Friday, November 20, 2015

100 Trees

I'm working on a large linocut right now that I can't share yet. But it's exciting and just as soon as I can show it to you, I will!

So, since I feel like I'm on the 5th month in a row of working on projects that I really can't show much online, I wanted to have a fun little project to share. For a while I've been hearing about how artists have gotten so much from doing a daily project. I think the biggest two benefits are improving their craft and gaining a lot of followers. As Andy J. Miller says, when you do something every day for a long time, people start to notice. An artist who does amazing daily sketchbook paintings is Jennifer Orkin Lewis of August Wren. Wow! She works so quickly and every one of her paintings is beautiful.

I didn't want to commit to anything too crazy for my first go-round, so what I decided on is drawing 100 tree pictures in my sketchbook and posting them on Instagram. I'm going to try and do one a day in any medium or style, as long as there's at least one tree in the image. I love drawing trees and there are so many different types and so many different ways to draw them! I'm excited to explore and see where this path through the trees leads me. Here are my first 6-

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dummy! Again!

Last weekend I finally got through redrawing my dummy, Our Home. I had lots of time while working on it that I really wondered if I was off track, I felt uncomfortable, thought the book was lacking continuity, thought it was too repetitive, and wanted to just hide it away in a drawer. But I kept going and in the end, the book flowed much better than I thought it would.

I got to have quite a few drawing sessions at out beautiful Bud Werner Memorial Library. This table is big enough to spread out an entire book! And the view is so wonderful- the Yampa River is right there, a walking path, a pretty bridge over Soda Creek, A park and playground, golden autumn trees, and a train sometimes goes by just on the other side of the river. I think drawing at the Library is my heaven.

Here it is in book form. The newer version is on the lower right. I decided to simplify the cover image, although it will still be finished as a linocut with color. I don't have much confidence that I know how to make a stand-out cover. I know a lot goes into the layout of a cover! Semadar Megged, art director at Philomel Books gave us a great workshop about book covers at the last RMC SCBWI Conference.

I have sent my dummy, text, and query letter to Harold Underdown (with payment.) I hope to hear some good feedback from him! Afterward I will make changes he suggests, finish some spreads as linocuts and finally submit to publishers.

I actually have some nice news, I applied for a grant from my local Arts Council to cover Harold's editing fee and they awarded me the money! Yay! Thank you Steamboat Springs Arts Council!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Penguin Journal

A few years ago, I made this image as a mock-up journal cover for Lilla Rogers' Global Talent Search.

And then last week when I was poking through my flat files I saw it and posted a picture of it on Instagram. My friend really liked it and that prompted me to think, Hey, I should put that image on an actual journal just for fun!

I searched through a lot of sites and this journal on Shutterfly seemed like the closest to what I had in mind. The sweet little things turned out great! The pages are lined, there is a ribbon bookmark, and This Journal Belongs To: on the inside cover. They are a little smaller than I wanted at 6x8 inches, but still a nice size. And just a hint, if you create an item on Shutterfly and save it but don't order it, after a few days they will email you a fantastic coupon code to encourage you to go ahead and order.

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Creative Life: Motherhood

My daughter came along when I was in my 40's so my routines as an artist were already well ingrained. It was easy for me to see how I could take little bits of time here and there to be creative. I actually did a blog post answering the question, "how do you find the time?" because it was coming up in conversation so often. I really hope that you mothers and fathers of young people can find the time to do things that fulfill you. It's important for us parents to be happy and pursue our own goals in addition to helping our little people grow into great children and adults. So I wanted to share a bit about my version of being an artist and a mama in case it helps someone else. I know everyone's story is different and I'd love to hear your version of creativity and parenthood in the comments.

In other posts I wrote about my life as a musician, as an artist, and as a bookmaker. I always imagined that as a mother I would have no time to make art and that's why I put it off so long. I listened to an interview of Maurice Sendak in which he says that he never wanted to have children because he was too involved in his art. That's kind of how I felt. But now that I'm the mother of a 2 year old I have a totally different view. Being a mother is being in the middle of an explosion of creativity!

