January 29, 2006 · piggy little

I know, I know… I have been really very bad and awful about updating this thing recently. I would probably feel ever so guilty about it if i wasn’t so busy busting the button on my jeans here. But I just cooked and then ate the most delicious dinner (if I do say so myself). Apple stuffed pork loin with apples sauteed in cinnamon on the side. Plus sauteed leek, and roasted potatoes and parsnips. And to really up the ante, yorkshire puddings. Yum. Now I am all round and pink and ready for market.

Aside from stuffing myself silly (and slopping substantially on my crisp white shirt), today’s been sort of slow and soggy. Rain, rain and more rain. For awhile, it was kinda nice. laying in bed with the wolf at my feet, thumbing thru the Sunday paper and listening to the rain wash through the gutters and splash on the window. And then it just became grey and achey. sigh. Balance is such a difficult thing to attain in January. I promise myself I will do better in February. And also that I will give up my rather insidous addiction to Lowney’s Bridge Mixture which is like chocolate covered crack with assorted centers, some of them jellied!

I am woefully behind with the whole Artist’s Way thing. Really, they should boot me out. I wouldn’t blame them. I have been doing the morning pages regularly, but that’s it. I’ve done none of the exercises and less of the reading. The thing is… it would be much easier to really get behind this Artist’s Way thing if I wasn’t so busy being an artist (and chowing down on the Bridge Mixture.) I still can’t tell you about that big project I’ve been wanting to tell you about, but there was work to be done there. And other smaller design projects with itsy bitsy really short deadlines to get done.

And I dunno… the days have been just whipping by. Some of them have even had sunshine in them, and the wolf and I have been doing our utmost to get out in it and gobble down all the rays we possibly can. Sometimes while we’re out gobbling the sun, I compose the most amazing posts in my head. But I get back here to my computer and the phone rings. Or there’s an errand i have to run. Or work I have to do. And the amazing post slips out my ear and drops all over the carpet in novelty shaped confetti bits which the Handsome Guy later vacumns up in his frequent attempts to keep the filth at bay. You know how it goes. sigh.

And now I must bid you adieu. The wolf has a brand new tennis ball and I am apparently obliged to partcipate in the worship of it in all its’ cheap yellow fluffiness.

5 Comments so far
January 23, 2006 · election day

Hello, my lovelies. This is just a brief little post to remind you that if you are Canadian, that you’ve got to get out there and vote! Don’t forget! It’s really, really important! Vote, vote, vote!!!

I have my own feverently held political beliefs, of course, but this post is not about getting on my soapbox. I just want you to participate in your democracy, to express yourself and utilize your democratic right to vote for the leadership of our incredible country. But…. on a personal note.. I know there is a great hunger for change in this country, but stop and think for a second. Just how dramatic a change do we want? Be careful with your vote. Please use it to protect the freedoms of the entire population. Use it to help protect our environment and our economy, our national unity and our healthcare system. Because without those things, Canada just wouldn’t be Canada. Vote with your heart. Vote because it’s the right thing to do.

10 Comments so far
January 18, 2006 · flurry down

the rain has suddenly turned to snow… big fluffy clumpy snow that is melting the second it contacts anything more solid than air but, man… it is snowing like it means it! Like it just can’t get down fast enough. Watching it from my bathroom window, a Vitamin C lozenge melting orange sunshine on my tongue, I noticed that a few snowflakes seemed to hover uncertainly, pausing, then scooching up a few centimeters as if they’d lost their flight plan in the frantic flurry down and were asking the other snowflakes, “Um, Dude! Which way again?! I forgot!” before continuing the mad scramble.

7 Comments so far
 · mel goes a-moping

There is great irony in the fact that when I wrote the post below? I wasn’t feeling too, too January. I was actually feeling alright. But now? uh… Now a great greyness has descended on the land and the greyness has brought with it buckets of cold rain, sometimes freezing rain, and a darkness so complete that I have to keep the lights on all day. Sigh. And i’m headachey and grumpy and hungry for bad carbs.

