May 30, 2007

And while no one was looking...

A maple tree took root in the top step!

Monet was said to have always shown his visitors around his garden first. His paintings were secondary. Nature makes better Art anyhow.

Of course any gardener knows you couldn't have gotten a maple tree to sprout in the top step if you tried!

ARtist In$ecUrity

Artist Insecurity. Now there's a topic.

Mentally, financially, professionally, emotionally, insecure.

Insanely, Illogically Insecure. Irrationally insecure

Artists wonder if they turn down work... will they ever be offered work again?

This is just one of the irrational blind corners of the freelancer's mindset. Some of the other illogical blind corners are:

'Do I have any talent'?
'Is my style out of date?'
'Do I still know how to paint?'
'Should I try a totally different medium?'
'Should I get a new agent?'
'Should I have been an architect?'
and on and on and on to many other such delectables.

But then there's all those catch phrases to encompass the reasons we remain unbalanced. Find yourself by letting go. Follow Your Bliss. Dare to Dream. Life is Short, Art is Long.... oh, and my favorite... Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained. (that's good for investing too).

Freelancing... the very definition of insecure.

It sometimes seems that the only thing holding it all together is the Illusion. Of course it's an illusion! Art is nothing but illusions. And those are fueled by all the mysterious subterfuge of imagination and emotion.

And as we all know, Illusions are a rock solid foundation to build anyone's fortune upon.

May 27, 2007


One thing I miss as a freelancer might be the clearly defined 'weekend'. Either my days all seem like an endless weekend or else they seem like an endless succession of Tuesdays. The clarity is missing.

But I remember the exhilaration that used to be associated with a Friday afternoon. Clear, unalloyed Freedom.

I suppose working by the time clock until Friday was a bit like rowing in a slave galley, pulling the oars to get through the week. But at least come the weekend, I could entirely drop anchor and drift.

Contrarily, as a self employed seafarer, work is more like sailing in a sailboat without an anchor. I have to keep an eye on the weather every day. And if I don't stay busy scheming all the time, I know I'm going to hit the rocks.

At least happy hour is the same for both... once the sun drops beneath the yardarm it's time to pour that glass of port.

Photo is of the glorious Puget Sound on a summer's day... from Discovery Park.

May 24, 2007

My Digital Maytag

For my first 15 years of working as an illustrator, I only used pencils, paints and watercolor paper.

But then one day I tried out Photoshop. And things haven't been the same since.

I have to say, making art is LOTS more fun with digital tools tossed into the mix. Not only is it more fun... it's also easier.

I still think that all art begins with the lowly pencil and that traditional art will never be rivaled in it's surface complexity and tradition. But it sure is handy having some digital studio slaves to do the heavy lifting.

Basically, I think doing art completely the old fashioned way is akin to doing laundry by hand on a scrub board.

However I'll take the Maytag...

I still do all my art with real pencils, real paper and real paints. It just all gets processed through the digital Maytag.

May 22, 2007

It's not Clutter... It's Creativity

The studio mess. Every artist's got one. Though I notice some manic sorts of artists actually line up their pencils and brushes in neat, color coordinated rows. Not me.

Actually I am very orderly. Except I'm the only one who knows the order. It's locked away in my mind in a sort of geographical location system. I successfully employ the studio GPS system of storing important papers and artwork. It's more based on location than category or date modified or anything else.

I built shelves galore... they line half my studio. I pile them with piles of sketches and folders. I still use real folders... with bright colors so they don't all look alike.

Lately I find that OSX has given my life new order. The ease of keeping everything in folders that can be instantly recalled has simplified so many things.
I am frightfully bad at using the calendar for anything. I usually notice the calendar page hasn't been forwarded until it's two months after the fact. By the end of the year there will only be 2 dates circled. I use iCalendar instead... sparsely.

One does worry begin to worry however... when I notice that a new secondary row of infringing stuff has begun to accumulate... adding to the row of original piles & boxes of stuff that line every inch of wall space.

But it's not clutter. It's creativity. Scientists have discovered that a static steady state system (clean studio) will not produce random elements (new ideas). On the other hand, once discordancy is introduced, then there are random elements in abundance.

Still there's no accounting for dust kitties.

May 19, 2007

To Think or Not to Think

Generally I think that thinking can get you in trouble if you don't stop in time. And if one is foolish enough to persist, often the same thinking needs to be done all over again the next day. In fact I'd go so far as to say the ultimate goal of thinking is to stop thinking. So there.

I usually think there are too many brilliant artists in the world every time I drop by

One dependable online thinker is Diamond Geezer. The DG really puts effort into it... covering the odd aspects of London. A regular modern day Boswell.

