Monday mornings

The thing about deciding to empower your creative self, is that once you do, your non-creative exploits start to grind you down. The thing about being a working mom, is that you wake up on Monday mornings, see your sleeping child and quietly grieve that you won’t spend all day with them again for another 5 days.

For me, my creative energy is not purely tied up in any one aesthetic pursuit, but rather, a certain dedication of spirit and current of ingenuity that I try to live with. It’s as much in the things that I make, as in the energy, planning and commitment I give to my loved ones, to my job and even to my diet. I began feeling this way about art and creativity when I was a teenager. I would look at the many Mechanics and IT people in my family and see how heavily invested they are in their work. How ingenious and commanding they are in their knowledge and skill; and I would think – Wow! What art! What soulful dedication! What worth!

In a sense it’s the mental action or inclination toward artfulness and really makes the difference to oneself and the world around you. Where, in our daily lives, the artifacts of our labor are so often disappointing, or not our own, it’s good to remember that the expression of our creative minds has value to ourselves and those around us.

So, as I begin my week, I try to remind myself of this. That, even though the work that I do in my professional life is often unremarkable and repetitive, that there are still parts of it that I can fully commit my creative spirit to. Sure, I really have to work at it sometimes, but really – who doesn’t? That’s just the shape of things. Sure, I miss my daughter, but really – she needs to eat and she needs to live somewhere, so I have to suck it up and work. Pretty much, the only thing that I really have control over is the attitude and spirit with which I approach my life.

So here’s to an awesome Monday. We’re going to make it one.
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The Toddler Art Critic

Yesterday, on the bus, while I was taking my daughter home from daycare, I had need of my sketchbook. My daughter was fretting and starting a major fuss because our trip was taking a long time due to rain and traffic. I had already read the books that we keep in the stroller for her. I had already given her snacks and water. We had even sang a couple of songs together (to the chagrin of the other passengers, I’m sure). With a few blocks further to go, I was running out of options for entertaining a 1-1/2 year old. I looked into my handbag to see what I could come up with and decided to show her my sketchbook.

 

My current sketchbook is a light grey Baron Fig notebook, given to me by my BFF Stacy. I think it’s about 3/4 full of sketches, lists and recipes. My daughter was fascinated. She flipped through the pages and her eyes lit up in absolute joy when she found a sketch of her dad. She pointed at it and began an enthusiastic chorus of ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’. This lasted until she came to a sketch of our dog, Kai. She then started a chorus of ‘Kai! Kai! Kai! Dog! Dog! Dog!’. Then she went back to Daddy. All in all the sketches were a hit and they got us to our destination without the infant rage.

 

Funnily, the sketches she loves so much, were sketches that I thought were abject failures. I thought they were wonky and weird and not worth mention, but the Little One saw something in them – picked up on the resemblance that I thought I had totally missed. It felt pretty great. And it made me think more on what art is especially when it comes to portraiture. There’s something to be said about the vibe you can capture, even when you fail at resemblance.

 

In other news, I’m working on some clay things. I’m experimenting with polymer clay since I have not found any options near me for firing raw clay. I’ve looked up some videos on making a wire armature for figures and I hope to get some more clay to try out some of those. Also I’m working on some painted clay jewelry. I’ve been experimenting with techniques and will post when I have something I’m happy with.

 

As always, thanks for tuning in.

Inner Thirst

It sneaks up on you. Especially when your life is basically in service of another person. It starts with mild irritation at seemingly normal things. Then, that ever present irritation dips and rises throughout the day leading to cycles of negative thought. For me, it also manifests as a hunger for decadent food or shopping- though neither of those things ever fill the void. I think it’s a  sideways desire for richness and energy.

What is this? This is an existential need to center myself as well as a need to create. It’s a recurrent hunger that peaks when my days lack the time and space for grounding myself.

This is perhaps the hardest thing about being a mom so far – the desperate lack of time and means to regenerate my inner reservoir of peace and strength. I’m not unhappy, nor am I unable to care for my little girl. The need for existential grounding though remains a background thirst that grows and grows until I can’t ignore it anymore. I am getting better at acknowledging the signs. I haven’t yet reached a new rhythm that curtails this cycle of want, though I would like to build a better cycle with some built in time for grounding, each day.

