Friday, September 20, 2013

What is an Artist's Journal?

Once upon a time, I used to do art to the point that my laundry never got done and we had to crack open the plastic silverware to have clean utensils. This was a very unpopular stage with my husband, and I was forced to actually gain a bit of balance in my life, so of course I started a blog and a barn sale to help me get my priorities straight. Today's story is from this pre-barn sale period of my life. I decided I would tell you guys one of my dirty little secrets.

A long time ago, when my kids were small and it was never about me, I used to scrapbook. I know, you are all shocked. I am one of the least "scrappy" people I know. But one of my dear friends was a Creative Memories rep and she asked me to come to a few of her parties and I had a bunch of friends there really was pretty fun. There really is something about being in a group of women, making stuff out of memories and paper and stickers, and laughing a lot as you talk about life. I liked the design challenge of trying to figure out a non "gooky" way to collage all those pictures and dates and hand written descriptions of things. I was always trying to take it to the next level, make my pages look different than the others I'd seen. 

Obviously not my best effort.

In an attempt to get some fresh ideas, I checked out a book called "1001 Artist Journal Pages" by Dawn DeVries Sokol.  I figured if anyone had some good ideas, it would be a bunch of artists. 

As I looked through the book, I did find some great ideas, but I kept getting this odd feeling that I was missing something big. Kind of like looking at a giant's shoe, and missing that there was a giant attached to it. I kept looking at the various pages, trying to find the link that tied them all together, but I still couldn't figure it out. They were just so diverse in style and theme.

So I did what any Facebook using 40-something would do, I asked someone I know from high school about it. I happen to know a brilliant woman, Alison King, who is an art professor at the Phoenix Art Institute. She is a force of nature in the movement to protect original modern style buildings in the Phoenix area from demolition and massive renovation. She is also one of those teachers that is super hard on you, but if you pass her class, you WILL succeed in the art-business world. I knew she'd have my answer.

When asked "What is the point of an artist's journal," here's what she said:

"The point of keeping an artist journal is pretty much the same as keeping a diary, only it is in visual language. You document the sights, feelings, scraps of ideas around you in case they become useful someday for something bigger. 

 Additionally, because a journal is chronological, you can see the logical progression of one idea to the next or watch one singe idea or theme grow over time as you revisit a theme. 

I assign required sketchbooks to my freshmen and a certain amount of drawing in them to prove to them that they have progressed in skill over time. They set goals at the beginning i.e. "I want to draw hands better" and then the expectation is that okay, if they want to do hands better they better damn well be drawing lots of hands, then! 

Keeping a journal is like keeping a commitment that you are going to go to the gym -- to keep yourself creatively fit and keep on growing stronger at what you do."

Talk about having your question answered. I told you she was brilliant!

So I started my own artist journal. I use a 9x12 spiral bound sketch book. In the book, there are no rules. I draw whatever I want, however I want. 

Sometimes I push myself to do something that makes me nervous, like this page, where forthe first time in my life, I drew with felt tip pens without a pencil sketch to guide me.

That may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but when you gained a tremendous amount of popularity in 2nd and 3rd grade by drawing really well, you rely heavily on those pencil sketches. Drawing without them just feels so NAKED and EXPOSED. What if you make a mistake? You might have to start over! 

But I did it anyway, just to see what would happen. As I drew, I felt the thrill of doing something that scares the pants off you. As I kept drawing, I began to release control and let the picture just become what it wanted to be, rather than what I wanted it to be. It was magic! It just kind of drew itself. And I still liked the result. It was such a rush to know that you really can just go with it, and completely let go of safety. You simply work with whatever happens. Your art will be the stronger for it.  

I felt like I had polished my soul. So much freedom and power. 

I was completely addicted after that.

But as you know, I did have to get some balance and start a blog and a barn sale, so my artist journal has suffered a bit. Luckily, I found a pair broken butterfly wings on a walk a while ago and brought them home to draw. I found myself with an unexpected hour the other day and actually remembered that I had been wanting to draw them. (That's half the battle sometimes, just remembering what it was you wanted to do when the time drops in your lap.) So I set up a little still life 

and got to work.

