PostModern Coloring Book

Now that I’ve had my iPad and its various drawing and art apps for about six months, you might hope, if not expect, that I would have gained a certain amount of fluency in the medium. You would, of course, be disappointed in that. I’m still as ignorant a neophyte as ever. But I’m having a good time, and that makes plodding along at my own minimal speed worth my while, all the same. I suppose it could be compared to the childhood love of scribbling and crayons and such excellent things that leads to our continuing to practice for extensive periods over our early years despite being unlikely to become little masters of art for a much longer time yet.
Digital illustration: Modernist Coloring Book

It would be more meaningful to me, I imagine, and to those who know me, if I could extend that youthful courtesy not only to playing with my latest techno-tools for art making but also to other areas of my life’s education, the many in which I have far less patience with learning as slowly as I do and therefore generally end up quitting or making virtually no progress for eons. Imagine if I loved studying personal finance as much as I like scribbling: I might be rolling in wealth by now instead of still struggling to count change when I buy a few groceries. If I had learned to enjoy practicing exercise—any form of exercise at all—I could have been fit and fabulous and looking at living enough more decades that I could learn a vast quantity of other fantastic and exciting things.

But alas, none of that is my nature or my passion. Plodding along and just playing with those things that amaze and amuse me, that’s my style. I may get up a short burst of energy or speed and manage to improve at one thing or another in my repertoire occasionally, but if you’re looking for snappy progress, cast your eyes in any other direction and you’ll have a better chance of seeing something new and inspiring happen. I’ll be right here in my little corner, scrawling with a stylus like a crazed second-grader mauling her coloring book and cackling with delight over the slightest mark that pleases me. Just think how well I make the rest of you look good!

Green Means Go

It’ll be a while yet. Spring and its sprouts aren’t making any particular headway even here in Texas just now, and I don’t expect to see any more than tiny hints of promising green until the current cycle of typically unpredictable and radically changeable temperatures settle into their usual late-February-into-March kindliness. But I can’t help thinking ahead.photoAfter all, there’s such a compelling sense of momentum that comes with those first tiny glimpses of something ever so delicate and yet determinedly pointy that forces its way out of hard ground and harder branches. The very fact that they can emerge from such unwilling sources tells me that once they’ve driven through those barriers, not only is there little that could stop them, they will pick up speed as they go, unfolding, uncurling, swelling, bursting into bloom, and finally, enlarging into the full fruits of the season. Such a suffusion of newness and energy and purpose!photoI look forward, in the same way, to some of my many projects coming to fruition, as I so rarely know what the final outcome will be, really. What seems like a perfectly lovely little green bell pepper can grow up into a dramatically bold but even sweeter scarlet capiscum, if nurtured and tended along its sojourn of development; in the same way, what may have begun as a quick little one-line idea sketch with pencil or pen while I sat in the back of a rehearsal hall or in the waiting room before an appointment could well grow up, over time, into a digitally enhanced illustration full of color and texture and layers that I hadn’t planned at the start. Whatever the result, it begins with the green bud or the green light of an idea, and I cannot resist the allure of that color, beckoning me with its promises and possibilities.

Reading the Classics or Writing Them…

There’s this little spot inside my skull that gets kind of itchy. Pretty sure it’s not dandruff, seeing as how that’s usually external, from what I’ve heard. Can’t be an excess of brains, something no one’s accused me of having in that nice cobwebby attic of mine.

I think it’s a bit of me that wants to Make Stuff. Specifically, to write things. I can’t say there’s any legitimate or meaningful purpose to this writing, or even the slightest logic to the motivational itch. But I write.photo montageWhether any of the scribblings comes to fruition beyond becoming letter-shaped specks on the ethereal pages of my blog or typed or scrawled word-like objects spilled all over my notebooks, concert programs, receipts, paper towels and shoebox lids–further polish or publication remains to be seen. Memorable, respected or classic status is improbable to within the neighborhood of outrageous fantasy.

But I’m a first-class fantasist at heart, after all. By my own admission. photo montageMeanwhile, several friends whose work I respect have put their longtime writing itches to good purpose and published, recently. I’ve been writing to scratch my inner itch for a number of years now. If I’m going to make anything out of it other than random scratching I suppose I had better take heart from my predecessors’ bravery and get serious about putting my writing into something a little more challenging and concrete than my lifelong style of clinging to the safety of the familiar land of personal sharing and blogging.

Uh-oh.

