My final Art Journal Adventure prompt for 2017 was “Endings and Beginnings”, obviously an apt subject for the turn of the year. This year there will be no page in my art journal that sets an inspirational, aspirational or encouraging word to focus on, no listing of goals, nothing like that. I have never been one for setting resolutions but I have previously fallen prey to setting myself goals. I am increasingly failing to achieve (m)any of the goals I set for myself. Apart from participating in and completing a set of drawings for Inktober, I achieved not a single one of my goals for 2017. Not. A. One. In fact, I still have a goal for 2016 that I did not complete in either that year or last year. So my sole goal for this year is to not set myself up for failure.
Therefore, my turn of the year art journal page is neither about reflecting on the year past or looking ahead to what 2018 might have in store for me. Instead, I chose to focus on the theme of beginnings and endings, of cycles of time, of opposites, of cusps, alpha and omega. This is what I came up with: two figures in a composition that has echoes of yin and yang without the required geometric precision. Once the figures were dry, I decided to unify them in some way and plumped for writing. I defaulted to my own handwriting, albeit a little higgledy-piggledy, for the phrase “Alpha & Omega” but I think my own handwriting works effectively enough in this piece.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I really do enjoy a bit of spatter in my art work so I was very happy to learn that spatter was the basis of this week’s Life Book lesson. The lesson was taken by Mandy Van Goeije and was about starting loose and abstract and then finding some form within that abstraction to turn into an illustration, generating text to support that illustration, and layering watercolour and other media on top of a splattery, puddly watercolour background.
I decided to use the primary colours for my spatter because it was what was demonstrated in the tutorial and because I recognised that it was a palette that I don’t often use. I often add spatter at some stage in my art work but it was a twist on things to actually use the spatter as the starting point. I am not someone who tends to get creatively blocked because of having a blank page but I imagine this is a good way to get past that problem.
Once I had the spattery layer, I had to look for shapes and forms within it that suggested the starting point for an illustration. It is human nature to see facial features in inanimate objects (a quick google told me it is called “pareidolia”) and it is something I certainly do. When looking at my spattery layer, however, the form I saw emerge was a human figure – a tilted head surrounded by red hair and, in the negative space – upraised arms and hands. I think my brain determining I would see a human figure is probably an extension of the same phenomenon that has people seeing faces. When coming up with the story element of my art work and the text, I decided my figure should be the Muse of Spatter and wrote “The Muse of Spatter dances wherever she pleases and creates from chaos” as I felt that basically encapsulated the theme of the lesson and what I created as a result of it.
This week’s Colour Me Positive theme was Kindness and the prompt was a quotation from the Dalai Lama: “Be kind wherever possible. It is always possible.” There was an additional, optional prompt to use stamping but I ignored that and focused on the quotation. Pushed for time this week, I kept things simple. Monochrome, ink, using a fountain pen rather than my dip pen so I could work on the page while watching a movie with my kids, and doodles with some simple typography for the quotation. Simple and easy – just like an act of kindness.
My 2016 is going to be absolutely jam-packed with creative challenges if everything goes to plan and I manage to keep on schedule with everything. I really want to push myself and increase my skill level, hone my own style, and increase my artistic output. Brace yourselves, dear readers, for lots of art posts.
My first arty activity for 2016 was to create an art journal page. As busy as I will be with art courses and my own art projects, I want to keep art journaling as it is useful experimentation and is quick and relaxing. This year, I am responding to prompts that form the Colour Me Positive project hosted on the Lulu Art blog. The first prompt was a quotation and a suggestion that we construct a page about “gratitude”. Since I was both pushed for time and aware of the need to practice typography, I opted to write out the quotation on my page. Trouble was that when I finally sat down to put pen to paper, I was so tired that I could not motivate myself to try a specific style of hand lettering so I just defaulted to my own handwriting. Oops. I then surrounded the words with a ring of watercolour paint which I blew with a straw to create more interest. Quick and simple.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt was to use “storytelling” as an “underlying fabric” in the art journal. I was not sure how to deploy either of those things in my art journal in a way that worked for me but I did, however, decide to continue with the overarching theme of using words and text as the predominant element. Perhaps because the “underlying fabric” aspect of the prompt made me think of layers but mostly because I had been rereading the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, I arrived at the decision to use her poem ‘Valentine’ on my page. When I was a High School English Teacher, I taught the poems of Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Valentine’ among them. It serves as a useful introduction to conceits, given the extended metaphor of the onion for love.
Using a fountain pen and my own handwriting, I wrote the lines of the poem so that they became the layers of an onion. I then used watercolour to paint in the layers of onion surrounding the text and the “brown paper” skin surrounding it. It is another time-pushed simple art journal page from me but I am pleased with how well I translated my idea onto the page.
This is my final Documented Life Project page not just of the year but ever. The project coordinators are taking it in a different direction next year, one that focuses more on the planner than the art journal. I am, therefore, probably going to use a different set of art journal prompts next year, almost certainly Colour Me Positive which is hosted on another WordPress blog. I was going to just do my own thing in my art journal all the time but actually the weekly prompt is a welcome nudge for me to do something playful in my journal, experiment, and try new things. 2016 is looking set to be a very busy year for me creatively.
The theme is still “Words” for the Documented Life Project’s prompts. This week the challenge was to use quotations or lyrics and the prompt quotation was from actor James Earl Jones: “One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter”.