As you can see, I will not be giving Michelangelo a run for his money any time soon, but it was so cathartic for me to express myself visually again. 

And through this exercise, I gained a deep appreciation for the purpose of creating a still life. I picked a few objects that I found visually interesting and practiced recreating those 3 dimensional qualities in 2 dimensions. For me, it was about figuring out how to make metal look metallic, or butterfly wings look luminous, or how to get the keys to look layered using only a pencil. It's about implying your other senses, like touch and smell if you are drawing something soft or fragrant. The artist who chooses a still life it trying to capture some essence of his subject, be it trying to recreate it as realistically as possible, or simply figuring out how few lines he could use and still convey the idea of the subject to the viewer. 

This picture is the result of me being shocked how hard it is to do art. 
Hence the title "artWork"
I don't always have brilliant insights when I use my journal. But it has given me a safe place to record the things swirling around in my mind without worrying about being judged or evaluated by anyone other than myself. And I have forbidden myself from judging my own art as being "good" or "bad" here. It is simply what came out that day. Safe.

Sometimes I draw about what I've been doing, 
just like when you write about your travels or experiences in a regular journal.

I drew this one to remind myself about an amazing anniversary date with my husband.

Sometimes I draw to release emotion or confusion or grief.

Sometimes I just let my pencil wander and see what happens. With this piece, I held the pencil loosely between my fingers and let the lead jump around the paper until it connected something in me.

Sorry this one's so hard to see. That's how light the original is.

I don't always spend a ton of time on it. I think this page took me 5 minutes, but it leaves you no questions where my life was going that day.

Sometimes I hyper focus and draw things in great detail. 

I also plan out things visually in my journal. This piece is the plan for a large scale collage I will get to sometime, like once the laundry is done an there are actually clean spoons in the drawer.

In any case, using my artist journal has lead me to substantially greater depths of understanding of both myself and my art than I could have gained any other way. It is an incredibly powerful tool. And don't feel like you need to be an pro to benefit from it. Anyone visually inclined would gain tremendously from doing this. Even if all you did was sketch your next projects or dream house, you would find your life enriched. It really is magic.

I just thought I'd throw it out there into blogland for those of you looking for that something you can't quite put your finger on, but feels like that deep seated yearning for More.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dana's Table and the Year of the Dining Room

 So this is a post I started over a year ago. And I just finished it today. But I really like where I started and so just pretend that the last post you read from me was this one, the first time I went to the Lucketts Spring Fair and met Miss Mustard Seed.

I have been stripping in the garage lately. And using my pole too. Isn't that just so deliciously salacious coming from an overweight stay at home mom? I have to admit though, I have been stripping in my garage. Sometimes, I even leave the door open so the neighbors can watch. But that is the middle of this story. I better tell the whole thing from the beginning.

When our previous episode left off, Dana and I were driving home from a lovely day of shopping in Lucketts. But Dana was a changed woman. Since she found "The" table, Dana has become obsessed with Craigslist. For those of you who haven't discovered this amazing resource yet, is an online local garage sale of sorts, where you can search for specific things like "wood dining table" and see pictures and read a blurb about the item before you truck to the person's house to look at it. As I was the one who suggested she look there for a table, it was only a matter of time (about 3 hrs after we got home from Lucketts) before she had me obsessing right along with her. I came home that same day and decided to reorganize my whole house. I am now in the process of refinishing a gorgeous mahogany buffet, but that is it's own story.

While I was looking for my stuff, I was sending her links to tables that could be just like her inspiration table. Oh, I forgot to tell you. Dana has an "inspiration room" for the dining room. Check it out here. She has hired a carpenter to make the long shelves with the thick molding that run along one wall. She is trying to decide if she's going to build the buffet table the same way, or get a darker antique or vintage piece. And she is totally married to the table in the pic, although she keeps changing her mind about natural top or dark top. Gotta love a pregnant woman's drive.

This gorgeous room is from The Old Painted Cottage Blog. It's fantastic. You should check it out.