To quote Leonard Cohen, a man who knows his mope: “I ache in the places where I used to play….”

Bah. Is it June yet?!

2 Comments so far
January 16, 2006 · Waging War

January is cruel. January is dangerous. January is a minefield. And oooo, people. It is so January in my neck of the woods. It’s so very, very January.

The way I look at it, January is all about self-preservation. January is about picking your way across, looking neither too much to the left or too much to the right, conscious that every footfall could be your last . Staying focused, staying alert, staying ever vigilant to the creeping horror and paranoia that can seize you at any minute, that snipes mercilessly at you from an unseen distance.

So far I’ve managed to negotiate my way halfway thru without blowing off any limbs or digits. And this is good. This is very good. I just might make it, after all. I might get all the way across this vast month, to the otherside, where I will throw up my beret (helmet?) in Mary Tyler Moore-type exhaultation (which, yes, flies in the face of my battlefield analogy here, I know, but whatever…). But I must guard against getting too cocky here… Let’s remember, February ain’t much better.

I find myself performing a complicated sort of triage, grouping all my activities and thoughts into three distinct heaps.

Heap One: … thoughts and activities that I can survive without too much difficult, that will only cause minor abrasion of the spirit. In this first group, I lump the ongoing federal election campaign (for those not Canadian: we here in this great northern nation are headed back to the polls on January 23 to elect our governing party and a Prime Minister again. whee!) with the side-sniping ads and articles nattering at me from daily from the newspaper and the television, the extreme effort it is to get myself back into work mode after a long break when all I really want to do is crawl back in bed, the grinding dailyness of dailyness, and all the utterly inane trials of living in the modern world…

Then there is Heap Two: The heap of things which will grievously wound, will likely require medical attention, but with a little luck, are completely surviveable. Here, we find such things as the weather (grey and montonous, sometimes rainy and windy and today, breath-takingly cold), the constant list that nags at the back of my head reminding me of things to do and not done, things that have been ignored too long, things neglected and sour, things done badly, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, underclad celebrities of all stripes, lack of anything decent to rent at the videostores, household chores like laundry and floor washing (though dusting and vacumning can be very therapeutic!) the Golden Globes heralding the beginning of another boring award season (although Jon Stewart on the Oscars should be a hoot), total lack of inspiration when it comes to daily meals.

Then there is Heap Three: Heap Three is awful. Heap Three is fatal. Heap Three is to be avoided at all costs. This includes news stories and PETA/World Fund commercials about abused/endangered animals of any sort, any book which has the potential to suck me in completely, being all wonderfully well-written and stuff, but which deals with anything more painful than dying your hair green by accident (I’m thinking specifically of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I bought it with a gift card my brother had given me for Christmas, devoured three pages of it, then abrubtly tossed it aside in favour of Anne of Green Gables for the 99th time when I realized it was going to be chock a block with excruciatingly painful truisms which would have me weeping copiously. I’ll pick it up later… in like, say, May), liver and onions and any foods vaguely resembling liver and onions or in any way reminiscent of liver and onions or wafts vaguely of liver and onions, aromas which are bleak and cabbage-like, and finally, those chronically negative people that we all know. The ones who seem to relish being chronically negative. You know them. We all do… those harsh whining critics of all things light and frothy, the ones who wallow year round in their own waste, mewling their poor me-isms round the clock, infecting you with their black anger like some kind of unkillable fungal infection. In any other month, I can deal with them… but in January? No. No way, man. It’s a proposition too deadly, too dangerous, too immediate.

I have an arsenal that I keep at my side at all times whilst (whilst!) I do battle with January. This year, my weapons of choice are: Pink Lady apples (mmm!), abundant and fresh flowers (a must!), a recipe for Apple Cake with Hot Lemon Sauce that I haven’t made yet, may not make, but I pour over anyway, savouring the moist, hot thought of it, multi-colored stripety socks with puffy puppy faces attached at the ankles (thanks, Mom!), pumpkin spice candles and tealights aplenty, Anne of Green Gables (my all-time fave book about the most wonderful freckled critter in all of literary creation), movies in the vein of “Sense and Sensibility” which send my husband scuttling for cover (or the gaming console), chocolate, hot and not, and more, more chocolate, long, long, LOOONG walks with the wolf, and my “Bark Box”, a shoe box filled with strips of birch bark that I have rescued from the wild (always from dead, fallen trees… removing bark from live trees can wound them, or even kill them). Not sure what I’m gonna do with my box o’ bark yet, but the fact I have a burgeoning box of bark fills me with glee.