The best ways for me to ground myself are through art, writing and yoga. This week I tried something new. I left all my gouache things on the dining table with some pre cut and prepared pieces of watercolour paper. I’m trying to make it as easy as possible to do a small burst of work. That seemed to have worked.

In addition, I have my yoga mat and yoga dvd ready to go as well. That system isn’t working AT ALL. I think I need to memorise the sequence and do it on my own when I have a sliver of time.

Writing has been more elusive. Where painting doesn’t require me to be coherent – writing does. I can paint in a headspace beyond words and be happy. It won’t necessarily be good – but it’ll happen and that’s all I really need sometimes. With writing though, I find that I need to more actively center myself in order to access the stream of words. I can’t satisfactorily sit and write for a 15 minute period unless, like now, I’ve been wanting to do it for a day and a half. So maybe I need to save up my words so that once a week I can commit a solid hour to it and let daddy take the baby.

These are the paintings I did this week. The black and white one I had planned on for a long time and I finally did it. It’s a piece I made for a friend.

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Screamers

Between night time feedings tonight, I got to thinking about my first forays into art. Oh, how to describe Screamers to someone who has never seen it… I’ll try by starting from my introduction.

When I was 12 or 13 I started going to the mall as a social excursion. It was the beginning of any sort of independent narrative. I had never cut my hair before in any way other than my mother approved little girl trim. My older brother had started dating a girl who to my adolescent mind was the epitome of cool. She was 18, with long stylish hair, sexy clothes and a flirtatious attitude. What’s more, I never had any sisters and she was the first older girl who had ever taken the time to get to know me and to take me out in public. She must have been a mall regular, or maybe worked there at some point because she seemed to know all the young people. When we went to the mall, she’d stop at different stores to chat with attendants – all of whom were young and hip. It’s funny, I don’t remember buying anything at any of those stores. We just hung out.

One such place where we stopped was Screamers. It was run by a tall, handsome guy by the name of Leo. He had long hair, beautiful oak skin and tattoos. I had never seen someone with tattoos – far less the the more elegant tribal designs that he had. My memory is fuzzy on that point, but I remember that he was striking and memorable, though many years older than I.

Time and again we visited. She chatted and I walked around the kiosk, looking at the work in the display and the easels around the centre structure. You see, Screamers was an airbrushing studio. It was also a tattoo parlour but I don’t remember if it was or wasn’t at the time that I met it. Foremost to my eager eyes was the airbrushing. In retrospect what was most unique about this small San Fernando airbrushing studio, was that it was a showcase for Leo’s artwork. Airbrushing was truly his medium and he was so good at it, he had made a living selling t-shirts and posters, that were sometimes recreations of images, but often times unique pieces of his own that had come out of his dreamy imagination. When I look back, I know that that was the first time I had ever seen real art in action or an authentic artist in action.

It was this more than anything that kept me coming back to Screamers. I loved looking at the work happen, so every time I was in the mall, I’d be sure to stop by, say hello and gaze, wide eyed at the work. Sometimes someone was just cutting out a stencil (where i learned doing it on glass was better than cardboard) but sometimes Leo was painting and I could see how he built up a piece. Eventually we started talking more and more as I asked about the work. It was my first look at process and execution.

Leo was neither shy or modest in his choice of subject matter. Though in an extremely visible place, Leo was not detracted from painting nude ladies against dreamlike landscapes. Another first, he was utterly unapologetic about what he did. Perhaps it was his sly smile that let him get away with it.

He was the first person to actually help me with my artwork. At school, when my work had nudes in them, people shied away or made fun of me. My art teacher taught me but she wasn’t of my era. Leo helped me and talked to me about colour and composition in a more visceral way. I remember him telling me that I was afraid to use white in paintings but that I needed it for reflections and then he’d show me on one of his pieces how he used white. He was right too for some reason to that point I had only used yellow for light. He did amazing work with water and underwater scenes. I never really learned how to get there myself, but I remember images of things he’d done over the years.

One time he vastly improved a drawing I did for that same girl who had taken me to the mall (brother’s girlfriend who was now his ex, though current girlfriend of a different brother). He looked at it with me and asked if he could tweak a couple of things. My drawing was ink on sepia paper. It was a depiction of a crescent moon with a woman sleeping on the moon’s curvature. He added highlights of colour to her dress and to the moon and background. His additions didn’t overshadow my work, it simply enhanced the scene. At that point I had never painted. I did extremely detailed pen and ink drawings, but had never thought of adding colour. I think after that I tried out some coloured pencil with the pen and ink but it really wasn’t the same. I didn’t start painting until I was 16 or 17.

