Maybe it was because I recently collaged a lobster into an art journal page or maybe it is my fondness for all things monstrous, but the next subject in my Rainbow Art Journal turned out to be a Lobster Girl. It’s the page where I am transitioning between red and orange so I guess that combination of colours sparked my imagination and set it off in that direction. Whatever the inspiration, when I put pencil to paper, this was the illustration that emerged.
I find I am going long stretches at the moment between creating any art. Life is just getting in the way too much plus I am also still (!) a little wiped out by that post-viral fatigue thing. I am a happier, more balanced person when I have regular doses of art time so this is not a good state of affairs. All I have just about manage to keep up with is cracking open my art journal about once a week, usually on the weekend. I need to eke out a decent chunk of art time soon. I am getting artsy-antsy.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was Love/Hate since it was Valentines Week. I happen to loathe Valentine’s Day but I decided to go with the love them rather than the hate option. Let’s focus on the positive. My starting point was to adhere a Valentines theme paper napkin left over from my preschool class party onto the page to create the repeated pattern of love hearts. Then the page sat like that for days since I could not find the time. My original plan was to draw a figure on the page and do some sort of negative shape painting shebang and, if you look closely, you can still see the pencil marks since I could not erase them. I decided to be pragmatic about my available free time so I instead chose to paint a beetle so that it could be a Love Bug. It does not show up at all well in the photograph but I used pearlescent and metallic paints in order to suggest the shiny carapace of a beetle.
It is not a great art journal page by any measure but it isn’t one that makes me want to tear the page out of the book or gesso over it either. Fingers crossed that I can find a bit more time for art in the next week or so.
This has been a horrible winter. It has not actually snowed much but instead we have had to contend with various pestilences and too many rainy, miserable weekends. While I do enjoy hibernating a bit over winter, cabin fever definitely set in. I desperately needed some fresh air and exploration for the sake of my mental wellbeing. This past weekend, therefore, we took advantage of a dry day to go and visit the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. We had previously attempted a visit there but it was Labour Day weekend and all of the tickets for the day were gone by the time we arrived. This time we prebooked to be assured of entry, though in reality it was pretty quiet.
The Grounds for Sculpture is essentially an outdoor exhibition space for sculptures by a variety of artists. The museum was founded by artist Seward Johnson. I must confess that his was not a name I knew but it turned out I did know some of his sculptures. The one most people can probably recall to their mind’s eye is ‘Double Check’ which depicts a seated businessman looking through his briefcase. It was captured in an iconic photo of 9/11 as, covered in dust and debris, it looked no different from the real people making their way through the streets after the towers collapsed. A replica of that statue greeted us as we entered the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center showcased some of Johnson’s other works too, such as his Marilyn Monroe based on the famous photo of her from ‘The Seven Year Itch’, a group of musicians, and a styrofoam sculpture of a reclining girl that was painted to look like it was made from marble and chrome. What was a big hit with the boys, however, was a room made to look like Van Gogh’s painting of his ‘Bedroom in Arles’. We all enjoyed the feeling of having stepped inside the painting and be seeing such a famous work from a different perspective.
The vast outdoor space contained hundreds of sculptures. Every pathway brought us to a different art work and we enjoyed the almost “treasure hunt” aspect of finding some of the statues that were partially concealed behind bushes or were only accessible by following a small path. Some statues made the kids chortle, including one of a man urinating into bushes and a very phallic obelisk. I enjoyed the variety of art works on display, from the abstract to the kitsch, from the ones hewn from natural materials to the brightly coloured ones crafted from manmade materials. We all enjoyed the oversized, three dimensional versions of famous Impressionist paintings because of that feeling of being able to magically step inside a painting. We also enjoyed the celebration of kitsch and the fact that many of the statues could be touched and interacted with as adjacent signs specified that they could be respectfully touched or even climbed on. I believe one of the mission statements of the Grounds for Sculpture is to engage more people in public art so it was great to be able to let the kids feel the texture of a bronze sculpture or hang out with Renoir’s party-goers.