And colourful, whimisical, well-written blogs like this one: Posie Gets Cozy

Time to share now! How have you armed yourself to fight the winter blues?!!

11 Comments so far
January 9, 2006 · The Magic Eightball

This week, I’m working on concepts, character development, for a great big shiny new project I hope to nail down (I’ll go into further detail about it if I get the job after the concepts are presented. Fingers crossed!) and that got me thinking about my “process” and that in turn got me thinking about one of the sessions Johnny TeeVee attended last summer at the broadcast design conference in NYC (put on by “ProMaxBDA”) It was called “The Creative Process: The Psychology of Creativity” by Dr. Chris Stevens ( I know! like John Corbett’s character on Northern Exposure! How cool is that!) and we talked about it for hours over dinner afterwards.

At the outset of our discussion, Johnny TeeVee asked me the same question that Dr. Stevens asked the PromaxBDA group: “When do you come up with your best ideas?”

Instantly I answered, “In the bathtub. Or when I’m out in the park walking Finny. Or just about to fall asleep.”

All newly educated on the psychology of creativity, Johnny TeeVee nodded knowingly. “Yes, exactly, because that’s when you are most relaxed.”

He went on to explain that according to Dr. Steven’s, creativity is a “higher order” process and as such, is particularly susceptible to stress and strain. For example, studies have shown repeatedly, that with pronounced sleep deprivation, creativity is one of the first things to go.

Think about it… when you’re under a great deal of stress … physical as in the case of being sleep deprived, or psychologically stressed as when you are facing an eminent deadline and are stuck for an idea or your computer hard drive decides to blow in the midst of a big project or whatever… just how creative are you? The answer is easy; you’re not. You’re not creative at all. You’re too busy thinking about how your boss/client is going to kill you or how hard you heart/head is pounding and you’re immediate response is to either impode, throw your computer out the window, lay on the floor and cry, or go on automatic pilot and resort to old tired and true, but probably not very original or creatively challenging solutions.

Or you give up.

And actually, Dr. Stevens argues, it is the giving up that can be your saving grace. Because as long as you are blocked and panicked about it, the creative solution you are reaching for is always just out of your reach. But the moment you give up… really and truly give up… turn away from the computer, shrug and resign yourself to whatever cruel fate you imagine is going to come your way as a result of your failure… then all those stress hormones start to subside and your systems start to level out. And then comes the Eureka! moment.

It is true, what they say, it is always darkest before the dawn.

Dr. Stevens essential arguement was that most creative agencies operate in such a way that they create, whether they mean to or not, a state of emergency all the time which is actually imparing the high order functions necessary to produce good creative work. The basic objective of his talk at the PromaxBDA conference was to encourage all the attendees (all creative media industry professionals, most of them, like Johnny Teevee, in roles that require supervising other creatives ) to rethink the way they work and the environment they provide for their employees.

Just before Christmas, one of my regular clients called me about a last minute job that I literally had like two hours available to do. I was completely panicked and would have normally would have declined the job on the basis that there just wasn’t enough time for me to do it, but her back was really against the wall and I really like her… so i grudgingly agreed. but when i sat down at the computer, my mind wiped clean. I could feel the blood pounding behind my eyeballs, my heart palpitating, the pressure of the seven million other things I had to get done that day weighing on my shoulders… and I could not think. At. All. My design mojo completely abandoned me. Tick tock went the clock and all I could come up with was crap. I churned out the most god-awful designs and shipped them out, tasting the bile of self-loathing in the back of my throat. But the minute I hit send and decided to shrug the whole experience off (”What could she possibly expect in two hours?”), I suddenly had three perfectly lovely concepts in my head.

