Intentional Art Making

I could write a post about making and keeping New Year’s resolutions, but you have probably read about 30 of those already and I doubt I have anything new to add.  Suffice it to say my resolution is to make art every day in 2011.  I have my journals and sketchbooks all ready to go and everyday I will make art in at least one of them.  I prefer to think of this as my New Year’s intention, rather than my resolution.  Somehow trying to fit this goal within the framework of a resolution leaves it open to failure.  No one really expects to keep a resolution and no one will fault me if I don’t keep it.  But an intention means that it is something that I plan to do, that I am prepared to do, that I am committed to doing.

I am declaring my intention to art making because it is critical to my work as an art therapist.  I can’t state this strongly enough:  If you are an art therapist, you must make art on a regular basis.  It is part and parcel of who we are and what we do with our clients.  How can we proclaim the healing power of art when we do not partake ourselves?  Do we not also benefit from it?

Guilt is a strong motivator.  It absolutely should not be the reason you make art.   If it is the reason you are making art right now, take a step back and look at your motivations.  How can you cultivate an attitude of desire to make art, instead of having an attitude of fear if you don’t?  Don’t abandon your art making if guilt is driving it.  Instead, make some art about the guilt.  Examine your motives and use the power of art to help you clarify your intentions.  I guarantee that this will increase your motivation to make art and release you from the negative feelings.

Make art with love, with desire, with intent.  My New Year’s wish for you is that you will grow into your art making this year and that it will be a source of joy for you.


Biting off as much as you can chew

Being totally overwhelmed happens to the best of us.  It happens in art, it happens in life.  My momma always told me not to bite off more than I could chew.  My mantra is to take life in small manageable parts.  In the studio, this means setting small manageable goals and taking daily steps towards achieving them.

Today’s goal is to reflect and prepare.  As we approach the New Year, it is time for me to start thinking about the practical steps I need to take to enable my art making practice and process in the coming year.  I find that if I don’t have a deadline I don’t get anything done.  I am setting a deadline of Jan. 17 for a big writing project.  I am setting a daily deadline for working in my art journal.  I am setting a Jan. 31 deadline for making some decisions about taking art courses.  If I have time for computer games, I have time to make art!

Information gathering will be an important part of all of my upcoming deadlines.  What courses are available?  What paperwork needs to be completed?  Who should I contact?  What materials do I need?  I need to surround myself with all the necessary materials and information so that I can make wise decisions and proceed forward in an orderly manner.

What are you doing to prepare for the New Year?  What questions do you ask yourself?  What commitment are you making to ongoing art making and how will you fulfill it?  What steps, large and small, do you need to take to make art a part of your daily life?

The approach of the New Year is a natural time to reflect on all that has happened in the previous 356 days and get our ducks in a row for a fertile 2011.  Happy New Year and Happy Art Making!  I look forward to sharing our journey in the upcoming days.

Altered Books: The Sequel

You have found the perfect book to alter. Now what?  Time to make some decisions and do some prep work.  Is it a hardbound book such as a textbook or encyclopedia?  You may want to clamp off some sections so that you can do some cutout windows or add drawers.   If the cover of your book is glossy or it is a kid’s board book, you may need to rough up the surface so your media will stick.  I generally do this by covering it with gesso, sanding it or peeling off the glossy layer.

I try not to think too much about whether to do the cover first or how I am going to hold the book together thematically.  I prefer to let the process happen more organically.  The beauty of an altered book is you can skip around in it, you don’t have to work front to back.  I usually have several books that I am working in at the same time so that I can move back and forth between them.  This is helpful for two reasons:  it allows for drying time and it allows me to engage a number of different themes at the same time.

Only once have I made an altered book that was completely consistent with my original theme.  Using an old dictionary, I made a book about my grandmother and my relationship with her.  It includes a poem I wrote after her death, photographs, text, drawings, religious items, and prayer cards.  It is essentially complete, but I continue to add to it from time to time.  Usually I start a book with an idea in mind and let it evolve.  I started a book during a workshop with Bruce Moon that I intended to be about my work with clients.  Instead it ended up being about my relationship to a particular job and its’ challenges.   Another book started out as a “sample” that I used to demonstrate techniques during classes and workshops.  It grew to reflect my feelings about a bad breakup.