So miracle of miracles, after a month of sending her about 10 Craigslist posts a day, Dana emails me and says, "I think this one might be it...." This is a rather ominous statement coming from Dana as she has a really, really hard time making up her mind about decorating stuff, especially if it involves a large financial or longevity commitment. She just wants to be sure she gets what she really wants. Because, you know, there might be something better next week.....

Anyway, after looking at listings for a month, the stars aligned and we took a lovely drive to Beltsville, MD, which is on the other side of the region from us. And Dana actually committed this table and chair set:

Nice legs, pretty rush seated chairs, solid construction, and the worse varnish job I have ever seen. Seriously. Varnish drips everywhere. Several gaps on the top where there simply was no varnish. It made me wonder if the man of the family tried a little varnish DIY, just to make it really, really shiny. And this table was shiny, like you could do your make-up looking in it shiny. But the price was right. $199 for the entire set, chairs and all. (The lady even gave Dana her $1 bill in change.) And the legs! Those gorgeous chunky solid wood legs had us at "hello".

So I got to work transforming the table. Initially Dana was going to leave the top and try to match the look of this table:

 The Bee Keeper's Cottage, a regular vendor at the Old Lucketts Store

I took the table apart, leaving the top as it was, dripped varnish and all. I started with a coat of French Linen Chalk Paint from Annie Sloan.
This is after one coat on those pretty legs.

First Coat of Pure White over the Linen.

The leg on the right has the second coat of Pure White. 
 I find that I often need two coats of Pure White or Old White.

I am always amazed at how the wax transforms things. Here is what the leg looked like after being waxed with clear wax and then selectively distressed.

Are you as in love with these legs as I am? 
I really, really love how curvy they are. And the finish on them feels smooth as glass. 
Sometimes I even surprise myself with the quality of my work.

I got the whole frame of the table painted and assembled and then I took the cover off the table top and was confronted with this:

This is the exact color of the finish. There is no unintentional yellowing due to artificial light. 

So after much discussion, which mostly involved me telling Dana that this was way too crappy to put with the pretty table I had just spent three days refinishing, "We" decided to strip it.

So here I am, back in the garage, stripping away.

I think I was wearing more clothes than all the other DC Metro Area strippers combined. 
I even have socks on. It was June. I wonder why I was wearing socks? 

In any case, though the process, I learned that I LOVE the gel citrus stripping agent they sell at Home Depot. If you need something stripped, I highly recommend it. It actually smells good! It works really well and fairly quickly. And it's not nearly as toxic as most of the other stripping agents. I covered up, and kept track of my debris, but I wasn't worried about my fingers turning green or shriveling and falling off, which I had been worried about on occasion with other products.

Once it was all stripped and cleaned and put together, this is what it turned out like:

Dana was so happy with the table, she actually sat down and cried. 
No better compliment to the artist than that.
OK, so that was then. Let's fast forward to now.

In the last year, Dana and her very hard working and handy husband Travis have completely transformed their dining room, and the table is the centerpiece of the design.

Welcome to their new dining room!

This buffet was a total gift from the universe. It is solid vintage pecan wood. 
She got in off Craigslist for $100. 

 This is the true color of the piece. I LOVE the handles!

Apparently the people she bought it from had just bought a house, and the former owners left it there. The new people just wanted it gone, so Dana gets to live happily ever after with it in her dining room. 

She has been collecting the white wear ever since Lucketts. I suppose we should say, I have been collecting the white ware for her as I bang around the countryside looking for deals for the barn sale.

This piece, however, she did buy for herself. From none other than Miss Mustard Seed herself. It was cherished and loved, until one day, one of her kids bumped it accidentally. It smashed on the ground into about 20 pieces. She sadly and lovingly put them in a bag and brought them over, asking if I could use broken pottery for any of my projects. It was so sad. So once she left, I opened the bag, and slowly rebuilt the chamber pot for her. Obviously, I did a less than perfect job, but with some Gorilla Super Glue, at least it is in one piece and holding firm.

I couldn't resist posting this one. This is one of my up-cycled coaster bud vases. Dana snapped this one up from me before the 2012 spring barn sale even started. I still can't believe how well those vintage science bottles fit!

As much as I love the table and the side board, I think the piece de resistance in this room is the Family Rules sign.