I also like to take time out to think about how other people live in far away places....

And how many distant places there might be to watch the sun go down...

And I'm still waiting to find another artist with a studio as messy as mine. That's what I think.

And if one ever thinks of rural France, there's always Sam's Spot for a regular goose egg omelet of topics.

I always suspected that my life was dull as dishwater... but reading taxistorys convinced me my life is boring.

And finally it's all pretty much absurd, so we're lucky just to get by with what we have. So turn Brain off and just enjoy not having to think...

May 17, 2007

Dressed Like a Design Professional?

Usually the best way to pick an illustrator out of the line at the supermarket is to see if they have bits of tape stuck to their elbows.

I have a theory that Designers and Architects are snappy dressers compared to artists. They adhere more to the basic black dress code... turtlenecks, nehru collars and designer eyeglasses. Their studios are usually far snappier too, with Italian furniture and Danish lamps.

How come illustrators can't work up anything stylish along those lines? Aren't we design professionals too? Michelangelo and Raphael used to whip out architectural designs just as a sideline. It was almost like, "Don't bother me with redesigning the Pope's palace... I have a painting to finish this week!"

Le Corbusier, Liebeskind, Philip Johnson knew enough to wear spectacular spectacles... and snappy clothes to match. But I've noticed illustrators tend to dress on the shabby & comfortable side. Michelangelo was notorious for scarcely ever changing his ragged clothes.

So much of professionalism is associated with all the trappings. It's the fancy office, the enabling 'staff', having important meetings to sit through, big important papers to 'route' and sign. We illustrators have to make do with our home studios (which resemble a converted bedroom usually), a cat for staff and very few important meetings to attend.

The times I feel most professional are when I manage to meet a deadline in 3 days which was originally supposed to be for a 2 month working timeframe. But that usually goes unrecognized.

Got tape on your elbows? You just might be an illustrator! Oh well, at least we've got the beret... the signature of the artiste.

May 16, 2007

Can't bear to say goodbye...

I cannot throw this bear away!

Try as I might... no matter how many times I trip over this fleabound critter... I cannot put it in the trash!

Heaven help the soft hearted parent clinging to memories past. I never even really liked this stupid bear. It was given to my first-born by my old college buddy as a grand gesture. It's hardly got much personality even... it's just big, that's all. I tried to stuff it in the trash, but it hurt too much to bear.

Instead it will sit the garage and be a lucky bear. After all those years in the basement, it's like a part of the family, only it's always in the way and takes up half a cupboard. I learned my lesson when I tried tossing out a baby carseat once. That was a mistake.

It was like one of those slow motion movies, with every detail singed into my memory. I was at the dump... there were two rough day-hire workers taking in garbage... I handed them the baby seat.

"Hey Rufus, You want a baby seat?"
"Hell no! I ain't havin' no damn baby anytime soon!"
"Well it looks okay to me!"

(at this point I regretted having decided to part with it. It only held perfect memories of sunlit afternoons & sleeping cherubs with peachy cheeks. I desperately wanted it back! But too late.)

"Here... you take it!", said Rufus.

And then the magic car seat was abruptly tossed onto the trash heap to my everlasting regret. I wanted to go scrambling up after it, but was too embarrassed.

I cannot toss out this bear!

May 14, 2007

Booked Up Through Wednesday

My best friend used to be an actor. Actors are the ultimate freelancers. They're on top one week and the next week they're nobodies.

My best friend, the actor, used to live here in Seattle, but like many of my friends, he has since moved away because he couldn't afford it anymore. Seattle was voted 'America's Most Overpriced City' after all, a title it richly deserves. Voted #1 in worst traffic too! And they don't even have a 'Cloudiest Sky' prize to award, which it'd win hands down as well.

Anyhow, my thespian friend had mastered the art of dawdling through his less active days. He had it down to such a science that he could actually devote an entire week to simply returning a book to the library! Monday was the day he'd start to think about the potential trip. It was a day to be whittled away over his kitchen table spread with overdue bills and coffee cups and ash trays. Tuesday was devoted to clearing out his schedule to make sure that on Wednesday he would be free to return the overdue books. And when Wednesday would finally arrive, then the actual books could finally in fact be returned! Whew... talk about being booked up solid. And of course, after Wednesday, the next weekend could begin.

I think any freelancer ought to be able to relate to this tale of folly. Last week I had 3 projects underway, after working through the previous weekend... with three sets of sketches to finish for sending out and a 5 book project that was threatening. This week I'm wondering if I have anything due at the library. My editor has his automatic email message set to 'I'll be away all of next week'.

