Category Archives: inspirations

Art Quiltlet: 12/52

cherry blossom photo at amyhoodarts.com

Our view from our picnic spot at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial.

My kids are on spring break from school this week, and in a happy coincidence for our first year here, the DC cherry blossoms hit peak bloom this week, too. So I took the kids into the city so we could see them–and, while we were there, the Jefferson Memorial and the Botanical Gardens as well. It was the photo up above, however, that inspired this week’s art quiltlet.

I thought about how to approach it quite a bit before starting it. Here’s an in-progress shot.

cherry blossoms quiltlet in progress at amyhoodarts.com

I quilted the cloud-like lines on first, using free-motion stitching, then appliqued the Washington Monument on top of it. Then I switched back to free-motion stitching for the tree branches, which I lightly sketched on with a very soft pencil beforehand–more as an idea of where to go then a firm stitching line, and I continued to use the photo as loose guidance.

cherry blossom art quiltlet at amyhoodarts.com

The finished quiltlet.

This is the first quiltlet I’ve used any hand-stitching on, and that was to sew the blossoms on. They’re layered, white cotton, then organza, then tulle. Finally, I cropped and bound, choosing the cream color of the Monument.

I really, really like this one. If I played favorites, which I don’t, it might be my favorite so far. Some of these quiltlets I’ve planned out a bit, and some I’ve approached as pure play, but this is the first one that I seriously considered the idea of a small quiltlet like this being a study for something larger. I can see it as a possibility, now.

Working My Way Through Paint Lab

{Jen has a review and giveaway of Art Together Issue Four: Mixed Media. Leave her a comment by Saturday for a chance to win–and go check out what she has to say!}

I bought myself a present recently–my own copy (versus the library copy) of Paint Lab: 52 Exercises Inspired by Artists, Materials, Time, Place, and Method, by Deborah Forman. I have some other books in the Lab Series, but this one has so many exercises I want to try that I decided to make a list and work my way through them. I’m not going in order–I’ll go back to skipped ones when I get the materials I’m lacking. For instance, Lab 4 requires glazing medium, and I don’t have any.

I’ve completed two and started a third, though, and I’m enjoying the exercise-ness of them. They remind me of art class assignments. It’s very much just working things out. I think maybe framing something as an exercise lets me sink into it in a different way. Sometimes I am playing around with technique or method while I’m art-making. Sometimes I’m trying to achieve a specific design or image. And with exercises it’s a bit of problem-solving within a framework. These different ways of working engage different parts of my brain. I remember enjoying my design class exercises in college, and these remind me of those in some ways.

Paint Lab #1 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #1

This is layers of watercolor. All those dots? Pretty meditative. Not boring to do at all.

For Lab #5, Forman suggested doing the same design (created by collage first, then transferred) in two different color schemes. I also used two different types of paint and paper. The results are very different. In this first version, I used acrylic paint on canvas paper. I decided to use red, yellow, white, and green. Red and yellow are both warm colors, and green is red’s complement (it lies across it on the color wheel).

Paint Lab #5 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #5, version 1.

For the second version, I used watercolors on watercolor paper. I used the analagous colors of blue, blue-green, and green, with orange, which is blue’s complement.

Paint Lab #5 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #5 version 2.

I’ll keep posting these exercises as I do them. If anybody else has a copy of Paint Lab and wants to join in, please feel free to share links to posts or photos. It would be pretty cool to find others who have or who are working their way through the book, too.

Meet Karen

Karen Isaacson, interviewed in Art Together Issue Four

Karen Isaacson, interviewed in Art Together Issue Four

Karen describes herself as a “paint flinger, salamander catcher, and all-around goofball,” and I can attest that she is as fun and interesting and quirky in person as she seems on her blog, I Am Rushmore. Karen began art-making well into her grown-up years, and she approaches it with the sense of exploration, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the process (versus a focus solely on product) that I hope to nurture in others through Art Together. So I was happy she agreed to be interviewed for Issue Four, which focuses on mixed media–something Karen does so well.