In the past I've been surrounded by art friends. Hopefully you know how that feels. You inspire each other, share your work, get feedback, brainstorm, and all those good things. Being a mom I spend way more time around little kids and other mothers than I do around artists. But that's actually a fine tradeoff. Kids love paint! Markers! Glue! Cats! Hugging trees! Running in grass! Laughing! Building castles! Pretend! Dirt! Rocks! Water! Stickers! Purple! Books! Dogs! Horses! Everything is new and worth exploring. And since I want to make children's books I just try and hold on to that little kid enthusiasm and reflect it in my artwork.

In my earlier life I've had lots of different jobs, some better than others. But what I really want to do is make artwork. I haven't been fortunate enough yet to be able to do that as my only job. Going to work for 7 to 10 hours a day used to make me so drained that I really didn't have any creative energy left. But being around my daughter seems to energize me. I wait until she's in bed and I go for it. Yes I'm tired, but it's a different kind of tired than retail-job-tired. So if there are any of you out there who are wondering if you will ever be able to make art again after having a kid, my answer is YES!

When your child wants to draw or paint or glue or build something, you can do it too! It's more fun for everyone when you get involved. Enjoy the process and have a nice conversation with your little one. When you play and are creative, ideas and inspiration will come along that you may have to put on hold. But soak up that good energy and jot down the ideas for later. Then after bedtime or when you have time to yourself you can be an adult artist again. It's a treat you owe yourself!

Rock towers

Drawing with Mama

Painting before breakfast

Sand castles

Necklaces for everyone


Art class

Animal houses

Drawing on the iPad

Crafts at the library

Plein Air Painting

This is the book I made from some of Tessa's paintings. I did a blog post with lots of photos of this book here.

Tessa's first art show! I was more excited than she was. :)

Whatever it is that you get excited about, share it with your children. I get excited about art, obviously. Drawing and painting are so great for fine motor skills, imagination, problem solving, and confidence- that means for you too, Mom! 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Favorite Interviews

I've shared some favorite podcasts here before, and I'm still listening a lot as I draw. Here are some great interviews I've discovered- either on podcasts or video interviews or talks. Please share your favorite interviews with me if you have some and I'll keep adding to the list!

Andy Goldsworthy on Fresh Air

Geninne Zlatkis on While She Naps

Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air

Brian McDonald on Paper Wings here, here, and here

Tom Waits on Fresh Air

Barack Obama interviewed by Marc Maron

Sting's TED Talk

Jarrett J. Krosoczka's TED Talk

Carson Ellis on Pencil vs Pixel

Terry Gross interviewed by Marc Maron

Keith Richards interviewed by Marc Maron

Rafael Lopez on Reading Rockets

Loren Long on Let's Get Busy

Julie Paschkis on Let's Get Busy

Peter Brown interviewed by Julie Hedlund

Kevin Kelly interviewed by Tim Ferriss

Arnold Schwarzenegger interviewed by Tim Ferriss

Lisa Congdon on Creating Your Own Path

Andrew Stanton's TED Talk

Brené Brown Interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert

These are in no particular order except for the last one- Brené Brown interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert on her Magic Lessons podcast series. There's so much great inspiration in there and I wanted to share this quote by Brené Brown:

"The only unique contribution we will make in this world will be born of creativity."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dummy Dummy Dummy

So, I bet you can guess from the title what I've been working on again. This dummy has definitely taken on a life of its own. I'm just hanging on for the ride and wondering where we'll end up. I've revised the text again and that means I need to change a lot of the drawings. I'm working as fast as I can so that I can send it on and start working on other things. That's why there haven't been many blog posts over the last few months, I'm just drawing and drawing and drawing and drawing….