This is the real McCoy from Between You and Me. This little Etsy company, of Perfectly Imperfect and Thistlewood Farms fame (two of Dana and my favorite blogs), hand-makes the most gorgeous Family Rules signs either of us had ever seen. And we looked at  A LOT of signs together because Dana really wanted that to be a defining element of the room. In the long run, she decided to let this be her splurge. She even had a family council to let the kids weigh in on the rules that would be listed. I was just happy that Dana allowed herself to buy the thing that she most wanted, rather than making do with something lesser.

It just pulls the room together so nicely.

Another hand done element in the room was the wainscoting.  Travis put all of it in himself.

Sometimes I wish I had a handy husband instead of a handy self. 
And then I remember that it took a year for this room to get finished. 

But Travis is unstoppable. 
As I was shooting the dining room today, Travis was bead boarding the bathroom. 
Go Travis!

Here are a few more beauty shots, just for fun.

Almost everything in this room was gathered slowly and inexpensively or made by hand. And yes, it took a while, but I love that every piece in here has meaning for Dana. What better thing could you  surround yourself with, than beautiful things that remind you of the adventures you had getting them and people you loved being with? 

I really do love those legs. 'Sigh'


Sunday, September 8, 2013

More Than You Think

 I had an amusing experience this morning. I have a dear friend named Erica, who lives far enough away that we only see each other about once every 3-6 months. (She and I had a jolly time visiting various barn sales in Leesburg in this post.) I had an opportunity to visit her on Saturday. It was a lovely visit and we talked about all kinds of arty things, as she is also an artist. I had barn sale on the brain, as we had been talking about this year's show. Usually that is a good thing, as I am in the middle of signing artists and laying all the groundwork for the show. But my barn sale mindset had some interesting repercussions today.

Erica sent me an email as a follow up to our visit. I wanted to share a section of it with you all (I hope that's OK, Erica):

I meant to mention this earlier, but off the top of my head, there is one artist I get give-up jealous over who lives about 45 minutes from me, down in B-----.  She does this collage work as well as pastel and photography that is stunning, and she has this relatable and fun social persona I will never ever have.  But I'm so glad she does, it suits her particularly well.  And the way she combines art and people... and art with art... and people with people....  And did I mention the barn sale and workshops she runs every year?  To share her artistic joy?  Yeah.  I feel very privileged to know this person.  Very.

So I'm reading the first sentence and thinking, "Oh good. An artist referral. I need a few more people for the show. And how convenient she lives in my same city." 

By the second sentence I was getting a little nervous, and maybe a hair jealous. Now my thoughts were somewhere in the neighborhood of, "Hey! Those are my mediums! And we already HAVE another photographer. I mean she sounds really great and all, but what if my work can't compete with hers? But Erica does have a really good eye..."

I seriously didn't connect until the end of the third sentence, when I read about the barn sale and workshops that Erica was talking about ME.

I have been thinking about this all day. Granted, I immediately started laughing when I realized what a dolt I was. Being jealous of myself? Really? 

As I reread the message, I had to agree that I do have all those qualities and I do do all those things, but it caught me off guard to have them pointed out with such praise and exception.

Now I am not usually someone who  struggles with self esteem. I have been accused of being too arrogant on occasion. But even I didn't recognize my own worth when it was spelled out, line by line in front of me. Yet aren't we all like that? I wonder why it's so much more innate to think that we are nothing special, that our talents are just pedestrian, simply because we are used to having them? In fact, it almost seems like bad manners to embrace the excellence that is unique to each of us.

But I think that just like me, we are each greater than the sum of our being. That our lives are filled with continual acts of kindness and personal sacrifice for the greater good. That we are daily exceeding our own estimations of who we are and what we have accomplished that day. That we radiate a light from within, only visible to those in the world around us.

Please pretend today that someone wrote an email to you just like the one Erica wrote to me, full of praise and wonder about your details. Know that someone out there sees your greatness. They see your love, talent, and sacrifice. It is easy for them to recognize that you are so very much more than enough. 

Because you are exponentially more than you think.

Ralph Waldo Emerson “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

*quote and RWE photo source here