As an early childhood educator, I preached the benefits of process-oriented art with young children. The toddlers I worked with never cared about what they were making, they simply delighted in the act of creating. I sat on the floor and played along with them, and it was the favorite part of my day. Perhaps I’m just a slow learner, but it never occurred to me that this same spirit of open-ended, joyful exploration could be applied to adult art experiences.

The rest of Karen’s interview can be found in the latest issue, along with lots of other inspiration and ideas. Along with her personal blog, Karen also maintains the website Mail Me Some Art, facilitating a mind-bloggling number of themed mail art swaps. She has several open swaps right now, including tape postcards, favorite city postcards, and handmade envelopes. She scans and posts all the artwork she receives (2500 pieces last year!) before sending them on their way through the postal system, so the site provides a constant stream of gorgeous art inspiration.

I hope to continue including interviews in future issues of Art Together, because I think it’s so encouraging to get to know people who are pursuing their artistic passions right now. There are so many ways to do that! I’m not sure that reminder can come often enough.

Fairy House Festival

You may recall that 5yo G has an interest in fairies. Yesterday we visited the Botanical Gardens at Roger Williams Park in Providence, on the last day of their “fairy house garden days.” This was something that came across my computer screen via a local homeschool email group, so it’s not a field trip planned by G (which is really how PBL field trips should go). I’m the one who heard about it, but G was in charge of the experience. We left the boys at home and went for a mama-daughter date with fairy gardens.

I didn’t tell G that the website invited visitors to dress as fairies–who needs to tell a 5yo to wear wings? She independently chose her outfit. Obviously one visits a fairy house garden wearing wings, a flower barrette, a poufy skirt, and sparkly shoes. Once there, she asked if she could take photos of her favorite houses. YES. I handed over the camera, and she took more than 70 pictures.

documenting fairy houses (PBL) at amyhoodarts.com

We weren’t just viewing, you see. This is also research, because she plans to continue building her own fairy houses (more on that in a minute). All the photos of fairy houses in this post were taken by G. This was one of her favorites, a seaside getaway for fairies who need a vacation.

seaside fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

She wanted to take a photo of this twisty ladder because it “looks like DNA, Mama!!”

fairy house ladder at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

A scavenger hunt had been set up, and while usually I’m not a fan of those at museums because they tend to cause visitors to focus just on the items on the list, that wasn’t the outcome here. It was quite well done–some fairy house displays had explanatory signs, which were clever or interesting, along with an item to look for in the display. G was looking very closely at all the displays anyway, whether it was a scavenger hunt stop or not. So this particular activity added to the experience. She took this photo at the display of hanging fairy house spheres because she was asked to find a bench and she did! (I didn’t spot it at all.)

hanging fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

Part of a fairy house display at Roger Williams Park Botanical Gardens, Providence, RI.

Part of the special activities for Sunday was making a fairy house. She picked up a bag of collected nature items and some dirt.

fairy house-making supplies at amyhoodarts.com

However, she was having a hard time figuring out how to construct walls, so I asked if she’d like to bring the items home and use them to build a house in the yard–where we have trees and rocks and shells to add to the materials. She said yes. On the way out, we were asked if we’d like to take another bag (they must have had extras), so she picked out more supplies. There are wonderful things in there, things we wouldn’t necessarily be able to easily collect on their own. The URI Master Gardeners were a big part of this event, and the Master Gardeners themselves all collected items (legally and carefully, I’ve no doubt, as the back of the scavenger hunt list had cautions on being careful collectors). I suspect that most of the effort to create this event was by volunteers.

A couple of days before Easter, G decided it was time to build a fairy house in the yard. She’d been waiting patiently all winter for spring. Easter was in two days; we were into the second part of April. Surely it was time, never mind that the temperature was in the 30s. Spring may be wavery about committing, but G was not.

5yo's fairy house at amyhoodarts.com

5yo’s G first fairy house in our backyard.