I'm thinking I'll paint the south side of the house this summer. Now there's ambition!

May 10, 2007

Pondering the Piggybank of Life's Days

Inspiration & Happiness... they are mysterious and elusive creatures.

They'll be there, hiding in the shadows... or just lounging around in the open. Only they're disguised as something so familiar that I can't recognize it for anything different.

Inspiration & Happiness both are like life-saver rings that are kept fixed on the railings of boats. As much as I'd like to take one off the rail and toss it out just anytime... they'll only allow themselves to be really useful in the middle of a real storm, with lightning and desperation and dark clouds and darkness.

Inspiration & Happiness are as fickle as butterflies that only land when they're ready to land. But it's a gift when they do.

Usually they're right there in the same room with me. Only I have to lean back in a corner where I usually never stand and look at things from a different place than I did before. Then maybe they might reveal themselves. And then it's so simple to just walk over and pick them up.

And so one more penny's worth of philosophical pondering clinks merrily into the piggy bank of life's days.

May 9, 2007

8 Things About Me

1) I'm usually sad... life and the world make me that way. My middle name ought to have been 'Pierrot'. Mozart makes me cry.

2) I usually wish I was somewhere else and far away. That probably explains my fondness for TV and foreign films.

3) I don't understand how the world works and suspect I never will. I also suspect I will never own waterfront property.

4) I'm no good at math and still count with my fingers.

5) I lived in a small town in Kansas once where I got my driver's license at age 13.

6) I never travelled to Antarctica, but I understand my work is well appreciated by penguins.

7) Brahms & Tchaikovsky share my birthday. They were both viola players too.

8) My least favorite part of any journey is when I turn around to go back home.

May 7, 2007

Breaking the Rules of Art

My step sister, who is an aspiring actress, once wrote to Katherine Hepburn, asking her advice on how to break into acting.

Amazingly, Katherine Hepburn wrote her back. I have a copy of the letter somewhere, written in a shaky sort of penmanship.

I remember her answer as to how to break into acting was very direct and simple. Ms. Hepburn wrote that the best thing she would recommend would be to come to New York and look around to see what everyone else was doing. And then think of something different... and do that.

Good advice. Just shows how the Rules of Art are mostly made to be broken.

May 3, 2007

What does an artist really know?

* Caution! Philosophical Zone Ahead!

What does an artist really know?

I mean it's such a mystery really. It's everything and very little... all at once.

If you stopped and had to write down instructions as how to do your job, what would they look like? Most professions would have a fairly clear set of principles to follow I imagine. An accountant would have a set of rules, an engineer would have a set of standards... as would vendors of insurance.

But artists practice their art through an ineffable, mysterious collection of learned skills. It's impossible to write them down... and even that sounds like some conjurer's cop out.

What could anyone write down?

1) Place the subject in a prominent manner in the illustration.. but not dead center.
2) Try to depict a meaningful emotional moment
3) Don't overemphasize, be subtle.
4) Draw loosely...
5) Try to capture a feeling...
6) Overlay the foreground objects ahead of the background..
7) Use colors with moderation...

Umm... I doubt that would help anyone.

I'm sure every artist has spent hours and days and weeks learning to draw everything they know how to draw. Artists have spent years learning how to just splash a little paint on a drawing to fill in the color. But even so, the method cannot be described really.

Mysterious! But everything an artist knows to solve the mystery is all there... hidden at the tip of that pencil.
I suppose it's even more mysterious for writers... here's your paper, here's your pencil... have at it.

* End of Philosophical Zone ... you may safely resume your net clicking

May 2, 2007

Drawing & the Illegible Me

I wonder... is it just me... or does drawing for years on end lead to crappy penmanship?

My penmanship in writing words seems to have steadily grown worse over the years. It's like the muscles in my hand are only trained to hold a pencil and draw. When I try to write words, the letters start taking every imaginable shape.

I can usually manage a blocky print that I can read... but sometimes I write down an item on a grocery list, and 10 minutes later I have NO IDEA what it was. (that's if I don't lose the list between the car and the shopping cart)

Doctors are supposedly known for illegible handwriting... I wonder, do they draw a lot too?

But the really strange thing is that when I watch one of those closeups of a character in a movie doing their handwriting, so smoothly and evenly and orderly... then I can do it too, if I think of that movie scene and slow down and be measured and methodical and paced. It's all in thinking about that same smooth, slow mindset.

But when I'm just me... I'm practically illegible. I'm in too much of a hurry to do anything right.

Good thing I draw pictures for a living. Sometimes it's just easier to draw pictures on the shopping list instead of writing it out.