Within 30 minutes I was able to send her those perfectly lovely concepts to replace the drek I had produced in my hours of panic. The results weren’t exactly genius, but they were light years beyond my first results.

I couldn’t have asked for any clearer evidence that Dr. Stevens knows exactly what he is talking about than that.

Which brings us back to my “process”, the way I work now. Working for myself as a freelance illustrator and designer, I rarely find myself caught in the position I just described above… mainly because I don’t allow it. I have learned from hard experience that it is sooo not worth it, even if you are charging for a rush job. It’s too hard on me physically and mentally and it does not produce good results. Rarely am I proud of anything I produce under those circumstances.

The way I try to work now goes something like this: My client contacts me about a job and I ask a number of questions and get the basic idea of what they are after, the mood, the job specs (black and white, line work, four colour illustrations, type only, must include this logo or that phrase, aimed at this demographic, these colors, whatever), throwing out ideas just to get a dialogue going and get a feel for what I’m being asked to do.

Most often, particularly in the case of illustration work, I start seeing the image in my head even as the client is talking, but I try not to let myself get hung up on it. I try to stay open to other possibilities. The first idea is not always the best one (Although, I have to add that for me, I often end up returning to my first idea anyway, probably 7 out of ten times. This runs counter to what my instructors were always preaching in art school. The first idea is rarely The One, they lectured.)

I collect all the information I need to get started on a concept… I read it all a couple of times, make notes, request more information if I need it. I try to pinpoint the most important aspect of the job, what it is intended to communicate. Then I walk away from it for a day or two or three. I just let it slip from the forefront of my brain and go on about the rest of my life.

I have found over the ages, that if I start working right then, if I start sketching or sit down in front of my computer, I can’t produce anything. I just get stuck and frustrated. And the more I get stuck and frustrated, the more elusive the solution is.

But when i walk away from it, it comes back to me in my quiet moments. I turn it over and examine it in my mind, puzzling through the way to work it, but in a relaxed, easy way in which I don’t feel pressured. Usually, the image surfaces in my mind, fully formed, while I’m soaking up to my ears in the bathtub. Sometimes it seems to literally imprint itself on the bathtub tiles, it’s that vivid. I have likened it before to a magic eightball… when the answer is ready, it just comes bubbling up from the bottom of that impenetrable liquid, full formed.

Usually then I will do so quick sketches. Sometimes, depending on the time of day the idea surfaces, I just sit down and start the final drawings (I always draw everything first, even if I plan to do an illustration digitally. Always. I need the contact of my hand with the pencil and paper to create… there’s a certain tangible connection I need to create that I can’t replicate n the computer. If I’m working digitally, I will scan the pencil sketch in and work overtop of it.)

Almost immediately then, I’m in what I call “the Zone”. It’s a weird state. I’m completely relaxed and yet incredibly focused at the same time. My mind is both busy and completely blank. It’s amost like something else takes over, some alien being takes the controls and I’m just along for the ride. It’s one of my favourite places to be.

If I can’t get into the Zone after 30 minutes of effort, I know it’s useless. I’m not ready. And so I walk away and go do something different (make the bed, start dinner, take Finny J. out for her walk, eat lunch, have a bath, go to the gorcery store… whatever) until the images start surfacing in the magic eight ball of my imagination again. Then I sit down and try again.

Turns out that my process, according to Dr. Stevens, is more or less the ideal way to go about the business of being creative. Who knew?

My process, of course, was hashed out over the course of my lifetime. It evolved pretty much instinctually and really, I didn’t give it alot of concrete, formal thought until that day in NYC when Johnny TeeVee shared his new knowledge. But I have found myself returning to the idea over and over since, wanting to know more. It fascinates me. And knowledge is power, right? Knowledge can only help me improve and better myself as an artist and a communicator.

So I find myself wanting to know more, more and more about how others work creatively. What’s your process? Care to share? I guarantee you, you’ll have my undivided attention! And adoration to boot.