The table! Set with acorn cap bowls! With her 70-odd photos of inspiration, and her memories of all we looked at and talked about, G has lots of ideas for building more fairy houses. (She also has a new fairy wand. It goes fetchingly with the wings and sparkly shoes.)

Just Start. Really.

Begin Now

I’m not saying anything new here, but I heard so many thoughts around New Year’s that basically said, “I want to do [xyz] but I need to find the time/but my special circumstances make it challenging/but I don’t have what I need.” No. No, this isn’t true. If you want to do whatever it is, you will find the time. You will adjust to your circumstances instead of waiting and waiting for your circumstances to change. You will make do with the minimum amount of whatever supply you think you need to get going. If you don’t, of course, it is easy to say it’s not your fault, it’s the fault of your busy life or your circumstances (which aren’t unique, no matter what you think) or the budget that won’t allow you to buy the exact drawing pens and paper you’re sure you need to express yourself. But the truth is, if you don’t, it’s because you don’t want it enough.

Do you want to write? Get paper and a pencil and get going. You don’t need a screen and a keyboard or a special app or program. You don’t need a fancy notebook or the perfect pen or even a new pen. You don’t need a quiet room of your own and three hours per day. You can do it while the kids interrupt you (ask me how I know). You can do it in waiting rooms with background noise. You can do it ten minutes at a time. You can even do it while monitoring homework or cooking dinner or in your head while driving carpool.

Do you want to draw? Grab some paper and a pencil and get going. (Do you sense a theme?) You don’t need the perfect sketchbook. You need paper, a pencil, and your eyes. That just-right sketchbook you saw at that store you can’t get back to for two weeks plus you need to wait for a coupon…that sketchbook isn’t going to make you draw any better. Do you know what makes you draw better? Practice. You can draw on the backs of receipts while waiting in the school car pick-up line. That’s a pretty boring place to be, in my experience. Look out the car window. See that tree? Draw it. Draw your own hand—it’s fantastic drawing practice. Make a habit of bringing some paper with you wherever you go. If you choose to spend that boring pick-up line time browsing the Internet on your phone, that’s a choice that you’ve made. That’s fine, but own the choice.

“I’d love to knit, but I don’t have the time.” Is there a knitter who hasn’t heard some variation of this comment? People who knit (or sew, or embroider, whatever) don’t have any more time than the rest of the population. These handcrafts are incredibly forgiving of schedules. They are agreeable, for the most part, to being picked up and put down in the middle of things. Knitting is practically made for mothers. It fits into the cracks of the day.

Almost everything I do fits into the cracks of my day. In late December I attended a Home for the Holidays Etsy gathering in Providence. I didn’t talk to everyone there, but for everyone I did talk to, their craft business was their full-time job. I can’t do that right now. My making has to fit in around homeschooling two children and mothering three. We have what seems to be a higher-than-average number of medical appointments. My husband travels a lot. I’m unable to run at the moment, but when I could and when I can again, it’s also a priority in my day. I juggle all these things and more. I could decide it’s not worth doing anything at all if I can’t make selling my work a full-time job right now. I don’t have a room of my own, control over much of my schedule, a studio with natural light, a dedicated sewing table, an advertising budget, or the DSLR that would make all my photographs perfect, I’m sure of it. (Wouldn’t it?) Someday I may have all of those things, but in the meantime, I want to make things and try to sell them, so I fit it into the cracks.

Forget all the excuses. If you want it, you’ll do it. If you want to write, you’ll write. If you want to create, you will. You’ll find a way. If you don’t find a way, that’s telling you something. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If what you actually do isn’t matching the story of yourself in your head, you have to do some hard work. You either need to actually do what you say you want to do, or you need to adjust the story to reflect the fact that you are not a person who truly plans to do these things. You’re not a writer-who-wants-to-write-but-can’t. You’re not someone-who-would-draw-if-only. You are you, spending your time on whatever it is you are spending your time on. It’s hard changing these stories; it makes us feel bad. If you don’t want to change the story, change what you do. Write. Draw. Create. Exercise. Read more. Do whatever it is you say you want to do, with no excuses or rationalizations. I trust that you can. I really, really believe that you can—if you want to.

