45 degrees off

Seeing the same thing from a different angle.

Mister Bear

Mister Bear

I’ve been keeping my promise to myself to do more work in a loose style. I’ve been happy with the results so far, but Mister Bear has made me happier than all the other pieces! I’ve been told adding a top hat and monocle makes anything better.

I imagine Mister Bear being the perfect guest for a tea party. Sure, he can do the teddy bear picnics, but a proper tea party is where he’s most in his element.

Several small gifts and items with Mister Bear on them are now available in my store.

Carry Mister Bear with you as a keychain:

Add some class and sophistication (because what could be classier than a bear wearing a top hat and monocle, right?) to your correspondence with Mister Bear postage:

Check out the rest of the Mister Bear section at my Graphic Content store!

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Teachable Moments in Art

“Teachable moments” are often the moments where something happens that makes a perfect illustration of the point you want to get across. If you want to teach people that wearing seat belts saves lives, a “teachable moment” is when a car wreck is reported on the news where the car is totaled but everyone in it was wearing a seat belt and survived with minor bruises and cuts.

I believe teachable moments happen every day. I also believe art can provide us with many teachable moments. It can sometimes be difficult to get people to think about an issue or idea until there’s an illustration right in front of them. Especially when the issue or idea relates to horrible things that happen or are done to people, it doesn’t really make anyone feel better to have a real case on hand to use as an illustration in their teaching. Art can provide us with fictional cases that still make excellent examples or icebreakers to begin a conversation about an issue.

A few months, I found out about the From Enchantment to Down photo series by Thomas Czarnecki. The photos are shown in this article, but I’ve chosen not to show even one of them here in this post. The reason is I’ve looked them all over carefully before and would rather not do so again. They are upsetting to me.

But why are they upsetting to me? Mr. Czarnecki has created a series of pictures showing the “Disney Princesses” all grown up and meeting very depressing, perhaps even violent, ends. Is it the depictions of such things happening to beloved characters that bothers me? Is it that it makes me think of violence against women in the real world? I asked myself those questions when I looked at the pictures before, especially since I didn’t interpret them the way the people who brought them to my attention did.

I became aware of the photo series because of a tweet going around on Twitter claiming that someone had tried to be “edgy” by showing all the Disney Princesses as rape victims. There was a lot of talking about how sickening that is when an artist thinks they’re “cool” for doing something like that, and how the media has too much violence against women as entertainment already, but I didn’t see any discussion of other interpretations of the work. I wasn’t even seeing real discussion of the work, but simply of the idea stated in the original tweet… that someone had depicted them all as rape victims.

It was weeks later, when the story about the photos was run in several big internet news outlets and online versions of a few newspapers, that I finally saw discussion of the work. Not everyone cared for it. Some people found it to be disgusting and senseless. Some people thought it was brilliant. Every website reporting on it seemed to interpret the pictures different ways, and even commenters had different interpretations. According to the article I’ve linked here:

Mr. Czarnecki admits his aim was pure culture shock.

The photographer was inspired to create a clash between what he calls ‘the naive universe and the innocence of the fairy tales’ and a ‘much darker reality that is as much part of our common culture’ provided through imagery we see in entertainment and media.

‘So many Disney characters embedded in the collective culture as sweet and innocent creatures that I decided to get out of their recognized fairy-tale frame and universe,’ he said.

I’d tried looking for a statement from the artist about what his motivation was when I first saw the work but hadn’t found one then. What I did find was an interesting split in feminist discussions of the work. Most of the feminist discussions I saw on Twitter focused on that idea that he was depicting them as rape victims, and that somehow this was to be “entertaining” or “edgy”. I saw feminist discussions in other places, such as Tumblr, that seemed more in line with what his eventual statement said. Many of the women I saw discussing the photos are not fans of the Disney Princesses, seeing them as bad role models for girls, and were talking about these photos as a warning about what can happen if you deny your true self and live for fashion and pleasing a man. Interpretations of individual photos included seeing them as rape victims, drug and alcohol abusers, suffering from depression, and I saw at least one case of the photo of Ariel being interpreted as a warning about ocean pollution.

