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!!