The Artist’s Way – week eight

Overview

This week has been hard, in many ways. I was on a roll with the morning pages, until I forgot once, and then ten days passed until I got back to it, and I completely forgot to do the affirmations. I’m not happy with how long it’s taken to get through this week; since taking up an evening class, the time I have to work on the weekly tasks seems to have gone down dramatically.

I need to organise my time better, to make space to do the weekly tasks, but also to make time for myself. The ideal childhood and day tasks were fun and I have some ideas of how I can pursue integrating elements of them into my life – when the same desire (structured lessons, more time to do studies and materials practice) comes up in three separate exercises, I should probably act on it!

Morning pages

As I said my morning pages have huge gaps in them where I fell off the waggon and struggled to get back on. My routine had been to write while eating breakfast at work, but as soon as the weekend hit, everything fell apart. And writing t work is dependent on who gets in early and how chatty they’re feeling – but that’s on me, not them. I’m trying to write something introspective in a public place and it’s unreasonable to expect other people not to have a conversation (especially when we’re friends and I am usually interested in what they have going on).

Having moved desks again (the second time in three weeks), hopefully the new space will offer a little more seclusion. My office-mates aren’t such obnoxiously early risers as I am, so maybe I’ll get half an hour to write my brain-dump before I need to interact with people like an adult.

Artist’s date

I leaned about nålebinding this ‘week’, and gave it a go. It’s my first ever attempt at anything like this  – I’ve never been into fibre crafts – but it doesn’t require a lot of complicated stuff – just a ball of wool, a wool needle, and time.

First attempt on the top, latest attempt on the bottom – definite progress is being made in terms to stitch quality and consistency.

Unsuprisingly,  I’m rubbish at it. My stitches are uneven and the one time I tried to make a thing (instead of a chain of stitches), I fastened the wrong sides together and made a Möbius strip. So much for a hat; guess it’s a fancy neckwarmer now! I’m going to keep going. My stitches have improved already and a neckwarmer will be useful as winter draws in. Maybe I’ll felt it to make it windproof (but that’s a whole new skill I have yet to learn).

It’s not perfect, but it’s mine

Verdict

I’m pleased with my new skill, and I love that I’m making something practical for a change. I’m clearly hankering after more structure to my artwork and less charging ahead with finished pieces that are ultimately unsatisfying in their execution. Such morning pages as I wrote are offering a window into my mental health status, so there’s some self-care to do, too.
Although I’m not consistent, I am glad I’m doing them.

If I want to finish the course before the end of the year, I needs to schedule my time better. I’m still playing with new things and kicking around new ideas, so something’s bedding in. I’m aiming to finish Week Nine in a fortnight with a full set of morning pages – watch this space!

Extinction portraits

Earlier this year, the Northern White Rhino was declared functionally exinct after the death of Sudan, the last male of the species. Unless another male is found – perhaps misclassified as another species – the remaining two females will be the last of their kind.

And that’s tragic beyond words. As a kid, I assumed that species that went extinct in the past did so because we didn’t know better, or didn’t care about animals and the environment. I figured that, now we do know better and now we do care, we’d do better at preserving species. As a kid, I never thought about funding, or that governments might be unable, or unwilling, to do something to help. I never thought that people would hunt endangered species because they were endangered. I never thought that conservation is as much luck and hope as science and that, despite all your best efforts, you might still fail.

In my naivety, I honestly never thought I’d see an extinction in my lifetime, but the Northern White Rhino isn’t the first and, unless a miracle occurs, it won’t be that last. I wanted to do something to mark the passing of a species –  the loss of a branch of our extended family – and to do something to help me grok that we will never see these animals again.

So I’m doing extinction portraits. A wreath, a halo, the sun setting on another unique species we’ve lost forever. I’m researching conservation charities and I’m going to be selling prints and giving the profits to organisations that are working to save species on the brink.

Maybe, that way, some good can come out of this.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – part 10.5

At this point, my workbook and textbook diverge. The workbook has a handful more “Gestalt” exercises, while the textbook finishes up with chapters on colour and handwriting. This section covers the workbook.

Edwards starts by getting the student to use an unfamiliar medium – ink. The permanence stops the student from noodling at the painting, but also reinforces the value lessons previously learned.