The wonderful thing is that the work was being discussed as having value and lessons to be learned from it, rather than judging the artist’s possible reasons for doing it.

This has been on my mind again because of a recent post on The Stories of O. I don’t play the card game she’s talking about (Magic: The Gathering), but the issue isn’t about the game. It’s about the art on one of the cards.

O explains the uproar about the art more fully, and there’s at least one commenter who gave some additional information on the context of the card, but the short version is this :

There’s a story that goes with the game. The woman is a powerful necromancer who cursed the man, and he’s gone after her to try to force her to lift the curse. Another card shows the continuation of their fight, in which the woman wins. There are some people who seem to have reacted to the art without taking context into account. They see the woman as helpless and pinned down by a large violent man, and there have been statements that they understand there is no sexual assault happening, but that the scene calls such events to mind.

Those speaking out against judging the art out of context, like O, have pointed to how the card makes it clear the woman is not helpless and “unarmed”  (she’s casting a fireball spell) and that this is a fight not just between a man and a woman, but between a man who is rightfully enraged because he was cursed by a woman who is a powerful necromancer. I’d like to step away from that argument for a moment and look at how this could become a teachable moment.

This art provides opportunities to discuss a number of issues. It can be used to show that being smaller doesn’t make you helpless. (She is casting a fireball spell, and she does win the fight.) Discussions of fictional worlds where women can be even more powerful than many men can open doors for discussions about how women can be empowered in our own world by simply getting people to think about the subject. There are still people who think rape is about sex, and this art could be used in an educational context to correct that misguided idea. Yes, it is clear from the context that sexual assault is not what’s happening here. However, the fact that people are able to see it so easily out of context means it would make it easier to show people the paralells and educate them about assault being about power and dominance over another person, no matter what kind of assault it is.

If you’re fighting a war against ignorance and outdated societal attitudes, use weapons of opportunity. Turn the tools of the masters against them.

I did figure out why Mr. Czarnecki’s photos upset me, by the way. They pushed me to think about things I usually avoid thinking about. I learned quite a bit about myself from the experience.  I had to make myself look at them and ask myself some uncomfortable questions to get there, though.

Note: These are very hot-button issues, and intense discussions about them have happened more recently in some social circles than others. I will open comments on Monday, but would rather not spend my weekend moderating them.

Then and Now

Last week I came across the first drawing I ever did with a Wacom tablet. A very messy snail.

snail 2009That’s from 2009, and I drew it as soon as I finished installing drivers, software, and getting things configured. The first time I held a stylus in my hand and struggled to make it feel as comfortable as a pencil, that snail was the result.

I decided today to draw the snail again.

 

snail 2012

The 2009 snail took several hours. The 2012 snail took about ten or fifteen minutes.

Again, I was drawing with a Wacom tablet, though I did get a newer model in the past three years. Both snails were drawn in ArtRage, though I was using the basic ArtRage in 2009 and use Studio Pro now.

Part of me thinks it would interesting to draw the snail again once every three years. I’m not certain I’d remember to, though.

It’s easy to get so focused on where we are and how far we have to go that we forget to look at where we are as compared to where we’ve been. It’s a long journey. It takes time.

Maybe moving “at a snail’s pace” isn’t always a bad thing.

 

 

Black and White Fabric now available through Spoonflower!

Updated with pictures of fabric swatches!

One of the bigger projects on my 2012 “To Do” list is done!

I shared this picture through social networks just as the Easter holiday weekend was starting and said I’d have an announcement about it this week:

Sneak peek of the floral fabric design.

That’s a sample view of the black and white floral fabric, and there’s also an abstract design inspired by feathers.

Yes, I said I would do a (singular) design this year, but it turned into two before I was finished.