Time to suck it up and nerve myself. I suppose I should warn all of you to shore up your own nerve as well. It seems that this particular kind of itch might well be both dangerous and contagious.photo montage

If the Muse Should Come to Visit

Our summer road trip afforded me a few good opportunities for one of my favorite activities: listening during great music rehearsals while drawing and writing. Part of me is fully engaged in the music-making, wanting not to miss a single note or nuance even when it’s truly a working bash through sort of session for the musicians. I learn so much about the pieces in hand, their histories, contexts, technical challenges and all that sort of thing as well as what to expect and what might happen in performance that I always enjoy concerts more deeply after hearing them being developed for the performances. At the same time, if the work in hand is sans text or in a language so unknown to me that I can’t get wrapped up in that aspect beyond whether the ensembles’ vowels and consonants, attacks and diminuendos and cutoffs are, well, ensemble, then I can focus my language centers on writing, sometimes blog post essays and sometimes poetry.

When the text is too enthralling or at least too present in my attentions, I can still indulge in drawing. Either way, it’s not so much dividing my attention as letting one kind of artistry inspire and guide another one. One enriches the other. Especially when the music rolling around me is as rich as, say, that being prepared for performances at the Vancouver Early Music Festival in August. I only wish that the products of my sessions were always as inspired as the music undergirding their inception. But my only chance of getting any better is to keep practicing, isn’t it. And I’m lucky that I like the process more and more as I go along, and yes, the better the music is, the more I enjoy my learning curve. That’s inspiring enough.graphite drawing

Unfinished in Perpetuity

digital artworkWork Forever in Progress

Hundreds of lines later,

I have nothing to show

except if you count

a sense of accomplishment in having

been faithful to a commitment, in having

persisted steadily in the face of the

unseen and unknown, in being

somewhat soothed by the simple

process of having given a little

heart and soul to something

simply because I could.

However I came to exist,

I think I might be a little bit

the same kind of puzzle myself,

imperfect and utterly incomplete,

but nicely so, for all of that–

nicely, because,

after all, I am working my way

toward being something at last,

and whether I have

an encompassing purpose or not,

I have at least

begun to Be . . .digital artwork

Drawing on Your Beginner’s Luck

The nice blogger from Zara–A Writing Story stopped by recently and her post said she is working at starting to draw. I’m delighted to have another person join the ranks of happy visual artists via drawing–a collection of skills that come in quite handy (no pun intended, especially since there are artists who use their mouths or their feet to make artworks) for far more than strictly a pleasurable activity or visual entertainment. Drawing, a foundational skill in all sorts of visual art, is also a means of communication that differs from and can work in wonderful tandem with writing, singing, signing, and any number of other ways of personal interaction and transmission of information. In addition to the practical application of the end product of the process, the practice of drawing itself has great power as a mnemonic device, a tool for problem-solving, and the training of the brain in such useful skills as eye-hand coordination and (as I know from experience) the correlated motor control of working through tremors to achieve refined movements.

But beyond that, as I said to my blogger colleague, the act of drawing has elements of physical pleasure in the mere action of arm and hand and body that can be worth the pursuit, not to mention the mental and/or emotional pleasures possible. The act of drawing as a form of meditation, even without regard to any possible ‘product’, is quite desirable on its own.

As I said to my correspondent, she needn’t be intimidated in the least even if she’s a rank beginner: By even making the effort to learn, you’re worlds ahead of lots of others! A book I often referenced when teaching my beginner students in college was Betty Edwards’ classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain–it has exercises that aren’t too hard even for someone who’s never attempted to draw before, and because her focus is on how the brain works in visual activity, she offers insights into the process and possibilities that few others do. There are, of course, innumerable excellent how-to books for those who want to draw, many of them favorites of mine as well, but because of Dr. Edwards’ [then] ground-breaking work in recognizing the character of right-vs-left brain function and how it played out in drawing, I always found her work particularly helpful.

Because drawing can engage so many diverse cognitive processes like this, it can be complicated and overwhelming to know just where to start learning how to draw. As I remarked in my note to my fellow blogger, All of that aside, simply making marks on a surface is the beginning of drawing. Sometimes the least intimidating way to begin is to take a piece of paper, make some totally random marks on it, and then see where that takes you. Even if all it does is make you comfortable making the arm movements for a start, that’s helpful. If, as with most people, you look at it and think ‘that looks like . . . ‘ or ‘that doesn’t look quite right . . . ‘–well, then, you’re already making editorial decisions that can help you move toward drawing the way you want to draw.

