“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley”. Robert Burns might as well have been writing about my summer. We pulled off the travel plans but all my other schemes either went totally pear-shaped or just entirely withered on the vine. I do a sort of homeschooling, educating by stealth, summer project with my kids ever summer – have done since my oldest was a preschooler – but this summer the project had to be abandoned because pretty much everything else got derailed by so many stupid things plus my flipping awful oral pain. Anyway, in early June I had this whole vision that I would have so much art time – so very much art time – over the summer break. Ha! Yeah. Didn’t happen. In fact, I have probably spent less time on art this summer than in previous summers. Sigh.
For that reason, I desperately had to eke out whatever art time I could to make sure I don’t rust up to the point of my creative joints being totally seized up. I wanted to do something really loose. There was an Art Journal Adventure prompt from a couple of weeks ago about “doodling”. I thought that would be the perfect thing to do for some super-quick art time in my art journal. Determined to be loose and not fuss about perfection, I decided to draw with my non-dominant hand (which is my left) and – for a bit more challenge – using the blind contour technique. I opted for a self-portrait because I figured I would be familiar with the shapes, forms, and proportions of my own face so that the drawing didn’t get too abstract and crazy.
I used pencil just to avoid making a total mess while not looking at my page but I did not erase a single mark. What I did was go over those pencil marks with microns in three different sizes, just for a bit of variety and interest. Then I added watercolour and – to keep the challenges coming – I painted with my left hand. I am actually stunned by how well I painted with my non-dominant hand. Certainly I achieved keeping things looser than normal. For other people, this drawing probably is not remotely loose but, believe me, for me this is loose.
I have always loved words. As a kid, I loved to just flip the dictionary open to a random page and read all of the words, their definitions, and the etymology. I was fascinated about why each word was chosen to represent what it did, why some words had so many different meanings, and just the sound of different words. I used to enjoy the challenge of trying to deploy more obscure or at least unusual words into conversations. In doing so, I increased my vocabulary. Years later, as a High School English teacher, I used to encourage my students to do the same thing when they had idle time. I have never lost my love for words and my enjoyment of the richness of the English language with all its mongrel origins.
Therefore, I knew I was in a tricky spot when this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to incorporate a word and its definition in an art journal page. Impossible! How on earth could I ever choose a single, solitary word? By the time I actually had some free time for art, I had arrived at my solution: I was not going to visually represent one word; I was going to visually represent my love of all words. I, therefore, covered an art journal page in dictionary pages (from a discarded, library reject dictionary, worry ye not) and then drew my doodle version of me swimming among the words, an endless sea of vocabulary for me to explore, float through and enjoy.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “puzzled’. It took me the entire week to find time to sit down with my art journal as all my free art time has been spent on Inktober and my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library Sketchbook project (which you can see on my other blog). By that time, however, my creative cogs had been turning for long enough for me to have arrived at an idea. I decided that I would create a self-portrait because sometimes I am a puzzle to myself and, like a jigsaw puzzle, I am made up of many different pieces. Taking that idea further, I decided that my substrate should be a collaged layer of pieces of paper. And taking that idea further still, I thought it might be fun to break my face down into elements of shapes and forms rather like a Picasso portrait. I remember as a child that the thing I found most engaging about Picasso’s art was the way that my eye could take in all of the information and my brain would then reconfigure everything so that I could understand what I was seeing, what was being portrayed. It was like resolving a visual puzzle.
This week’s Life Book lesson was taken by Tracy Verdugo and involved creating a self-portrait. Verdugo actually demonstrated three different approaches to painting a loose self-portrait and each looked interesting and like something I would like to try (though maybe not using my own face over and over). She also based her paintings on selfies she had edited using various apps. I don’t have any photo editing apps on my phone and did not have time to download and experiment with them so I just used an unedited selfie as the basis of my painting.
I did start out very loose, using ink to block in certain shapes and areas before dropping very liquid watercolour into the painting, but somewhere along the line things ended up getting very illustrative and tight again. No matter what I do, I always seem to get “locked in” when painting even when I am trying my hardest to stay loose – such as, for instance, using large brushes as I did with his piece. It is also not a strong likeness and I guess that is OK because I am not a portraitist but it is still a bit ridiculous that I don’t know my own face well enough to capture it more accurately. In this self-portrait, I think what particularly went wrong is that I reduced the area of my forehead (which is so big I call it a fivehead) and I slimmed down my cheeks. Maybe I was subconsciously flattering myself.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “lift”. I like prompts that can be interpreted in multiple ways and I actually had lots of ideas tumbling about and doing backflips in my head for this one. While I was not lacking in ideas, I was lacking in time. Again. I think when school and work finish for summer, I am going to be crawling across the finish line.
In the end, the pocket of time that opened up was when I was stuck in the waiting room of an orthodontist’s office. That gave me a chunk of time but meant I had to use portable, non-messy art materials. I also had to be able to work on my lap since I had no table. I, therefore, decided to draw a whimsical self-portrait illustrating some of the things that I find uplifting – not the really big things like the important people in my life but the small everyday things that give me a lift when I might be feeling glum or stressed or fatigued by life. As such, in one hand there is a cup of tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam. That treat is like an edible hug. In the other hand and in the hair are creative tools to represent that my treasured art time helps me decompress and recharge my batteries. Finally, there is a bird feather in my hair. I love to sit with a cup of tea at my art table and watch the birds visit the feeders I have set up on the other side of the window. That represents that quiet time.
It took me a full week of working in short bursts to complete last week’s Life Book lesson. I know I frequently mention how busy my schedule is but last week was truly, utterly, completely ridiculous. I needed teleportation or cloning skills to make it work. Since I don’t possess superpowers or ethically questionable advanced science skills, what I did instead was rush around, stress myself out, and try to reconcile myself with the fact that I would have to drop some really very important commitments. It really ought to have been a week when I accepted that there was zero time for art but I decided that I might risk imploding if I did not have some small gobbets of art time to aid me in decompressing throughout the week. Across seven days, therefore, I gradually added to the piece, little by little, in the tiny rations of available free time I had. The quality of my work may have suffered as a result but it may just have prevented me from spontaneously combusting from stress.
The lesson was taken by Vicky Papaioannou and involved created a whimsical sort-of self-portrait that conveyed a message about creative ideas, energy, mojo flowing from the creative person. My sort-of self-portrait ended up being a much younger, slimmer, more attractive me but I think there is enough of my features and proportions in there for it still to be a “selfie”. What is artistic license for if you can’t make yourself much more bonnie? My creative flow is represented by the hair – also a fudge of reality since my hair is not that long and is salt-and-pepper rather than black. I added a pen, pencil, and paintbrush to the hair by way of illustrating my creativity and stamped the phrase “create something every day” onto the figure’s torso – going horribly wrong with the stamping since I smudged the lettering. Never mind. I think the phrase was quite apt given my context.
What a difference from one week to the next – last week was an art time famine and this week I have managed to squeeze in three different doses of art time. This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt to use colours outside your comfort zone. Since I had enjoyed the abstract lesson from Life Book so much this week and had found it so quick and easy, I decided to take a similar approach with my art journal page. I again chose to use my non-dominant hand and used a wooden skewer dipped in ink. I could tell just by glancing at my set of watercolours which colours I used least because they had barely been touched: green and orange. I decided to throw in some yellow for a third colour and to connect the green and orange. Not wanting to create another abstract and not knowing what else to draw, I settled on a self-portrait. I really enjoyed working in this way. It was quick, easy, and relaxing. I will be squirreling away this approach so I can use it again in future.