Spoonflower has quite a few options for fabric with varying prices. If you’d like to test a piece for quality before committing to a larger purchase, you can order a small test swatch for $5.00. I’ve ordered a test swatch from them before. It’s an 8 inch X 8 inch swatch, which isn’t big enough to make much from but does allow you to see how things print and even run it through the wash and put it under an iron.

Both designs were done with quilters in mind, and one of the fabric options is Kona brand cotton. I can imagine a lot of uses for the floral design, though, and I’m sure someone more creative with fabric than I am could come up with a whole list of projects for the feathery design!

You can find the black and white flowers here, and the abstract feathery fabric here on Spoonflower.

Update!

My fabric swatches arrived in the mail today, so I’m updating this post to add pictures of the designs printed on fabric. I chose the Kona brand Premium Quilting Weight Cotton for my swatches. I think the photos give a decent view of how smooth the lines print, but the lighting and my camera make the color just a little off.  The fabric is pure white. The black lines aren’t jet black, but they do not look what I would call “faded” at all. It’s more like a soft black that doesn’t jump out at you too much but is definitely black. I’d say you could put this fabric in a project with other fabrics without it dominating everything, nor would it look faded and “blah”. As the artist, I am very pleased with the results!  The feathery design especially looks even better on the fabric than on the website.


Black and White Flowers on Spoonflower

Feathery fabric on Spoonflower

 

Do You Need Talent to be An Artist?

What is “talent”?

Dictionary.com lists as the first definition “a special natural ability or aptitude” and uses art as an example – ” a talent for drawing”.

It is a word that is often used to compliment an artist for their work. “She’s a very talented artist.” “You have so much talent!”

It is also a word often used to express one’s lack of ability. “I wish I could draw like that, but I just don’t have any talent for it.”

To understand what’s wrong with this idea, let’s look a little more at the word “aptitude”.

An aptitude is a component of a competency to do a certain kind of work at a certain level, which can also be considered “talent”. Aptitudes may be physical or mental. Aptitude is not knowledge, understanding, learned or acquired abilities (skills) or attitude. The innate nature of aptitude is in contrast to achievement, which represents knowledge or ability that is gained

(from the Wikipedia entry for “aptitude”, emphasis is my own)

This is why I rarely describe an artist as being “talented”. I even shudder a little when I catch myself saying it without meaning to. It’s not an easy habit to break, but I’d like to ask everyone to make that effort to break it with me. Consider the implications of what you’re saying when you call someone “talented”.

Many artists have no artistic talent at all. They are highly skilled and create beautiful work, but it all comes from years of working hard to learn and perfect their craft. Try using those words instead. “He’s an amazingly skilled artist!” “She’s an artist who creates beautiful pieces!”

I know, I know… I just argued that talent is different from skill. So if you can’t look at someone’s work and know if they were born with artistic talent or not, how can you know it’s skill instead?

Even talented artists have to develop their skills. Talent doesn’t do the job for you… it just makes getting started a bit easier. A talented artist who doesn’t develop their skills will become mediocre rather quickly.

And don’t sell yourself short if you’re not an artist! Ask yourself what your mental dependence on talent is doing for you. Is it holding you back because your belief that an artist must be talented sabotages your own efforts? Or is it your excuse for not making the time to develop skills?

I joked a couple of days ago on Twitter that my buddy Brad Stover has “a magic camera that makes people look good”. I can’t take photographs the way he does, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the camera isn’t at fault. I’ve seen photographers talk to each other about their work. “Which camera are you using?” is only one of the questions they ask, often followed by questions about lenses, lights, time of day, film processing, etc. There’s a lot of talk about equipment, but also about how the equipment was used. About knowledge and skill.

I can’t take pictures like that because I’ve never put serious effort into mastering that craft. Not because I lack talent with a camera in my hand, but because I have not done the work to develop the skill.

The next time you’re tempted to say, “I wish I could draw/paint/take photos/bake like that, but…” ask yourself something. Do you really wish you could do it? So much that you’re willing to devote your time and energy to learning, practicing, and mastering it? Or do you simply wish you could get those results without having to learn the craft?