The Urban Landscape Drawing exercise has the student get out and do some plein air work. It highlighted for me the need to practice line drawing fiddly scenes like trees and foliage, the need to work fast – the light changes dramatically on a late afternoon in October – as well as the necessity of preparing for outdoor work. I came in after 45 minutes, when I couldn’t feel my fingers!

Edwards then has the student build up their penmanship, in preparation for exercise 38, A Figure drawing in Crosshatch.

The Imaginitive Drawing exercise felt tacked on, and the paper wasn’t great at handling the volume of liquid applied to it (most of the preceeding pages in the book are now stained with pink around the binding).

The final drawing was a challenge – a detailled value study  that enlarges a 1/2″ square of the subject to a 4″ canvas. I’m not sure I would have felt confident about this when I started but, after working though the book, I’m up for the challenge.

I think it would have been better to end with the self portrait, working these exercises into the main flow of the program, but there’s still two chapters of textbook left.

The Artist’s Way – week seven

Overview

Another 21-day week, but I got most of the tasks done this time, so its not all bad.

I made cupcakes that i hoped would smell delicious, but my partner just complained they smelled of burned chocolate. They weren’t burned, thankyouverymuch, just a bit odd – but I suppose that’s what you get from mystery dry cake mix and no instructions. They might have been supposed to be brownies for all I know!

The collage was fun – like being at primary school again – and I found a suprising number of things related to my intetests in some otherwise normal magazines. Not everything, though, and a lot got dumped for space constraints.

Collage featuring representations of my interests

I’ve been falling back into some sort of spiritual practice and I attribute it to the Artist’s Way. I’m more mindful of my actions, express gratitude more frequently, and am trying to make a habit of saying small blessings or prayers before meals. I feel better for it – more emotionally connected to myself and my surroundings – and intend to follow the inclination and see where it leads.

Morning pages

The morning pages are still provong tricky. They’re rarely done in the morning and often under the influence of a profound desire to get to sleep, so they’re pretty rambling most of the time. I see myself making excuses and I’m catching myself doing it, the trick is now to turn that awareness into action.

Artist’s date

My artist’s date this week was indulging in a long-neglected hobby of mine – making sigils and reading about various magic(k)al theories and practices –  and exploring how I could integrate them into my paintings.

Jealousy matrix

I struggled with this one! I just don’t find myself feeling jealous so much these days, and I don’t know that I want to force feelings of jealousy, having put so much effort into self-care and overcoming those unhealthy thought processes. I don’t think it’s within the intention of the program.

Verdict

Despite the length of time I’m taking to complete these weeks, I’m making steady progress. I’m building on last week’s lesson and taking chances and exploring things I’d like to do if I didn’t have to be perfect, and found that – once I let go of the anxiety surrounding them – I generally enjoy myself.

I’m still a bit uptight – decades of reinforcement can’t be undone overnight – but I’m happier to openly suck at things.

The Artist’s Way – week six

Overview

Cameron wants us to press flowers and collect rocks this week.

I’ve never pressed flowers, and I don’t intend to start now. Plus it’s mid-September, so flowers are a but thin on the ground, but I found a few, plus some interesting leaves, and took photos instead.

In the same vein, I’m not keen of taking rocks out of the environment. They have a job to do and I’m not going to deprive some poor bug of its home because I think it’s shiny.

Happily, I can take all the photos I like:

Morning pages

I’m still not doing the morning pages regularly. Because time is tight in the mornings, they often get left to the end of the day, which means they often don’t get done.

I spent some time writing about the nature of god, why I can’t believe in Cameron’s Creator, and what I do believe in, then I reread the instructions and discovered she wanted me to write about ‘creative luxury’. This isn’t the the first time the instructions have been inconsistent and I doubt it will be the last.

I will confess to resenting the time spent writing the morning pages, because my brain insists I could be using the tine to do something, as if writing isn’t a) something, and b) really flipping useful.

Artist’s date

My creative luxury is time.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I can afford to buy myself almost whatever creative toys I like (my desires are usually limited to a particular colour of paint or a new book), but actually finding time to use them is another matter.

I indulged myself on Friday, splashing around with Brusho and Inktense pastels and generally having fun. I’m not expecting anything good to come out of these sessions, but I’m allowing myself to fail, and that’s a luxury I haven’t allowed myself before this course.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – part 10

After the skill of perceiving edges, spaces and relationships comes the skill of seeing shadows, of making things appear three-dimensional.