This is a foolishly complicated drawing I just finished. I was trying to first show the reader the girl and dog in the lower right and then move up to the sled dogs and driver on the top right. That's why I made the sled dogs so much bigger proportionally than the country in between. Is that how you read the drawing at first glance? Or is it just weird? I really can't tell anymore!

I will try and come up with some fun blog posts that aren't just drawing drawing drawing. Do you, my very select loyal readers have anything you'd like to ask or like me to write about? :)

I wanted to share that I wound up redrawing this spread. I'm much happier with it! It's not quite so detailed and the sled dogs are in the upper left now and smaller so they make more sense proportionally. Thanks, Dow for the comments!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Deep Thoughts on Constructive Criticism

I've been mulling over the progress of my book dummy and trying to sort out different pieces of constructive criticism. Which is a little painful, actually. I was trying to keep from being depressed and moody. I was basically in the land of Deep Thoughts.

Which brought up a funny association! If you are an old fart like me you might remember Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey on Saturday Night Live. They were some old-school memes, video style. I went fishing for them online and found this great one from 1995. It's sort of relevant to my own personal deep thoughts. It's best with the video and sound, so click on the link. But here's the text, too:

I remember how my great-uncle Jerry would sit on the porch and whittle all day long. Once he whittled me a toy boat out of a larger toy boat I had. It was almost as good as the first one, except now it had bumpy whittle marks all over it. And no paint, because he had whittled off the paint.

Ha! Anyone used to working on a long-term creative project can surely relate to this feeling! I've been whittling at my picture book forever now. But is it getting better? Or just smaller and bumpy with no paint?

Here's proof that I'm still working on my dummy- the newest thumbnails.

Us earnest folks try so hard to do things right and pour all of ourselves into our work. But we have no objectivity about it. So constructive criticism from other people is essential to make progress. But how much? And who should we listen to?

You can definitely get too many opinions. Because all those opinions will conflict with each other. And the most forceful one isn't necessarily the one you should listen to. Ask for criticism carefully and selectively. If you have a critique group that you trust, they are the best! If not, seek out one of your peers who is serious about their work. And always offer to repay them with a critique or any way that you can be helpful.

Find a way to get a critique from the professionals also. I've been doing this through SCBWI conferences for years. You can sign up for portfolio reviews and manuscript critiques. You will either get a publishing professional like an editor, art director, or agent, or you'll get a respected published author or illustrator. I've also gotten a couple critiques from artists that I admire just by emailing them and asking. People are generally so nice and helpful!

Now that you have a pile of opinions from people that you trust, what do you do with them? Even when they are carefully considered and come from a place of experience, they will still conflict or be confusing.

Here are some of the comments I've heard lately about my art style:
It's too beautiful.
Too clean.
I'm too focused on technique.
My illustrations are distracting from the text.
My carvings should be messier with more cut marks showing in the print.
I need more pattern.
More black.
Less black.
Make my shapes simpler, with less detail.
Make it more magical.
People aren't your strength. (From just about everyone.)

And the worst thing to sort out:
It needs to be unique, eye-catching, and original.
Could you make it look more like… (insert the name of famous illustrators.)

That's enough to make anyone moody. It helps that I take a lot of notes during or right after a critique. And going back to read those helps because sometimes the emotion you feel can overwhelm what the person was actually trying to say. Rereading your notes can help you get to the kernel of truth you need to hear.

Give it time. Sometimes a couple days or weeks of setting the project aside and letting it percolate will help an idea form. Time allows you to figure out what is important and what doesn't fit with your vision. It's ok to disregard an opinion from a famous and experienced person. Just be sure you've carefully considered why they offered that opinion. Maybe there's a different solution that they didn't think of that will also solve the problem. But if they suggested a change, it's likely a problem area that needs your attention.