If you really want to do it, don’t hold yourself back with a misguided dependence on “talent”. It’s not a requirement.

The Power in Doing Nothing

One thing I am not very good at is being restful. Restless? Oh, I was born a master of that art! I’ve always felt I need to be doing something. Time spent being restful is wasted. Eliminating the need to sleep would give me an extra chunk of hours to be doing things.  Time spent waiting is time that could be spent making progress. Whether it’s doing what I want to do or doing what I need to do, I want to be doing!

This isn’t working very well for me anymore. It probably never was, but the consequences of not taking time to be restful — to do nothing — just didn’t weigh enough for me to believe they were real in the past. I’ve come to a point in my life where my health issues aren’t going to let me keep pushing all the time. I can’t always do what I need to, and often can’t do what I want to. I have to learn to rest, recharge, and not have a fit if I can’t finish everything within a couple of hours of starting it. I must prioritize things by when they need to be completed, not when I want them to be completed. I even have to ask for help sometimes with getting things accomplished. (I’m even worse at admitting I need help than I am at admitting I need rest.)

It often feels like my power over my own life is being taken away from me. I expected my husband to understand why taking time off is so unacceptable to me. He’s a disabled Marine. He knows very well what it’s like for your own body to betray you, to give up and simply not allow you to do what your heart and mind are set on. To face that fact that, sometimes, no amount of “willing” can make you “able”.

Just because someone understands doesn’t mean they agree with you. He understands very well why this is difficult for me. He’s also told me it’s just something I’m going to have to learn to accept. (He’s in league with the doctors, you know. They always gang up on the stubborn patients.) He’s right, of course. The only thing that can come from me fighting my own body is more pain and illness. Success in life is not always about mastering doing what other people do the way other people do it. Success can be a matter of finding your own way to do those same necessary things. Not all obstacles can be overcome by leaping over them or destroying them. Learning to work around the obstacle when it cannot be removed also leads to success.

As I’m learning to accept this, I’m also finding that there is a certain power in doing nothing now and then. If you’re always working, when do you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor? This can lead to addictive behaviors in some people. The brain’s system of releasing chemicals that gives us a satisfying “rewarded” feeling  can get it’s wiring switched around so that the person never feels satisfied with their reward and continues chasing after it. You may immediately think of gambling addicts, but can also result in a person becoming addicted to work. This isn’t about a person who sets their goals high and doesn’t settle for less, nor is it about someone who enjoys their reward and then decides they can do even better next time. I’m talking about people who never feel the reward is a reward and will work themselves to death chasing after something that won’t make them happy even if they find it.

Take time to enjoy what you’ve achieved before pushing for more.

How many times do you read only short news articles even when they are addressing complex issues? How often do you not so much listen to another person as simply wait for the sound of their voice to stop? How often do you fail to observe what’s going on around you because it doesn’t fit into your plans for the day?

How often do you put down your electronic gadgets while in a public place and simply watch people? How often do you sit and think about the information you’ve taken in after reading or watching something, or listening to another person? How often do you say to yourself, “I’ll wait at least a day before I make a decision on this”?

Personal growth requires time to rest and reflect on things. Step back and see where you’ve been, where you are, and how you got there before deciding where to go next.

Walk away from the writing for a while, let the words fade a bit in your mind, before editing.

Step back and see where all the plants are before putting the next one in the soil.

Put the pen down and look at the whole picture before adding another detail.

Do nothing now and then so that you’re doing your best when you do something.

Desiderata

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

— Max Ehrmann

Positive Space

Life can be really hard. Sometimes it’s filled with seemingly insurmountable challenges and crushing pain, physically and mentally. For some people, it’s a series of problems that would be annoyances individually, but they all pile up on top of each other and become a heavier load than the person can carry. And some people just aren’t able to handle the occasional challenge very well because they generally have a smooth road to travel and aren’t prepared when a challenge pops up. (It may be difficult to feel sympathy for those people at times, but think of it as the mental and emotional equivalent to having never developed a resistance to common germs.) Life can seem like all the space has been filled with negativity.