The grounds themselves were lovely, very peaceful, filled with trees and plants, and peacocks. There were also some nice buildings dotted around and bodies of water and arching bridges. I can imagine that the whole place looks even more appealing in other seasons when there is more colour and leaves on the trees. Since the Grounds are spread over 42 acres, we had lots of opportunity to wander and run around and explore. However, even though we were there for a few hours, we did not manage to see everything. We will absolutely have to go back some time.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “2”. I almost immediately decided to draw the Grady twins from ‘The Shining’, which probably tells you something about the workings of my brain. ‘The Shining’ is one of my favourite horror movies because I love how open to interpretation it is, how unresolved it all remains, and how unsettling it is for those very reasons. Those are precisely the same reasons why my husband loathes the movie. The Grady twins are significant in the film in terms of contributing to the disturbing atmosphere and in terms of their symbolism. I drew Danny from ‘The Shining’ for Inktober 2016 but in some ways I am surprised that I have not drawn the Grady twins in many years. Maybe I should add a whole Shining series of illustrations to my ever-growing Art To Do list.
This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to include song lyrics or the title of a song in the art journal page. You may recall that I enjoy vague prompts that allow my imagination to wander off in all sorts of directions but with music I did not know where to start. We listen to a lot of music as a family and have very eclectic tastes. When doing chores, I have music playing so I can karaoke my way through the house and I also always play music when I am at my art table drawing or painting. I, therefore, could have chosen any number of songs as the inspiration for my page this week.
I thought about springboarding from the last piece of music I had listened to before reading the prompt. That was Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens which had massive potential as a subject for illustration (and, in fact, I had illustrated it when I was in High School) but I knew I did not have the free time available this week to take on something with that degree of detail. The last album I listened to in its entirety was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ so I pondered that for a bit. Meanwhile I asked my kids for suggestions since they are always a great resource for inspiration. Elvis, Prince, The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, Elton John, The White Stripes and Frank Sinatra all featured in their suggestions but one idea immediately gave me a strong visual: Space Oddity. As soon as my 10 year old said it, I knew that was going to be the song I depicted on my journal page, perhaps because David Bowie was always so strongly and uniquely visual.
I kept my illustration simple partly out of choice – I do love just plain old pen and ink – and partly out of necessity – my old nemesis, time. It depicts David Bowie (I hope that is clear even though I am not a good portraitist) floating through space in spacesuit, untethered but calm. I obviously did not use any reference images in creating the spacesuit. It is definitely more ‘Lost in Space’ than NASA, that’s for sure. I swithered over including either the song title or the lyric “the stars look very different today” in the illustration but decided against it because a) my calligraphy is not the best and b) I could not work out the placement for the words in the composition. I hope the song reference is clear without the words.
At least once every couple of weeks two things happen: someone will comment about what a wonder woman or inspiration I am and I will fail spectacularly at some aspect of life. Clearly there is a disparity – sometimes of chasm proportions – between people’s perceptions of me and my reality.
I absolutely do not set out to convince people that I am some sort of incredible individual who has all of her ducks in neat and pretty serried rows. Each and every time someone compliments me, I am flabbergasted and don’t really know how to respond because it is unexpected. And also because I have never really learned how to graciously accept a compliment. Anyway, I am not deliberately presenting a facade to the world or hiding my shortcomings from public view but somehow, nevertheless, people have this perception of me that is far removed from the reality.
When I first started blogging (over four years ago!), I made a promise to myself that I would “keep it real” on this blog. My original intention had been to maintain the blog as a sort of diary of my early experiences of life in a new country so it would have totally undermined the purpose had I finessed the truth. Obviously I now maintain my blog(s) for other reasons but I still hold to that aim of presenting the reality of what my experiences are, sometimes red in tooth and claw. Clearly, I don’t write about the mundane reality of my everyday life. My readers don’t need to know that my sock orphanage, where all the unaccompanied single socks accumulate, is currently a mountainous stockpile. Nor do they need to know that I spend every single weekday morning yelling the same script at my children who must surely be bored by now of my voice loudly hectoring them to put on shoes and coats and pick up backpacks and lunch bags. I yell so loudly that I understood entirely why my new neighbours, when we first moved into our house, knew the name of my youngest son without the need for introductions.