Finding Your Time and Space

heart embroidery at amyhoodarts.com

Playing with embroidery on a salvaged denim pocket.

A couple of months ago, I began seeing flyers around town for a creativity/art/something class. I couldn’t quite get a handle on what the class was all about from the flyer, but it sounded like the organizer felt the same way about art-making as I do: that it’s for everybody, and it’s important, and it should be a part of our lives. So I emailed her for more information. I realized we definitely think the same way. With her classes, she was hoping to gather a group of people and hold the time and space for creating. She’d provide the materials, and the participants would be free to create. I don’t need anyone to hold the time and space for me; art and creativity is fairly ingrained into my life at this point. But I would like to meet more people who feel that way in person. I know so many people online who understand what this need to create is all about, and I am grateful for that. But it would also be nice to know some people nearby so we could meet for coffee and bounce ideas off each other of in a back-and-forth out-loud conversation.

I thought about taking the class, but it was six sessions beginning in December, and it was a lot of money to spend in December solely out of curiosity. I noticed she was offering one session on a weekday morning and another on Friday nights, and I thought about how weekdays are difficult if you have children who aren’t in school or if you’re homeschooling, and how nights are hard if you’re nursing, and how in the days when I was trying so hard to claw out some time and space for creative work, a class like this wouldn’t have been accessible to me at all. She ended up deciding to make the classes drop-in instead of having people pay for six at a time, and I decided I could spend that lesser amount of money for curiosity and to try to meet other people who feel like I do. So in early December, I went, not quite knowing what to expect.

What I decided was that this is a valuable service, but I don’t need it. I have a ridiculously well-stocked art room. Almost anything I want to do, I can go to the right shelf and find the materials I want. I’m really good at making time and space to insert creativity into my day. If I don’t have time for digging into something deeply, I can still find time to write, or draw, or knit, make something that wasn’t there before emerge from the work of my own two hands. And if I’m going to spend money for a class-type thing, I need my investment to result in more than just chit-chat while I play with materials. I don’t take the money I spend on classes lightly; I want to advance my work in some way, learn something new or advance mastery of something I’m already doing.

But as I thought about this group (and I hope it takes off), I thought again about how, for a decade, anything I wanted to learn, I taught myself. I couldn’t swing classes while exclusively nursing babies who didn’t bother with bottles. I let all my babies nurse to sleep, and wouldn’t change the rules on them suddenly just so I could go take a class. Those times with each child were important and irreplaceable; of course, I had three of them, so it stretched out to a decade. During that time, I taught myself to knit, sew, and embroider. I played around with art materials and figured things out on my own. It was either that, or do nothing new until the last kid was weaned, and I’m not that patient.

I’ve spoken about this before: I didn’t begin facilitating art for my kids solely because I am a fabulous mother who wants them to be exposed to lots of different art materials and techniques. While I do want that, of course, I also wanted so much to get my hands back into paint and charcoal that it felt like a physical need. At the time, my youngest child was two and still wouldn’t sleep without my body beside her. The gradual expansion of my time that I’d expected by that point hadn’t happened. The obvious solution was to make art right alongside my kids. In between helping them and fetching what they needed, I could grab a few minutes here and there so I could create, too.

Art Together has “together” in the title for a reason. We adults aren’t just here to facilitate experiences for our kids. We have a right—perhaps even a duty—to make sure we’re getting our need for creative play satisfied as well. It would be great if the kids would quietly occupy themselves with their own projects while we work on our own (!) or if we could go out on Friday nights and have a glass of wine and adult conversation while playing around with paint. But that’s not possible for many of us, for whatever reason. Art Together—the series and the zine—is an invitation to dive into the same activities your kids are doing, to explore and have fun and relax and not think for a little bit. I came upon that solution the way most good ideas occur—by necessity. I had a need that wasn’t being met, and I had to find a way to fix that. Along the way, so many benefits accrued, not just for me OR the kids but for all of us together, the sum, as is often the case, being so much greater than its parts.