My point is this-let your book be about whatever it needs to be.  You may find that your ideas and feelings quickly change while you are working, inspired by the text and images that present themselves to you.  And if you find that you are getting a lot of new ideas, well just start another book!  One book does not have to contain everything, lean into the ideas and expand upon them in another book.

Perhaps you can start by making marks on several different pages, gluing down some magazine images, or writing out some text.  Don’t think about it too much.  Glue a large piece of fabric onto the cover and then start responding to that.  Do something radical so that you have something to bounce off of.  Staring at a blank page will get you nowhere.  Get your hands dirty and make the first mark.

In case you are already feeling stuck or overwhelmed, step back and do some prep work and organizing.  Cut up some magazines for text and images, gather some fabric and paper scraps, set up your work space.  Breathe.  And stay tuned for the next installment of Altered Books.

“We’re on a break.” Knowing when to pause in the process

They call it work for a reason.  I had the unexpected luxury of a 4 day weekend due to a holiday and a snowstorm.  I am trying to work in the studio again today but I am struggling.  The couch is calling me, the laundry needs to be done, the dishes are stacking up, snow needs to be shoveled.  My new altered book project is spread out before me, but I can’t get it together to work steadily on it.

I have been on an art making spree the past few days but am starting to hit the wall.  Motivation and enthusiasm are quickly waning.  I guess even fun can get old after a while.  It’s time to shift gears.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Isn’t this blog about encouraging you to make art at every opportunity?  Of course.  But it is also about the process, the whole process.  And today I am at a stage where I need to take a breather and focus on something else.  I still love what I am doing with this altered book, but it is becoming dangerously tedious.  There is something to be said for sticking with a tedious task, but I know myself well enough to know that is a recipe for disaster.  If I keep going with this process right now,  my distaste for it will grow.  Like any healthy relationship, my book and I need some space from each other right now.

I want to complete this book and my ideas for it just keep growing.  I am so excited about the concept and the look of it so far.  I am going to honor my excitement about it by setting it aside for a while.  When I come back to it, it will be with fresh eyes and renewed energy.  I may come back to it tonight, or maybe next week.  I am going to focus now on regenerating and organizing in order to clear my head.

You too can give yourself permission to take a break, walk away, give some space.  Anything focused on too intently for too long will go stale.  The best way I can take care of myself right now and protect my process is to complete some other tasks.  When I get some other monkeys off of my back, I know I will feel refreshed and ready to work again.  Not quitting here, just pausing in the process.  And that’s okay.

Altered Books: Getting Started

A quizzical look appears over most people’s faces when I tell them my art medium of choice is altered books.  Heck, it’s the very same look I get when I tell most people I am an art therapist!  What in the world is an altered book?  You mean you (gasp) write in books?  And cut them up?  And paint in them?  It’s blasphemy I tell you!  Books are sacred and should never be tampered with, right?  Well, I beg to differ.

What if the book is headed to the landfill?  You probably have a stash of books somewhere that you will never read again.   You donate them to the library or church sale, but what happens to the ones that don’t sell?  I am talking about old textbooks, remaindered books, much-loved kid’s board books.  These books don’t have any inherent worth except their status as books.  I do have the good sense not to alter a valued book, whether it is valued by me or by Ebay.  The books I alter are the leftovers headed for the recycling bin.  So why not recycle them into the canvas for my art?

Once you can get over your hang-ups about marking in a book, you are ready to embark on a creative journey.  I use both hard-bound books and kid’s board books.  Textbooks, encyclopedias, and dictionaries are rich sources of text and image.  Board books offer a variety of sizes, shapes and even sounds.  Hard-bound books lend themselves to cut-0uts, drawers, paper weaving and pockets.  Board books are great for  more aggressive painting and sanding and can withstand lots of layers and 3D items.

The subject of the book can dictate the content of your artwork or you can cover over all the text and image and just use the book as a holding device for your own text and image.   Yesterday, during my gift to myself of an uninterrupted day in the studio, I started an ambitious project using a set of old encyclopedias.  I am allowing the words on the spine of the book to dictate the theme of my artwork.  The first one has “housefly” on the spine.  A housefly is a pretty common thing.  It made me start thinking about other common things and I decided to fill a book with every common thing I could come up with.  I posted a challenge on Facebook to list the first 3 common things that come to your mind.  I now have a long list that includes salt, cloth, tears, soap and trash.

