The Genie is Out of the Bottle

Digital illustration (BW): Grinning Genie 1It would be hard to imagine a person who is less the early adopter than I am. Newness frightens me even under the best of circumstances, and I am intimidated beyond words at the idea of trying to learn anything. Worst possible example for anyone’s edification when it comes to scholarship, growth, adventure, futurism, daring, and tireless commitment to progress of any sort. I’m the one you’ll find huddled somewhere in the shady corner as far back of the starting blocks as I can manage to be, while everyone else is already sprinting gleefully into the turn.

Chalk it up, pretty succinctly, to fear. My self-diagnosis, summing up my own observations and experiences with the insights of better educated therapist and doctor supporters over my lifespan, is that the recipe made by my own ingredients of personality, health, situation and resources tends to combine into a person who’s timid and easily defeated. Add a dollop of laziness to my already potent blend of anxiety, dyslexia and other perceptive and receptive oddities, and my lack of physical strength and grace, not to mention of any sort of courage, and you get an unwillingness, even a very stubborn one, to set foot into new territories, whether actual or metaphorical.


When I feel I can experiment safely and without anyone else observing me at work, I may occasionally delve into something new with a surprising (to me, at least) sense of play and eagerness. Though I’ve resisted the idea of learning to use any new forms of technology, at least until they’re far from new anymore on a general scale, even these can be both useful and entertaining if and when I finally get up the gumption to try them. So here I am, finally, fiddling around with the iPad as an artistic medium. On our recent week’s jaunt to Puerto Rico, the iPad provided a convenient way to reduce the weight and size of my baggage from the old laptop I have lugged around for the last five years, and while I found it slightly irksome to peck at the tiny integrated keypad on it to write posts, it did work for that, and as long as I used newly made images or ones in my stream of digitally stored photos, I could plug in illustrations as well. Photos taken on my iPad or iPhone do not impress me much, and I find both a bit awkward to use at this point. But with a new set of digital drawing/painting toys, I’m distracted from any such photographic and textual shortcomings by the process of teasing out the secrets of each art-related program.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 2

Once introduced to this plaything, of course, I loosen up and lose my inhibitions gradually. Knowing that after years of such untutored play with various iterations of Photoshop, I still only use a hundredth of the possible functions and tools it offers—and those, probably, in wildly incorrect and inefficient ways—I can only imagine that there will be exponentially more things I can learn and do, as well as fail to learn and do, with these newer tools and toys. But at least I’ve managed to wiggle my recalcitrant self into trying them, for a start.Digital illustration: Grinning Genie 3

New is Not Necessarily Improved

digital illustrationWhat is it about commercial enterprise and marketing that says we need to change everything on a regular basis and that everything newer is better? Have we not looked in the mirror lately?!

Aside from the obvious danger in believing that every tweak a company makes to its products is an actual improvement of it in form or function rather than a logical step toward getting us to buy more from them, there’s the problem of how easily we are led astray by our own hubris. What we see as innovation and a natural extension of expertise that comes with our getting older, more advanced and practiced does not, in my experience guarantee that no further missteps and mistakes will occur. Why, a flood of examples comes instantly to mind. Every era, and every single object conceived and invented and designed in that era, has connections to spectacular failures and dismal disappointments in this regard.

Being lazy and spoiled, I’ll happily replace perfectly repairable things with prettier, shinier ones some of the time, but even in my privileged state I am capable of looking at my briefcase, thinking that I wish it had a strap that made it hug the handle of my rolling travel bag, imagining what it would take in time, money and effort to shop for another and find one that I really liked as well as I like this simple briefcase but had such a strap and then pay what would likely be an exorbitant price for it and thinking instead, ‘what do I have on hand from which I could make a suitable strap that I could then attach to my favorite little briefcase?’ The answer to which real-life question was a length of wide grosgrain ribbon, lapped fourfold end to end and stitched into one heavy piece now the width of the case and hand-sewn onto it. It’s not fancy, but it’s unobtrusive and cost me only a little labor, and by golly, it works.

Not that I intend to make my own replacements for, say, outmoded electronics when they no longer work. Because my new versions would be guaranteed to be failures, given my complete lack of knowledge or skill or anything related to them in the world of electronics, and I would have lots of nonfunctional electronics, a lot of things not done that should have been done, and a bunch of annoyed people around me wishing I’d just suck it up and get the equipment that would put me back on track. I am an accomplished fantasist, but I don’t go so far as to delude myself that I can make everything better than it is in its current form.

Not all upgrades are legit. Some of them are full of bugs or their new formats are not nearly as appealing and user-friendly as their predecessors’. Not all growth is positive. Noxious weeds grow, after all, and so does the hair on my chinny-chin-chin, which as you can imagine is not nearly as cute as it might sound in the Little Pigs’ tale.