Creating positive space in our lives is an important part of our physical, mental, and emotional health. If we can’t create enough positive space to push all the negativity out then we at least need to create enough to have a safe harbor for ourselves. That’s part of what my art does for me. It’s a way to create pockets of positive space in my life. The winter has not been kind to my health. We’ve had a string of things going wrong since the new year started. It’s normal for me to face issues with depression in the winter. Somehow, I seem to have handled it all better this winter than I have before. I think it’s because my reaction to all these problems has been, “I need to go draw something.”

This post on Keitharsis really struck a chord with me.

I can’t name one perfectly content Creative who is producing major work.  Can you?

Most of us are running away from something.

Or running to something.

Or needing to prove something.

We’re incomplete.

We’re complicated.

We’re hypocrites.

We doubt.

We care.

And I don’t think this is something we can (or should) purge from our lives.

Quite the opposite.

I think it’s what makes us real and human.

As an artist, I’m not just creating visual images. I’m creating positive space in my own life and, hopefully, the lives of others.

In art, “positive space” and “negative space” aren’t emotional concepts. Positive space is where there are “things” in a piece. Something fills this area. Negative space is the empty space between things. Both are important, and how one balances the two has a major impact on the finished work. They may not be emotional concepts, but in some ways they are very much like the positive and negative space in our lives.

I’ve talked before about how important my black and white work has become at this point in my life, and how much I feel I have to learn from it. It creates positive space in my life. I also get more feedback on those pieces than the other work I do. (I appreciate all the feedback. I just can’t help noticing when some things get more response than others.) I’ve moved the products with black and white work on them out of the store they were in and put them in their own place.

Welcome to Positive Space!

I’ll try not to change the storefront too much as I clean it up. The categories under “Browse this Store” on the right hand side of the page are very handy for narrowing down what you’re looking at.

Since this post is about creating positive space in life, I’d like to point something out about the pillows like the one pictured above. You can find them at Positive Space, and also at Everyday Myth. I will also be adding cloth napkins, placemats, and kitchen towels. These products are manufactured by a company called American Mojo. You can read their mission statement by clicking on that link.

They are helping single mothers hold a job to support themselves and their children. I have personally known women (not always single moms, but also mothers in households that desperately needed two incomes) who have faced the problem of finding a job that would pay for more than just the childcare needed so they could go to work. American Mojo understands how the childcare costs hurdle can make it almost impossible for a lot of single mothers to provide for their children.

By creating a place where mothers can take home more of their pay, they are creating positive space in the lives of these families and giving these mothers the tools they need to create positive space in their own homes and the lives of their children. I’m really happy to be able to put my work on products made by them.

A Little Love

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Many people don’t like the holiday. It’s not much fun to see everyone else gushing on and on about how in love they are when you’re not in a relationship, even if you’re generally happy that way the rest of the year. Love isn’t just about romantic love, though, and Valentine’s Day cards and gifts are often given to a variety of people in our lives who are so near and dear to us that we consider them “someone I love”.

My Patchwork Heart is available mostly on small gifts. Things like stickers, keychains, magnets, and mugs.  These aren’t particularly romantic gifts, and are appropriate for giving to everyone from your mother to a teacher.

This is a design won in Zazzle necklace design contest last year, and it is available as a necklace, but between you and me I’ve always liked it more as a shirt and a mug.

The Many Languages of Love design is available on a variety of products, including tote bags, aprons, and keepsake gift boxes.

This postcard has been one of my more popular products for the past few years. I made the piece available on a few other products, but only when it would fit well. You can get it as a necklace, postage stamp, magnet, or mousepad, as well still being available as a postcard. It can be a romantic gift, but also makes an appropriate gift for a mother or grandmother.