In a rambly way, I’m encouraging you to think creatively if you spend your days with children and you have a need that’s going unfulfilled. How can you work within your circumstances to make it a part of your schedule? Maybe it’s art-making, maybe it’s something else. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and offer to hold that time and space for you—that may happen, but perhaps not soon enough. Learn to hold the time and space yourself.

On Process and Goals

Now that the Art Together e-zine is a Real Thing, out in the world, I want to share a bit about how it came to be. (The giveaway is still open, by the way.) Mainly I want to share because I see so many creative people doing really amazing things, and I see probably an equal number of creative people wondering how. Pretty much everybody has these awesome ideas and creative energy, and honestly, I want to see what everyone comes up with. I want everybody’s passion and unique take out in the world, because the more I see of it, the more awed I am. There is all sorts of amazing-ness going on.

So, getting to Monday was a loooong process. I think I first had the idea of publishing “some sort of e-book” while I was taking Stephanie Levy’s Creative Courage class back in January 2012. I’d signed up for the class with the goal of figuring out where I wanted to take my creativity; I ended up diagnosed with Lyme Disease the month before the class began, and my energy was incredibly low. Some of the assignments were hard for me. Take, for instance, the “wish jar.”

Wish jar, early 2012.

I’m not really a “put it out into the universe” type of person. I’m more of a “let’s make a list and a plan” person. But I tried to come up with some things to put on my wish tokens, which, at least, were awfully cute. Before writing this post, I dug them up and took a photo of them.

Wish cards from early 2012.

I cheated a little bit–when I wrote these, I’d already registered for Squam and I’d signed up for a screen printing class. That class was cancelled, so I still don’t know how to screen print, and I haven’t managed the one in the center bottom row, either (“Begin an organization to provide handmade to kids in shelters”), yet, anyway. But all the rest of these…I’ve been working on. But notice, I first thought of something like an e-book over a year and a half ago.

In early 2012, I shot the idea down. I figured I didn’t have enough reach to sell any copies, I was getting frustrated trying to blog about process-oriented art when crafts-for-kids seemed to be what was really wanted, and Lyme and its treatment were sapping all my energy anyway. I had the idea, and I put it away. But it didn’t go away. I started 2013 with a threepart series on why process-oriented art is so important. This was so easy to write; it’s something I’m so passionate about. I still wanted to inspire and encourage open-ended art experiences for kids.

I decided to enroll in Diane‘s online class on e-book production. (It’s not currently offered, but she has an e-book–of course!–on the same subject.) I followed that up with her online class on online classes, and both of those helped me focus some of my ideas. Diane, by the way, is a great teacher, very hands-on and helpful, even once the class is over, and I feel very lucky that I had a chance to take these classes from her. Because of them, I realized I had to upgrade my website from free WordPress if I wanted to sell anything directly. The more I looked into doing anything, the longer the to-do list became.

To be honest, this was all scary. I’d always resisted paying for a blogging platform because I wasn’t making any money! And figuring out how to self-host? And exporting my old blog? It seemed like so much tech to figure out. I broke it all into baby steps (a la Lori Pickert) and tackled it bit by bit. I emailed Diane with questions, because she’d offered to help. I asked questions on Twitter, and people helped. Just asking for help was a huge thing for me, not something I’d historically done. I’d always hesitated to bother people, but you know what? Most people are happy to help. And if you ask someone who is passionate about their own work for some assistance, you’re doubly likely to get not only help but encouragement.

Before wrapping up–because I’m going on a bit–I’ll tell you that before I hit publish on the first {Art Together} post in February I had a staring match with my laptop. Who do you think you are? demanded the voice in my head. I mean really, did I have any authority whatsoever to suggest a certain approach to anything? Me, with my art minor (not a major) and my untidy house and my continued aspirations to be a patient, centered mama–continued, because I often fall short. Who did I think I was? Reader, I hit publish anyway (after a few deep breaths). I told myself, kind of apologetically: I’m really passionate about this. Sorry, I can’t help it. I have to let it out into the world.