The bottom line, if you will, for me is that I feel more alert, more attuned to potential solutions when everyday problems arise, and generally just plain happier when I draw. It’s not because every drawing turns into something fabulous–far from it–but because the process of drawing opens up my brain and spirits in useful and unexpected ways. Many times, my drawing produces nothing more than scratches that are shorthand for bigger and more complex and, I hope, better things to come. But the exercise itself is valuable to me, and a glance back through my sketches can often kick-start me into drawing a work that is more successful than the twenty previous ones.

line drawing

Exploring pattern in a sketch.

line drawing

Playing around with volume.

line drawing

Faces and flowers show up often in my sketchbooks.

line drawing

Hands can be pesky subjects, so I play with sketches of them frequently too.

line drawing

Any little vignette that pops into my mind is worth scribbling at least a few times.

Ultimately, whether I’m in gear for serious drawing or just fiddling with a pen or pencil to pass the time, it’s good practice and feels worthwhile. If nothing else happens, at least I have given my brain some thinking-room between the lines and I might figure out what to make for supper, how to cut through the piece of metal that is in the way of my completing a repair in the garage, or who knows–I might even remember where I set down that book I was reading days ago before it ‘disappeared’. It’s doubtful I’ll come up with any Nobel Prize-worthy inspirations while drawing, but then again, if I don’t draw, I’ll never find out!

The Center of Attention

When I am making artworks I am the ruler of all I survey. I get to invent my reality and decide how much of it I want to reveal to you, and even (to a certain extent) how I want you to experience this particular reality. I do know that you will bring your own point of view and that my art, this Empress having invented it or not, will tell you a story that exists in its own unique way within your personal context.graphite drawingHowever, like all storytellers visual or otherwise, I still control how much I’m willing to reveal to you of the whole project in the end. Do I give you the ‘whole story’ or choose to share a scene, a snippet, and then let you extrapolate from that to decide what the storyline is in the image, not to mention all of the possible storylines extending beyond the image in every direction? I choose the window; you interpret what you see through it.

In the case of this drawing of a lady with her fat pony, I’d say that a cropped version of the picture gives plenty of information about both characters and their relationship but mercifully deletes some of the evidence of my horribly sloppy parody of equine physiology, something that’s far more painfully exposed in the larger version of the piece. Yes, there I go, showing you my ‘underwear’ again. But don’t you agree that the image is improved, its focus stronger and its flaws somewhat mitigated, by the cropping?

graphite drawingUltimately, of course, I’m still Empress around here. I get to choose whether I’ll show you my process and share my behind-the-scenes action like this, let alone whether an image is finished or not, whether I’m going to use it for a post or not, and whether I’m going to tell a whole large story or a tiny bit of one. It’s good to be the Empress.

More Fun with Drawing Toys

Not much needs to be said here. I’m on another of my tangential rambles with my art practice, and what pleases me a great deal about crawling my way into the digital era is that not only can I document my work better than I used to do, I can retain it in numerous, widely varied states and play with it without nearly so much difficulty in changing my mind and erasing or altering things as I like. Talk about a bonus for a mercurial goof-off like me.graphite drawing

digital artwork from a drawing

The Lens of Revelation

Discovery and learning don’t always have to come at the expense of laborious study and practice. Sometimes they are handed to us by the magician-teachers who simply tell us exactly what they have done, lifting the curtain and letting us see what’s behind it and in the works from beginning to end. That, at least, is how the learning starts for many of us. Certainly for me. I have been gifted, over the many years of my life, in which I was, am and will be a student forever, with a number of such generous teachers.

I can only return the favor as far as my skills and wit allow, but I hope I’m at least skilled and sharp-witted enough to make it worth a few other people’s while. Of course, the plain facts don’t complete the education by a long shot–the study and practice parts have to follow to make it stick and create anything useable out of it. What you do with the information, as they say, is what completes the equation. But isn’t it fun to share our little secrets, to let each other peek at what’s behind the facade of polish and confidence and see what we can make of it?

Herewith, another little set of iterations digitally made to convert a black and white graphite drawing into a full-color digital illustration.

graphite drawing

Once again, I begin with a plain graphite drawing, scanned and very lightly cleaned to remove dust specks and make the scan match the original. I wish I had made the ‘lens’ look more curved or somehow indicated its thickness better so that there was a more logical reason for the eye behind it being moved that far from its expected location, but then I remember that this is, after all, an utterly nonsensical and *not* logical creature-person. Next drawing, perhaps. For now, I’ll play with the cards I dealt myself.

graphite drawing + color test

To begin the digital part of the process, I just did my usual small test of whether injecting color into a black and white original might bring out some useful or interesting aspects of the character (both the humanoid one and the character of the drawing).