And if you do want to tell a special someone just how much they mean to you, but you’re not really a “flowers and teddy bears” couple…

The mug has “You fill my life meter” written on it. I suggest the “morphing mug” option (which is what I’ve set the default to, but you can certainly change it before ordering if you’d rather not have it)  so that the design appears and your life meter fills as the mug is filled with a hot drink.

 

Don’t give in to the idea that Valentine’s Day is either a holiday full of chocolate and roses, or a day you avoid all human contact. Spread a little love in your own way!

Lessons from the Sketchbook

I am slowly filling pages in my sketchbook. I never really know what a page will look like before it is finished. That’s part of what I enjoy about doing it. I lose myself in drawing each line, not worrying about the one before it or the next to come. It’s so relaxing that it can be like taking a nap without falling asleep.

Some pages turn out better than others. I’ve given myself permission to experiment within the pages of the book with things that I have no clue if it’ll work out well or not.  There is a page I did with purple, red, green, and blue ink. The rainbow effect wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, and I’m not very happy with it. I didn’t tear the page out, though. It is part of my ink and paper experiment and belongs in the book.

I think this one turned out better. I decided to try again with splashes of color added to a finished drawing.

Sketchbook piece with splashes of color.

I do wish I had a yellow pen. I would have traded brown for yellow.

I’m learning that I can be a lot more patient than I ever thought I could be. Several people have commented on the level of detail in a recently completed drawing that spans two pages of the book. It wasn’t particularly difficult to draw, but it was a big time investment.

Sketchbook piece spanning two pages.

There are at least two errors in that one, and quite a few lines I wish I’d drawn smoother or angled better. Learning to make mistakes is part of the process, though. Eliminating errors to improve the quality of one’s work is important. If the fear of mistakes stops a person from trying anything new, however, learning to make mistakes has to come before learning to eliminate them. You don’t get better at something by not doing it.

I have a few black and white projects to work on this year outside of the sketchbook. I am looking forward to each and every one of them. As much as I love color, I think a lot of my growth – as an artist and a person – is happening in black and white right now.

My 2012 “To Do” List

I’m not big on making resolutions for the new year. They just don’t work for me. I get caught up in the excitement of the cultural ritual, but later I feel like I’ve come up with a list of things I feel obligated to do even if it’s not as good an idea as it sounded at the time. Or worse, life throws me for a loop and makes sticking to the resolution nearly impossible, yet I feel like I failed because I’ve broken this promise I made. The act of publicly making those promises to myself means I feel like I’ve broken a promise to other people even though I haven’t.

So no resolutions this year! Instead, I’ve put together a list of the things on my art list that, today, seem most important for me to accomplish over the next year. It’s not a list of promises. It’s a list of priorities. Priorities may change as life changes. I’ll look back at the list a year from now and see how many I can mark off and why I can’t mark off any of the things left undone. They aren’t the only things I intend to accomplish in 2012, but a handful of checkpoints to help me keep track of where I’m going.

Do a fabric design on Spoonflower.

Find out more about how Storybird works.

Make my Zazzle stores connect to each other better visually. There are many good things about not having everything in one store, but I’d really like it to be easier for people who want to see all my stores.

Make progress on a fairly long-term collaborative project that was recently proposed to me.

Finish any three things on my Ideas and Inspiration list.

Put together a calender in time for 2013.

It’s a short list. Nothing on it is something I can sit down and whip out in half an hour, though. I’ve tried to focus on things I have a fair amount of control over… things I can do without being too dependent on luck. It would be easy to say things like “Get 500 more Twitter followers” or “Make 50% more money in art sales than I did in 2011”. When it comes right down to it, though, those aren’t really things I can control. I can’t force people to follow me on Twitter, nor can I force them to buy more of my work. I wouldn’t want to force anyone even if I could. The things on this list are things I can be responsible for. In the case of the collaborative project, I can be responsible for my part in it.

Keep that in mind when you make your own list. (I suspect that, to some degree, we all make a list whether we make it public or not.) Plan for the things you can do. Not the things you just have to hope turn out the way you want them to.

I’ll see you next year!