I pondered using favourite songs or poems, even developed the ideas in my head, but I just did not feel inspired by any of my ideas. I decided I should think of something that really articulated my thoughts and feelings right now, thinking that the additional meaning might inspire me. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the state of the world, about my job as a parent trying to raise children in this world. Bloody conflicts; terrible acts of terrorism and other atrocities: massive numbers of people being displaced and desperate; individuals campaigning on manifestos of fear, hatred, and intolerance; division and selfishness… Some days it is hard to focus on the good in humanity. It is there if we look for it, of course, but the cruelty of the world is much in evidence at the moment.
So that was my inspiration for my art journal page. I used watercolour to write words associated with peace – as well as the word peace itself – and used those to fill the shape of a dove, a recognised symbol of peace.
This year’s final Documented Life Project theme is “storytelling with the written word” and this week’s challenge was to use words front and centre. As you will have observed, I am not someone who tends to write much in my art journal. I much prefer all of the visual elements to the written word when it comes to my creative experiments and I also shy away from recording anything too personal in my art journal too so I don’t use it as a visual diary. Therefore, when I do use words, they tend to be very brief or else be the words of someone else.
I decided to focus on the word “centre” in the challenge prompt. A quick google turned up a quotation attributed to Karl Wilhelm Friederich Schlegel, the German philosopher and poet. That quotation spoke to me amid all the other quotations that google had turned up because it seemed to connect to my word of the year, which was “Balance”. I have worked really hard to restore some balance back into my life this year, making some time for myself, recharging my own batteries so that I can keep on investing in my family to the best of my ability. It’s not a perfect yin-yang balance, of course, because that would be both impossible and unreasonable but I am definitely starting to feel more level, more centred. Centre. Ta da.
I kept the page pretty simple as I was working on it in very short bursts throughout a busy day. The background is lots of liquidy watercolour. Playing on the idea of extremes and balance, I used cold colours at the top of the page and warm colours at the bottom so that they merged in the middle – or the centre as it were. I then sprinkled salt onto the page, more so on the left than on the right, just to create some visual interest and a subtle difference between the two sides of the page. I have used salt before with watercolour but have never had it stick fast to the page but it did so this time. Maybe it was because I was using watercolour paper before whereas my art journal is mixed media paper and is much less toothy. Maybe the pigment was just far too liquidy for this technique and I should have let the puddles dry a bit first. Whatever the reason, I am glad I have these oops learning opportunities in my art journal as that is the place for such experiments. I then wrote the quotation across the page using a black gel pen. The font is one I found on Pinterest which I thought would be fun to try out as the curls and tendrils of it appealed.
So another year of DLP prompts is almost over. I won’t be continuing with it in 2016 as the organisers are taking the challenges in the direction of planners rather than art journals and that’s not my bag. I will continue to work in my art journal, however. I find I enjoy the quick bursts of art I can achieve in my journal as well as the experiments and development of ideas. As the year draws to a close, I will also need to revisit my goals for 2015 and see which ones I achieved and which I need to roll forward into 2016 in my continuing quest for balance.
This week’s Life Book lesson was delivered by Danielle Donaldson. I had really enjoyed her previous lesson – Tiny Story Telling – so I was looking forward to further experimentation with watercolour illustration. The lesson demonstrated a different approach to watercolour hand lettering. The idea was for students to write our individual names and then surround that with illustrations of things that make us happy, bring us joy. However, I took my inspiration from a piece Donaldson showed in her tutorial, an illustrated list of art supplies. Since art makes me happy, makes me feel more balanced, and colour brightens my day, I thought the subject was apt. I sketched a variety of my art tools, painted them with blotchy watercolour, spattered, and added the text. I really like how the piece turned out.
This week’s Documented Life Project prompt encouraged participants to use tea bags as a substrate. I have written before about how much I love tea and my love of tea has even inspired an art journal page or two before. Putting my hands to tea bags, used or unused, was not a problem. I watched a few YouTube tutorials about working on tea bags, got an idea mulling around in my head and set to work. The result was more than lacking. It was hideous. Truly. You know I am just as likely to share my artistic disasters as successes on this blog so the fact I didn’t even stop to take a photo of it before lobbing it in the bin should convey something of how totally and utterly ugly it was. Thankfully I had been concerned enough about the tannins from the tea doing nasty things to my art journal that I had worked on a separate piece of paper I was going to attach to the journal. Getting rid of it was, therefore, quick and easy.
Back to square one, I decided to ditch the whole idea of painting or drawing on top of tea bags and decided to just use tea as my inspiration. It has been some time since I properly practiced my typography skills so I decided to play around with text and with negative space. Right at the beginning of Life Book, a lesson from Joanne Sharpe had inspired me to embrace using my own handwriting and I was pleased with the outcome. I decided, therefore, to deploy some of my learning from that lesson in my art journal. I found the quotation online (it’s from Mary Lou Heiss but I failed to add that to the page before taking the photo) and used very wet watercolour around the letters to create colourful, bleeding puddles around the text and imagery.
Next up for my Life Book catch-up session was a bonus lesson by Joanne Sharpe. Sharpe had taken one of the first ever Life Book lessons I did and I had enjoyed it immensely, especially the liberating message that my own handwriting was good enough for my art. Since I still have not gotten around to developing my skills with typography, it was good to have that reinforced. The focus of the lesson was on using either a paint brush or water brush with watercolour as a tool for writing and to write empowering or inspirational words and phrases on a full sized piece of paper and on smaller cards.
I did both projects and it was pleasingly quick to create them. My Dad is a very skilled and experienced painter of vehicles including an ability to do sign-writing by hand. Apparently I have not inherited his ability to write in straight lines or to achieve consistency because my text is very skew-wiff on the page. Never mind. I enjoyed the lesson and certainly feel more confident with writing with a paint brush than I did before. I also think I have potential to develop my skills to achieve greater precision.