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Why not. What if I isolate a larger area and keep the illustration black and white but with the lens area being in full color? Hmmm. That could work. I ‘paint’ in the color, layering it bit by bit and erasing bits to add highlights or even out the application of the colors.

graphite drawing + digital color painting

Strangely, I find that having only the lens area colored flattens out the image a little more than I expected. I think this might be in part because the color has reduced the contrast and visible texture of the graphite strokes. Maybe I’ll just add a bit more color over the other parts of the drawing. No, not quite enough, I’d say. So I add a Photoshop filter of ink lines to emphasize the drawn textures and contrast more deeply with the coloring.

digital illustration from a graphite drawing

Well, here I go again. I can’t resist adding color to the whole image. I think it balances the image better. But I’m married to the idea of letting the part seen through the lens be the only richly ‘full color’ part–the True Self, if you will, seen through this lens. So I decided to keep what wasn’t part of the lens itself or seen through it mainly monochromatic; a sepia tone for the face seemed in keeping with the sort of Steampunk creature’s vintage-yet-otherworldly quality. And then, of course, the face was flattened a bit by the color too, so I added the inky filter to that as well. And here we are. A day of tweaking and monkeying around with the drawing that took me a few days to draw, and here we are. On to the next project, my friends. Hope you find something compelling to do, too, even if as with mine, your projects only lead to more projects. Because that’s what happens when we share our ideas: they proliferate. Granted, some of them grow up to be really weird characters all on their own, but they do proliferate. Revealing, as they do, further parts of *our* character through *their* lens.

The Fine Art of being Meaningless

When I was teaching, I hated grades and grading. Even more than when I was a student. I understand the desire, even the need, for being able to assess and evaluate and compare and all of that sort of thing, but my idealism would much prefer to believe in a world where people do the very best they can at whatever they are doing and that, all by itself, is grand enough. I know plenty of practical reasons why this fluffy fantasy can’t work 99% of the time in reality but it certainly never affected my intense dislike of the whole quantitative approach, most especially when it had to be applied–as empirically and evenly as possible, of course–by yours truly in some areas that are arguably quite subjective.

So I set up criteria as clearly as I could and identified particulars of skill, technique, fact, synthetic application of knowledge and so forth that I considered worthy of the study, and took what measures I could to insure that all students got equal access to those resources and had the opportunity to learn, incorporate, express and otherwise use them. And I gave out grades. It was my job.

But in that aforementioned reality, my own version of which I quite happily embrace post-teacherhood, I am not bound by any requirement to make or evaluate anything on the basis of comparison with anything remotely real, not even the stuff of other people’s invention and making. And I must say that I do appreciate my freedom. Sometimes there’s simply nothing more satisfying than writing or drawing or otherwise making decidedly unreal, if not impossible, things for the pure fun of it. Maybe it just appeals to the rebellious kid in me. Maybe it tickles my fantastic fancy. Who knows but what a miraculous accident could happen one day and I might invent a magnificently useful Thingummy of some sort.

But that’s not the reason to make these things anyhow, now, is it? What is most pleasing of all about the creation of any object of ridiculous and pointless nothingness is the act itself. It’s a fine thing to make artwork of any kind just because one can, to enjoy the creative process without regard to the outcome’s being anything but entertaining for me, myself and I. Yes, that’s what I like. No grading, no evaluations, no need to worry about whether it’s beautiful or meaningful, let alone realistic, because this is my own reality, my own personal little world.

And you’re welcome in it, as long as you know the only rule is that there are no rules, and the only value assessment I’m after on the occasion is whether I had a good time and got some valuable yet enjoyable practice in the process of creating my little graphite universe or my textual treasury of the moment. Well, there is a second rule: you, too, should feel free to visit my place of creativity without being required to grade anything, including your own experience of the stuff, and free as well to leave without being expected to like or dislike anything. Though I sure do like it when anyone is moved by my selfless acts of ridiculousness and leaving my meaningless soul exposed in public to do the same, without fear of recrimination or evaluation, and with the infinitely happy sense that such silliness is not only permitted but encouraged in this neck of the woods. Have fun, y’all. I am.

graphite drawing

A Machine for Making Nonsense