Also, listen to the core of the critique but realize that the speaker might not have used the clearest language. For example- one person said my linocuts need more black and the other person said that they need less black. These people were looking at different prints and that explains the conflict on the surface. But really they were both trying to tell me the same thing. I need to find the right balance between black and white in my carvings and rely less on the watercolor at the end. I need more pattern and texture in the carving. That will give the image more movement and shading without relying on watercolor. That's my takeaway after a bit of thinking anyway.

And remember, this is YOUR art! Don't let someone whittle it down to a small bumpy boat with no paint. Just use the criticism that helps you and your art grow. If a comment feels wrong or mean, ignore it! Listen to the people who are really trying to help you. And take their advice in ways that empower you and are in line with your larger vision. Go create!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Blog Header

I finally have a little time to do some fun art, so I'm making a new header for this blog- it's going to be a book. Here's the linocut at the beginning of the process. Yay! Something new for Art on the Page!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

New Shop

I've had an Etsy shop for many years, but I'm putting it on vacation and I have a new shop on my website! SquareSpace makes it really easy to do although there are some things that aren't customizable. (That may not be a word!)

You can check it out here- Keep in mind that many other things on my website may also be for sale- just email me to ask- And through the end of September there's a coupon code NEWSHOP for 20% off!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunflower Bouquet

This last month I was working on a piece that I couldn't share. It was a gift for a wedding anniversary commissioned by my friend's husband. Now that they've had their anniversary, I can show it to you!

The bride's wedding bouquet was 3 sunflowers and some other small flowers. Her husband asked me make a linocut of the bouquet with their rings on the ribbon. This was the perfect opportunity for me to play around with lots of texture!

And here's how it turned out. She likes it!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Creative Life: Books

This is the third, but maybe not the last, of the posts about my creative life and figuring out how to be an artist. I said in the last post that I've had the wonderful feeling of finding my calling three times in my life. No beam of light came down from the heavens, but it's true that when I discovered printmaking it felt fantastic. The second time it happened for me it was when I discovered that I could make books. And the really great thing is that you can combine printmaking and books! Woohoo!!

These are some of the handmade artist books I've made. Most of them have content of various types  and a few are blank sketchbooks. I've always been a book lover. Mostly I read novels, but I love any kind of well written or illustrated or art book. When I was a kid one of the things I wanted to be was a writer. After moving from being a musician to a self taught artist and having no connections at all and no idea of how to get published, making books seemed impossible. 

But it turned out that there was a book I REALLY wanted to make. And it was way too offbeat to be a published book anyway, so I started to find out how to make a book by hand. That book became The Girl with the Pretty Red Hair in the lower right of the photo above. Oh my gosh! What incredible fun to make a book! Because the images in this first book were linocuts, it was easy to make multiple copies and sign them as an edition. Here are some of the linocuts printed on white BFK with the red flowers painted with watercolor. I mounted each of these little prints onto a red page in the book.

I had a wonderful time exploring handmade artist books for many years. I worked as a studio assistant for Laura Wait, an accomplished book artist in addition to many other things. I loved making artwork and designing a new book. And I loved making the first book of a series. But I didn't love production of the edition- making multiple copies of the same book.

So many people have their own creative interpretations what a book can be. And books certainly don't have to  have multiple copies- they can be unique pieces of art. The recent explosion of artist books has opened up endless possibilities. Books don't have to be on paper, and they don't even have to have pages. In fact the definition of a book is evolving and you can pretty much make up your own definition right now. If you'd like to see a zillion neat handmade books- check out these two publications by Lark Crafts.

500 Handmade Books: Inspiring Interpretations of a Timeless Form (That's one of Laura Wait's books on the cover!)

Masters: Book Arts: Major Works by Leading Artists (Another of Laura's books is on the back cover.)

As time passed, all of this creative innovation around handmade books made me realize that I was ordinary and boring and I mostly wanted to make traditional books. You know, the kind with covers, paper pages, stories and art inside, multiple copies, etc etc. And in fact I wanted to make children's books.