9 Comments so far
January 7, 2006 · Blogging the Artist’s Way

Generally, I have to say I’m not a big joiner. This is because I’m kinda ornery and independent and truth be known, if I’m not being paid to be responsible (and I am VERY responsible when I’m being paid for my work!), I can be kinda unreliable. It’s a true failing of mine. It’s not that I don’t want to be reliable… I do! I really, really do! I wish I was the kind of person who always replied immediately to e-mail, who sent out birthday greetings and Christmas cards faithfully and on time, who always called when she said she would, etc. etc. But, somehow, despite all that desire, I’m just not. I know this about myself, I’ve more or less accepted it, but still… I hate to disappoint other people if I commit to something and then don’t follow through. So I tend to offer my support and encouragement in other ways, but I don’t necessarily join up and participate.

However, I’ve decided to “Blog the Artist’s Way” and actively participate. At least, I will give it a shot. I’ve had the Artist’s Way sitting on my bedside table, largely untouched, for three years now. I’ve picked it up, I’ve thumbed thru the pages, I even did morning pages three days in a row once…. but then I abandoned it. It just never quite “took” with me. I guess, in part, there was a sort of arrogance in me that insisted that ‘hey, I’m already an artist, I don’t need a book to tell me that’. I guess I sort of thought it was for “other people,” those who struggle with their creativity and trying to express it.

But every artist, I’m sure… or at least the ones I know, struggle at some point, wrestle with self doubt. And lately, I’ve been finding myself up to my ears in self-doubt. I blame it on my latest effort to formally compile my portfolio here. I’ve been pawing through all my work, recent and ages old, and it’s brought home alot of issues that fester under the surface.

Sometimes, I look at my work, the various images produced through all manner of media over the span of my artistic life, and I’m really proud of it and I think “wow, what do you know? I’m good.” But most of the time? Most of the time I think they are crap and I can’t look at them without this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m a big hack, that I’m totally faking this whole thing and living in some fantasy world where I will one day be this great illustrator. It doesn’t matter than I have a degree in Visual Communication, that I’ve won this award for my writing or that competiton for my illustration, that there are four books circulating out there in the world filled with my illustrations, or that my clients have almost uniformally been delighted with my work. The doubt lingers regardless. Sometimes the doubt shouts. Sometimes it sits curled deep in my ear and whispers slyly, sibilantly. Sometimes it disappears… but never for very long. And I spend a great deal of time beating myself up about what I should have done with this project or that project instead of what I actually did do (often long after a project is complete). I feel guilty about time wasted, talent left unrealized. I’m such a perfectionist that it makes it hard to look back on anything I did more than a day ago and just not see every little flaw… and yet, there’s another part of me that yearns to just be loose, raw, free and break away from my perfectionistic tendancies, knowing that in “imperfection” lies true genius and originality. It’s an endless and frankly unproductive cycle.

And I think it’s high time I let go of some of that, don’t you?

So when I heard about Kat’s shining effort to create a supportive environment to do the Artist’s Way course on line, it struck me as being complete serendipity. Of course, I immediately started fumbling for excuses… I don’t have the time, I won’t follow through, I don’t really need to do this, blah, blah, blah. But something deeper spoke within me and insisted that in fact, yes, this is something I need to do. And I have all the tools already, I just need to make the time, take the effort and isn’t this exactly what I’ve been promising myself I would do, year after year… completely commit myself to a creative life?

And so there it is… and here I go!

I’m not sure yet how much of my actual AW experience I will write about here… let’s just see how it evolves. But posts that are AW related will be marked with the same icon that marks this entry.

13 Comments so far
January 5, 2006 · the flavour of the day

cupcake detail
Illustration Friday: Flavour

Truthfully, I hadn’t really intended the illo up there as an Illustration Friday submission. Rather, I was trying to break-in my new sketchbook. But as it turns out, the I-Fri theme this week is “flavour” and I think this qualifies. Not that today is exactly cupcake-flavoured. No. It is dark and gloomy and grey. It has been dark and gloomy and grey for weeks on end. Weeks and weeks and weeks. All the snow has melted benneath waves of cold, cold rain and on the wolf walk yesterday, all I could think about is how the trees looked like giant medieval instruments of torture, jutting out of the fog with their stabbity points, their trunks stained black with rain and evil intention. Today, it wasn’t nearly as foggy and gloomy. In fact, though overcast, it was the brightest it’s been in days and days and days. But the relative brightness was short-lived. By 3:oo this afternoon, I was forced to turn on some lamps, just so I could manoveur safely around the house.

