sat down to draw. I couldn’t have been more chuffed to see my pen create the perfect image for what I was feeling.

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It made me go a little nuts. I was so excited about making an image I was proud of that I spent the next few days in a total Sharpie frenzy. I couldn’t draw enough. I couldn’t be with my notepad long enough. I would make myself stop for a while to start on other projects – things I have to do to live my life as a responsible, adult-type person – but I could only think about drawing. And for the first time in my life, I found a strange thing happening with my images. I started liking them. I started seeing them as a place full of possibility, a place for my own self-expression instead of a xerox machine for others’ ideas.

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My images are far from perfect. They are far from skilled or professional. But making a lot of them over the last few days has changed my perception of what it means to illustrate. My whole life, I have looked at images that other people create and thought, “Oh my God! That is the most amazing/beautiful/stunning/evocative/powerful/moving image I have ever seen. I love it so deeply I cannot even express my total amazement at its beauty and my gratitude that this is now part of my life forever.”

Then I try to make that thing.

Unsurprisingly, it looks nothing like what I want it to. I can’t evoke the same feeling, I can’t create the same personality, I can’t draw the same thing. So I crumble. I grow despondent. I get sad and dejected at the idea that something I love so much, that fills my heart with such joy, that makes me so deeply happy, won’t come out of my own fingers. I curse my hands for their lack of skill and resign myself to appreciating the ability in others, always secretly yearning to make the thing myself.

But I’m learning something. It isn’t about making the thing that other people make. It isn’t even about making the thing that I picture in my mind beforehand. It’s about putting the pen on the paper and letting it do what it wants. Laughing at the turns it takes. Smiling at the colors it puts together. Allowing it to make what it wants out of the page. It’s about letting the image make itself, and not judging or censoring it along the way. It’s a really hard thing to do, which is why I am going to force myself to do a whole lot more of it – publicly, which is even harder.

I’ve been putting up images of my doodles on Instagram the last few days, if you want to check in and see what I’m up to. And for those of you who like postcards (who doesn’t!) for the next month (maybe longer), I will make all the postcards I send out (sign up to get one here!).

I am new to this. I am just getting started. I feel behind. I feel set back by my own mental blocks, my own definitions of what my expressions should look like, of what they should represent, of what they should embody. I am walking out into a completely blank space, and I am touching my pen to the page…