Yet ranting about it is pointless other than as a vent. And much more good than ill comes from change and growth, it’s true. As a tiny example, while today’s pictorial illustration may not be high art by any stretch, it was made by using a combination of tools that I’ve only recently begun to embrace, and it was fun to make. An end in itself? No, and far from ideal and flawless as a Thing; I have new methods and am beginning to work on a new set of skills to use them and improve them, but I’ve a long way to go. But I don’t have to be all better, i.e., perfect, for the process to be worthwhile and the me that’s also in progress is an improvement if only because I am working on making change. I am happy when I can get up the nerve at any point to learn, to try, or yes, to become anything that I am not already firmly entrenched in being, because it’s worth striving to improve even–maybe especially–when the odds are against it. My evolution will always be slow and full of sideways and backwards steps, but I’m pretty sure it beats stasis.

In Search of Tech-Know Progress


colored markers on paperWhen I post drawings, they almost always require a digital tweak or ten to be clean and sharp enough for putting up on view. Most of the time, it’s merely the need for getting rid of visible dust and scratches or evening out the tone across the piece to more accurately reflect the appearance of the original, stuff like that. Even a direct high-definition scan doesn’t eliminate all of the little oddities.

No doubt there are endless ways to do what I do to the images much more simply and cleverly and efficiently. But having as little technological skill and wisdom as I have, I must content myself with doing in a hundred steps what others can do in ten. At least until I have the time, the money and the gumption to get the necessary education, anyway.

Still, slow and ambling and rambling as I am, I get the occasional urge to mess around with the existing drawing and manipulate it further digitally. Silly, yes, given that it takes me eons to do the first drawing part and a multitude more ages to do anything further via the digital medium. But you know how these things are: inspiration or perspiration, it’s all a command one has to obey once the Muse prods me in that direction. Here’s last night’s drawing (above), followed by the series of phases I put it through today. That is all. For image

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Doodle Bug

pen & inkI would like to state for the record that I am not, nor have I ever been, to my knowledge, an actual doodlebug, either zoologically or as a rolling or flying vehicle, a dowsing rod, or a method of seismic activity tracking. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those. And it’s probably safe to say that my garden and numerous dimly lit corners of my home are probably full of living and dead pill bugs (what we used to call potato bugs when I was growing up), and I confess to thinking it highly amusing that these creatures are in fact tiny crustaceans that live right in my house and look like–indeed, are scientifically named after–armadillos. House Armadillos or Domestic Crustaceans, either way kind of weirdly cool in my estimation.

But I digress.

What I am is one of the many humanoids prone to doodling. And that’s not a bad thing, either. Doodling (or randomly scribbling on whatever is handy, usually a cocktail serviette or textbook or office paperwork or top-secret legal document, depending upon one’s status and age and current supposed activities) often leads, though many a grade school teacher would vigorously deny it, to thinking. And on occasion at least, thinking is not an entirely bad thing.

Whenever I’m struggling to get a piece of writing, a drawing, or frankly, any other project underway, there are few motivational tools that compare with doodling. The serendipitous or random mark that merely records a purportedly thoughtless and pointless motion of the hand can sometimes come to resemble an actual Something, and well, Something almost always leads to Something Else. In drawing as in life, just getting in there and starting, whether I’m ready or not, is the best way to potentially get anything done. Who knew!

Today’s doodle is brought to you by my propensity for turning many of my scribbles and scrawls and squibs and squiggles into things that resemble simplified linear paisley patterns or rosemaling, or any number of other folk design traditions. Once I get going on them, I find it meditative to a degree just to follow the whimsical path of inserting repetitive forms and line treatments, geometries and organic outgrowths of the marks, until I’ve filled much of the available space. Many of these folk-like, repeating elements become almost a trademark doodling style that might be as identifiable to some as my handwriting. Though, hopefully, more legible. And while the doodles don’t necessarily lead to specific or pictorial drawings in and of themselves, they do lend themselves neatly to a more relaxed and receptive state of mind in which those more concrete thoughts and ideas can indeed begin to insert and assert themselves usefully. And that can lead to different sorts of drawing, whether more topical or more sophisticated or more directed. Or not! The inspiration is in the painting from a P&I drawing

Today I was led by the doodling, not to a different drawing entirely, but to scanning it and playing with it digitally, first layering colors all over the place, then digital textures, then altering the proportions of the image, and lastly, stitching the resulting mash-up into a larger grouping of four copies of the same image arranged in a pinwheel fashion and then stretched, skewed, cut-and-pasted, and electronically stamped into a fabric-like whole that uses the same idea of the initial doodles repetitions-with-evolutionary-changes so that the end product still seems to appear quite handmade, as it’s not symmetrical or fully even from side to side or top to bottom. Now, if I were to take that square and repeat it, even if I turned it 90 degrees each time, for example, it would finally become more machine-made in appearance as well as manufacture. But that’s just mental doodling right there, isn’t it, because I could further alter the combination every single time I ‘copied’ it.

Which illustrates exactly what I was talking about as characteristic of doodling. One thing does lead to another, as long as we bother to do the initial one thing.

That said, I suppose I should get up from my desk and go forth to do a few individual things that might lead to getting some other essential things done around here. Cheerio!digital image from a P&I drawing