That was the third "finding my calling" moment. OMG! How did it take that long to figure it out??? Look- I made this print below, and others in the same style 15 years ago. You would think I might have started down the children's book path much earlier.

It wasn't until I joined a creative writing group 7 years ago that I discovered picture books for myself. I wrote a story about a dump truck that rescued a family of rabbits from a construction site. And I dove into the children's book world head first. 

I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and went to my first conference. I learned that my 3000 word picture book rough draft was a joke. I eventually got it below 500 words with a dummy and two finished illustrations. The whole thing was exhilarating! It was going to be a hit! I was going to be making picture books forever and quit my day job!

But nooooooo. Children's publishing is competitive and there are so many talented authors and illustrators. And there's the whole shifting publishing world. I had so much to learn and practice. Now 7 years later I'm still unpublished. I'm working hard and I know so much more than I did. I've been in many many critique groups. I've been to 8 SCBWI Conferences (I think.) I've submitted 5 different dummies to about 70 different agents and publishers, and I've sent out lots of postcards. It does get frustrating. But I love picture books so much. My little girl was lucky enough to be born into a household that was already chock full of good books.

Now again I'm in a position where there's a book I REALLY want to make- even more than any of those other books that I really wanted to make. This is that one book that you absolutely have to make. The most important message that you have to share with everyone. The book that you are so completely invested in that it's your destiny to make it. Blah blah blah. Listen I HAVE to make this one.

But it doesn't have to look just like this. In fact this is the second complete dummy that I've done for this book. And it's about the 6th or 8th incarnation of the book idea. I tried thinking of it as a letterpress broadside, a collaboration coffee table book, and several different artist books including this one that I actually did complete:

You can see more photos of this handmade book, Earth on my website.

About my children's book, Our Home. It's about the beauty of our planet and how we all call this same place home. In July I worked like a maniac to get the drawings done so I could take the book dummy to the LA SCBWI Conference. And for the last month I've been working like a maniac again to clean the drawings up and make them better based on the feedback I got. Now in about a week I should have them all done and the dummy reconstructed to take to our regional SCBWI Conference in Denver. Wish me luck! Because like I said, I HAVE to make this book. So if I can't get it published traditionally you may have to listen to me repeatedly asking for money through Kickstarter to help me self publish my book. And you don't really want that, right? So cross your fingers that this book can find a publisher! And Thanks!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Challenging Critique

I've been loving Andy J. Miller's Creative Pep Talk Podcasts for a few months now. I highly recommend them for ideas about improving your craft, your art business, and for lots of inspiration. When he decided to join Patreon to let people support him with small amounts for each new podcast, I liked what he was doing so much I wanted to help! He also made available 10 openings where he offers quarterly reviews of your artwork and online presence to help you with strategy. And I got one of the spots!

Boy, Andy is thorough. He recorded my own personal podcast with lots of great ideas and impressions.  And he made me a private Pinterest board with examples of art that show what he was talking about. Of his suggestions, there's one that especially resonated with me and I've been working really hard on already. He suggested that I simplify all of my shapes- people, animals and objects. Make them less realistic and more stylized. That's the kind of art I like best, but I've always had a hard time getting there with my own drawings.

So to begin with I redrew one of the pages from my dummy over and over about 5 times. Each time I was able to take it a little further into a simplified style. This is the latest version of it above on the left. In this photo are also Book Fiesta illustrated by Rafael Lopez and Blue on Blue illustrated by Beth Krommes. It helps me to have art I admire with those clear, rounded, simple shapes to keep me in the right frame of mind.

I feel like I'm making some good progress in the right direction. It's challenging to redraw my entire dummy keeping this style unified throughout. But I'm happy with it so far!

I wanted to share a few of the illustrations that Andy picked to show me what he meant about simplifying and creating a more memorable, stylized look.

This is the girl from Extra Yarn illustrated by Jon Klassen.

The Musicians by Carson Ellis