There is more, of course. More asking for help, more divvying up tasks into the tiniest chunks possible, more figuring out tech, more asking for help…and along the way, I Got Things Done, sometimes incrementally, but still, forward progress was made. I talked back to the doubting internal voice. I learned a whole heck of a lot. I got so much better at asking for help! But the point is, it wasn’t a quick process, and the whole venture feels very out-on-a-limb still, but the passion for it carried me through. The researching and writing were fun, and I feel like it’s very unique to me, that is, that only I could have created this particular thing. And that’s how it is with most everything–we all have this unique stew of ideas and passions, skills and motivations, and what comes out, in whatever form, can’t be made by anybody else. Which is why, of course, you have to do it, even if it takes a really long time and you have to talk sternly to your inner voice and undoubtedly gain new forehead wrinkles while frowning at the tech to show it who’s boss.

So that’s my pep talk, of a sort. I’m not sure it’s all that peppy, seeing as how the take-home message is that it wasn’t easy but it was do-able. I think it’s important to give a glimpse of the machinery behind the curtain, though, to show that the folks who are putting something out there–knitting patterns, online classes, e-zines, whatever–don’t have some magical quality or scads of self-confidence (who do you think you are??) or anything anybody else doesn’t have, unless perhaps it’s pure stubbornness. I just think we’re all so capable of awesomeness. I love when people dust off their passion, shine it up, and share it with the world.

Drawing Eggplant

Last week at the supermarket I was agog at the colors of the eggplant. It was a tough choice between bringing home fairy eggplant or Japanese, but the kids were unanimous on Japanese, so that’s what I bought. I posed them for a portrait:

Aren’t the colors gorgeous? I wanted to draw them and paint them, and I will let the kids have a chance, too, but Monday afternoon, I stole some quiet creative time to myself with the eggplant out on the deck. After I photographed them, I sketched them with pencil.

Then I tried an Inktense pencil and water brush, followed by watercolor pencils. I was both playing with materials (I am slowly getting better with watercolor pencils) and getting to know the eggplant. The more you draw something, you know…the better you see it. Here’s one of the watercolor pencil drawings.

In this final photograph, the Inktense sketch is on the top left, and another watercolor pencil sketch–possibly my favorite–is on the bottom right.

I’m sure we’ll eat these eventually–or I will, anyway, since my kids aren’t too fond of eggplant. But either way, they had to come home with us. When one finds inspiration in the supermarket, of all places, one must act.

What vegetable would you like to draw, photograph, or paint?

Making (Plans) + Listening (Quietly)

I haven’t been feeling well this week, my brain too sluggish to make anything. I haven’t even managed to knit from a pattern! This is distressing to me. Making is such a part of my days and who I am, I’m at a bit of a loss when my body declares otherwise. Last night, though, I got out of the house by myself, taking a brand new Moleskine and my pouch of colored felt-tips to the university library. I sat there listening to nothing but silence and ordered my brain to cooperate so I could do some brainstorming and planning.

I am counting this as a successful evening out.

I’ve also been trying to walk daily, about 2.5 miles in my neighborhood. When the weather cooperates, I head out in the morning, by 5:30. Cars are few, birds are noisy, and often I see a deer or two. If it’s raining in the morning I cross my fingers I can squeeze in a walk after dinner; the other night I caught a break in the weather and went for a drippy walk, serenaded by a cacophony of spring peepers. I listen to the wind in the treetops; the neighborhood stream, which usually plods along but is now rushing, swollen with recent rains; the sound of my sneakers on the pavement; and my own thoughts circling in my head. I like walking in the morning best, getting that time to myself before I have to talk to anyone or process their demands.

I am, of course, linking up with Dawn this week for making + listening. How about you? Are you making this week? What are you listening to?