People seem to perceive me as being super-organised, efficient, a fantastic time-keeper, with an ability to juggle multiple and varied draws on my free time while somehow, miraculously, still having time for art and other hobbies. Many of those things used to be true of me. Before I had kids, I was anal retentive with my organisation and punctuality. I was notorious for my To Do spreadsheets and my colour-coded everything. However, as my life became more complex, I had to choose between maintaining that level of efficiency or my sanity . These days I am still a massive control freak but one who regularly freaks out amid the chaos I have little to no control over.
The truth is that I am perpetually frazzled, am prone to yelling because I am apparently hard-wired to associate assertiveness with volume, and frequently over-scheduled. I experience regular spikes of anxiety because of running late or barely making it on time when punctuality is one of my neuroses. I juggle many balls and fail to keep them all in the air. Frequently I drop the ones that can safely bounce; regularly I drop the ones that smash and need cleaning up; and ever so often I just drop all the balls everywhere.
And the truth about how I find time for my hobbies, especially art, isn’t that I am massively efficient with my time or am spectacularly whizzy at getting things done – though I do work fast. The truth is that I make time for those things by sacrificing other things ranging from dusting to TV viewing to sleep. I confess I sacrifice dusting a lot. Furthermore, there are times when my scheduling of “me time” goes spectacularly wrong – such as times when we end up having the most random, cobbled together dinners because I forgot to prep a key ingredient in advance.
I am often in the midst of a scheduling mess. Back in November, I had a day where I had to be in three places at once. I am used to problem solving being in two places at once but three was just too much. It was head-imploding crazy. And then my oldest son asked if he could be dropped off at the cinema as if it was no big deal to add in being in a fourth place at once. Clearly my kids think I have super powers too.
Then there was the day when I was already up against it at the thought of having to get my two youngest sons to the orthodontist for 3.30 only to receive a phone call asking where we were since the first appointment was actually 1.30. This necessitated me dropping everything – literally since I was doing laundry at the time – quickly organising myself while calling the school secretary to ask for the boys to be whipped out of their classrooms and ready and waiting for me at reception, and driving rapidly to the school to pick them up, and then to the orthodontists’ office.
And, in another orthodontist related example, there was the recent day when my youngest son finished getting his braces fitted at 3pm only to have snapped them by 4pm simply by fidgeting with the wires. Coincidentally, he snapped them at precisely the minute that the orthodontist is supposed to close up shop for the weekend. We quickly dashed back to the office in the hopes they had not totally packed up and gone home, which luckily they had not. I cannot tell a lie – yelling was involved.
Yes, as previously stated, I am a yeller. I yell a lot. My kids turn it into white noise so I don’t know why I do it. Cathartic primal screaming maybe. When Pennsylvania experienced an earthquake on 30 November, for a fraction of a second I thought it may have been caused by my frustrated rage at supervising hideous mathematics homework.
So, yeah, I am not some wonder woman or role model of togetherness. I will keep accepting praise and compliments when they are given but – for the sake of keeping it real – please know that my successes are absolutely balanced out by my failures.
Someone asked me recently if I ever return to past works and have another stab at them in order to apply sharpened skills or a more developed style. I do return time and again to certain subjects – zombies, Red Riding Hood, skeletal elements, mythology – but I don’t generally have another crack at a past artwork. I thought, however, that maybe it could be an interesting exercise to take a few works in a medium I am more comfortable with -namely ink and watercolour – and try depicting the exact same subject using mixed media. I decided to use some of my illustrations from my 100 Faces challenge.
First up for the experiment was my 85th drawing in the series, which I had titled “Confidence”. I chose it largely because I was working in the red section of my Rainbow Art Journal and I had remembered how much I liked the effect of the bold red ink pooling and puddling. I also chose it because it was an illustration I actually really liked in the series. I lost the more diagonal composition, which I definitely prefer, and I think the new version of the face looks more sullen and bored than confident. I am also not happy with that busy, blotchy background and may paint that out at some stage. However, as first experiments go, it is not such a failure that I will abandon the whole enterprise. Not just yet anyway.