I hung out at Screamers throughout my teenage years, until I moved to Canada. The store had changed locations  in the mall from being a kiosk to an actual store. It had also by this time gathered a following of teenage, misfit gawkers who invariably were rockers with no place else to congregate. Tattoos had become The thing and I equally loved seeing the prep work for the tattoos. By this time my best friend was also involved in the Screamers world and sometimes worked there – an additional reason to visit the shop.

I think Leo and I were also friends, though it’s hard to say in retrospect because we never talked about anything too personal. I was extremely comfortable around him, and though there was never any intent there, flirted shamelessly with him. He was and still is, I imagine, an extremely decent man who never took advantage of my naiveté. Instead he was always supportive and teasing. He was interested in my work and helped me in whatever way he could. When I went the way of gallery exhibits he was proud of me and still looked over my work when I brought it in.

We lost touch after I moved to Canada and the shop opened a second location in another mall and so Leo wasn’t in one place anymore. Gradually since I moved, I stopped visiting. I had heard over the years that he married someone from my high school graduating class and that they have a small brood of beautiful children. I haven’t seen him, maybe in a decade or more.

In the silent moments of this morning I remembered the girl on the crescent moon and the care Leo took of a young artist finding her way. I think about how unpretentious he was and how the big thing was the Work. His work was his livelihood and he was happy doing it. I have no idea about his life outside of the studio – but there I saw someone living fully. His work wasn’t in a gallery somewhere – but it remains some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve seen anywhere and it resides happily in my memory.

There are a lot more Screamers stories, but this is what came to me this morning as I waited for my daughter to fall back asleep. I wish I had said Thank you. Maybe I will one day.

Moments

As a creative person, I am my father in girl form. I’m not sure if I’ve become more like him, or if I’ve only now noticed. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing with the gadgets and ornaments I found around my dad’s study. When I had outgrown playing with his glass figurines, I would do my homework at his writing desk while he worked on his computer. His study was the perfect retreat because I was the only one who dared to disturb the peace of his sanctuary. His study was the most productive place to be because he had every article of stationary or tool one could ever need. Many of his tools are even self made for specific purposes.

When I was a little girl, my dad made various creative versions of christmas trees. I loved that. He made one out of chicken wire and toilet paper for a couple of years. It was way prettier than it sounds. It was my favourite tree. I attempted to make an origami something this year as a stand in for a christmas tree. It turned out being quite pretty though not very christmasy.

The process of making it and deciding on the materials to use reminded me so much of my dad. It really made me miss being home this year for Christmas. When I started making it, I realised that I already had all of the materials that I needed to make it. It appears that I’ve begun to create my own ‘study’ that is well stocked with art and craft tools of every variety I can think of.

I don’t know when I started trying to recreate his study, but its a place in my heart that I attempt to recreate wherever I live. It’s my base.

After making the hanging thing and cleaning out an art box, I came across some off-cut squares of watercolour paper I’ve had hanging around in my art storage for over 5 years now. I kept them thinking that they’d make lovely little ‘moments’ one day.

This holiday vacation, I used them all. I got out my stained watercolour brushes from my dad’s old orange tackle-box and got to work with the gouache paints he sent to me for christmas last year.

Today I sat reloading ink into my fountain pens (just like my dad taught me) and I realised that I owe him the biggest thank you. Thank you Da for making me who I am. I see you everyday in many of the things that I do, think and say. I’m older now I guess, so I can see it all much more clearly. You made me who I am and I’m not sure how to say thanks for that. But I’ll try anyway. I love you. Thank You.

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Natural Symmetry

Natural Symmetry, 10 x 14", ink & goache on paper

Natural Symmetry, 10 x 14″, ink & goache on paper

I’ve been thinking about incorporating colour into my mandalas for months. This is my first attempt at combining mandala and painting. The mediums used here are ink and goache on watercolour paper. Next time I’d like to try using coloured pencils with a mandala to see what’s possible with textures.

This piece considers symmetry found in nature alongside the symmetry of geometry and mathematics. I used the air plants here because of their unfurling nature and the markings on the geometric centre were inspired by the markings of butterfly wings.

A sneaky puppy

A sneaky puppy