I am stamping and embossing each word onto a page of the encyclopedia.  Only 382 pages to go!  I will then add images and text related to each word. This is only the first of about 20 books.  I have no idea where it will all end up but I am excited about this challenge I have set for myself.   This book and this series are the largest I have undertaken, but I am ready for a big project.

So come along on this altered book journey with me!  Look around for a  suitable book but one word of caution:  do not use a book you have any attachment to.  I have a volume from my Grandmother’s set of encyclopedias but I would never alter it because it has far too much sentimental value.  You need a book you can cut up and write in with abandon.  No tip-toeing allowed!  Stay tuned for lots of ideas for how to alter your book!

Giving yourself the gift of art making

I strongly believe in giving myself gifts.  Not to say that I spend oodles of money on this, rather that I give myself the gifts of rest, good food, time with friends, and pursuit of pleasurable activities.  On a warm summer afternoon, I might give myself the gift of finishing off the stack of books piling up on my nightstand.  On a snowy winter day, not unlike today, I am giving myself the gift of time to focus on art making.  The whole day spreads before me and I intend to use most of it to start a new altered book.

Do you give yourself gifts?  A reward for all of your work and dedication to others?  If you wait to receive the perfect gift, you could be waiting a very long time.  So why not give it to yourself?  It’s a win-win.  You get exactly what you want when you want it.

Personal art making is the perfect gift.  You can feed yourself with the multiple rewards that come with engaging in the creative process.  You get some instant gratification, which doesn’t come along all that often in this life.  You have a tangible product in your hands that you can admire, reflect upon, display, or give as a gift.   And best of all, you just feel better.

Give yourself the gift of art making today.  Carve out some time from the hubbub of the holidays to engage in a reflective process and feed yourself.  You deserve it.

Trusting the process, even if you feel like you don’t have one

My process is all over the map.  Sometimes I have clear ideas about a project and find it easy to gather materials and start working.  Other times I just need to work and the initial stages are a time of random exploring.  I find that art making at times can be a special brand of torture.  I have to force myself to keep going.  But when the flow sets in-ah, now that is heaven.  I rarely get from Point A to Point B in an orderly and relaxed manner.  There are fits and starts, curses and probably too many breaks taken.

My typical self-dialogue goes like this:  Hmm.  I should make some art.  I don’t really feel like it and I don’t have any ideas but I should do it.  I have to stop shoulding myself.  Just get out some materials.  Oh, I really don’t feel like doing this.  Just get out some stuff and mess around.  Make a mark, any mark will do.  I have to have something to work against, make a mark already.  Ooo, that looks pretty cool, now we’re cooking.  What if I smear that?  What if I add a watercolor wash?  Time to add some layers.  I am going to scratch away at that area and see what’s underneath.  Ok, I have worked for a while, time to look at it from across the room.  Now I am going to look at it from every angle and see what else it needs.  Does the composition hold up when I look at it upside down?  I am going to walk away from it for a little while and come back with fresh eyes.  Wow, it is really starting to click.  What if I…..?  Oh my gosh, wow, I love it!  (I am now flooded with euphoria).

Now this is if the process goes well.  Sometimes the self-dialogue consists of statements like “this is crap.”  This logically leads to bouts of self-recrimination and the serious belief that if my art is crap, I must be crap too.  This is not a fun train to be on.  If you find yourself on it, get off immediately.  Here is where the beauty of the art making process comes in.  Stay with the feeling, stay with the art.  Keep going and find a way to transform it.  Do something radical to the piece.  You hate it anyway so you really can’t mess it up, right?  Trust that it will work itself out, this is what it means to trust the process.

Pay attention to your own self-dialogue about art making.  Are you defeating yourself with it before you ever get into the studio?  Does it fuel your work in a positive way?  How can you transform your dialogue so that is a source of energy and ideas instead of self-doubt and recriminations?

Trust the process.  Trust that you have one, whether you think you do or not.  Trust that everything will work out in the end.  Lean into your fears and see what images emerge.

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