Much as I hate to admit it, the unrelenting grey is beginning to cloud my (normally upbeat) mood. I’ve resorted to forcing myself to concentrate on the most cheerful things possible. And what could possibly be more cheerful than a cupcake? All frothy and snug in one of those fluted little cups… maybe pink, or yellow or soft powdery blue. A cupcake topped with a jaunty cherry, or tossed all over with circus colored sprinkles. Or hundreds of thousands as the Brits say. I even spent some delightful minutes perusing the sites of well-known cupcake bakeries, imagining myself indulging in one or two or six without the merest hint of guilt. Bookmarked for our return visit to NYC next summer: Magnolia Bakery (of Sex in the City fame) and the Buttercup Bake Shop which has its’ flagship store in Midtown Manhattan and will likely be easier to get to than Magnolia in the West Village.

Applauding myself for being so incredibly clever (ha!), I decided that i would do a quick cupcake-themed spread in my sketchbook. The point was to be quick about it, loose. I gave myself a time limit of 30 minutes from start to finish and dug out my paints, pawed through my “scrap box” for jaunty collage bits. It’s really not as loose or as raw as I would like it to be, but at least I’ve managed to edge passed that blank book block. Baby steps. This is the final spread (well, 3/4’s of it anyway):

cupcake spread

15 Comments so far
January 1, 2006 · All’s Quiet on New Year’s Day

lovely design journalDownstairs, I can hear Johnny Laughtrack chortling manically over an episode of Arrested Development. I love listening to him watching television hilarity. He has a special laugh… a whoop almost, interspersed with a sort of strangled giggle… that he reserves only for televison. It’s impossible to describe, but completely contagious. I find myself snickering along, even though I have no idea what he’s on about. It’s New Year’s Day eve and I have just finished eating a bowl of popcorn for dinner. Don’t worry… this is maybe a once a year thing. I normally eat nice, healthy meals for dinner. But tonight, all I really wanted was popcorn. Odd, too, because normally we don’t even have popcorn in the house. But when I went and did our quickie weekend shopping on Thursday afternoon, I was suddenly enticed by the sight of Jiffy Pop sitting on the store shelves. I used to love Jiffy Pop when I was a kid, watching the tinfoil tent puff up into an unlikely stack, full to bursting, like some strange space age cactus or egg about to hatch. But inevitably, Jiffy Pop always comes out 3/4’s scorched, so I grabbed a box of microwave popcorn instead. And it made for a perfectly satisfying dinner.

Today has had an almost melancholy feel to it, as New Year’s Day almost always does. A sleepy, sort of Sunday vibe made all the more pronounced by the fact it is (A) Sunday and (B) both snowy and foggy outside. The sky was so clouded and thick and white, that looking at the snow-covered rooftops outside my studio window, it was almost impossible to discern where the roofline ended and the sky began. Only the dark squares of furnace vents gave it away.

All day, I’ve been thinking I should do something creative. I have picked up my new sketchbook from Lovely Design (a birthday present from Johnny Giggles) about 20 times today, and put it down again. Why do I find new sketchbooks so daunting?! It takes me forever to finally gather the courage to scar the perfect blankness. That’s how i think of it, I guess… as marring the white perfection. And the paper in the Lovely Sketchbook is so wonderful… all different sheets of recyled paper. I have wanted one for two years now and now that I have it, I’m afraid to mess it up. I’m usually okay once I get started… it’s just the intial scratches. Maybe tomorrow…

Right now, it’s time for a bubblebath. Actually, in my mind, it’s almost always time for a bubblebath.

6 Comments so far