Edwards calls this “light logic”, which isn’t a term I’ve heard anywhere else, but it makes sense – light and shadow obey very simple rules and can be reasoned out logically if you have the knack.

Exercise 30
Drawing an Egg Lighted from Above

“The perception of edges (line) leads to the perception of shapes (negative spaces and positive shapes), drawn in correct proportion and perspective (sighting). These skills lead to the perception of values (light logic), which leads to the perception of colours as values, which leads to painting.

Edwards has us repeat the trick of turning the picture upside down to help break down areas of light and dark into abstract shapes to be duplicated.

Exercise 31
Charlie Chaplin in Light and Shadow

The high contrast portrait of Charlie Chaplin shows us the was that the brain is able to extrapolate from incomplete data. I was thinking about pareidolia at this point – the psychological phenomenon in which a person can see a familiar pattern (eg: faces) in random patterns – but I don’t know if this would apply to seeing a face in a heavily distorted image of a face.

No matter how your style evolves, however, you will always be using edges, spaces, relationships, and (usually) lights and shadows, and you will depict the thing itself (the Gestalt) in your own way.

Edwards touches, briefly, accidentally, on what I would consider to be the most fundamental skill in drawing – that of knowing when to stop. They joke about artists needing someone to stand behind them with a sledgehammer and, on reflection, I can see the merit in that.

The mark of a trained artist is not the ability to stop in time, apparently, but the ability to crosshatch. Most of us start out with scribbling, but once you push through that, your Hatching technique is as much a signature as, well, your signature. Edwards suggests practicing crosshatching various geometric shapes, which is definitely something I could add to my warmups.

Edwards mentions that children begin drawing faces in three-quarter view around the age of ten, when they try to capture not just the likeness of the subject, but also the character. This creates a conflict with the symbol system they’re used to using, as the rotation of the face forces them to deal with asymmetry and the foreshortening of features on the far side of the face. At this point the only thing to do is to draw what you see, not what you want think you see.

Edwards points out that the space between the inner corner of the near eye and the bridge of the nose is a particularly important – and difficult – proportion, and that getting it wrong can throw off the whole drawing. Likewise, the placement of the ear has changed since the profile drawing, forward towards the face – now, the distance between the eye level and chin is equivalent to the distance between the inside corner of the eye and the back of the ear.

Another common pitfall is to widen the far side of the face and then, realising the face is too wide, to narrow the near side, resulting in a portrait closer to a frontal drawing than a three-quarter view.


Exercise 34
Drawing a Self-Portrait in Light and Shadow

The Artist’s Way – week five

Overview

This ‘week’ involved a long holiday – a week in Vienna followed by a week with friends – so there wasn’t much time for introspection or privacy. My morning pages suffered accordingly, but I’ve been reading voraciously (albeit off my reading list, but reading is reading). I’ve been physically exhausted by the heat, mentally exhausted by translating/coping with the language barrier, and emotionally exhausted by the lack of exercise.
I am surprised by how much better I feel having got away from work. I think it’s the change in routine and the relaxation of stress – much like the reading deprivation, reducing the amount of input I have to deal with is something I should be seriously looking at.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Making time to write my morning pages
  • Keeping with the weekly schedule

Morning pages

An improvement over last week – I managed two days! Out of six weeks, but still: two days is better than none!
If I’m honest with myself, I’ve not made this a priority and not really worked at making it a habit. Next week, I’m going to make a serious effort to nailing this. The pages have been useful and, when I get to them, I enjoy writing them.

Artist’s date

Okay, so this might have been a cheat – for my birthday, my parents bought me a Big Cat day at the Jessop’s Academy, learning how to use my DLSR. It was a fantastic experience and I’m much more confident about setting the aperture and ISO and not just resorting to some flavour of automatic. Next up: shutter speed!

Verdict

The exercises were moderately easy this week but, despite my lofty announcement that “I’m doing this on my own schedule”, I feel like I’m missing out on a lot by leaving such large gaps between weeks.

I’m going to take a week of making time to write the morning pages (at any time of day!) before starting week six. Try to reinforce the foundations before building any higher.

The Artist’s Way – week four

Overview

This was the week of the reading ban. I decided to update the instructions, given that my copy of TAW was published in 1992:

  • No books
  • No news or articles, via online or print media
  • No phone games
  • 10 minutes of social media/day

The other news to come out of this week is that, via a sequence of coincidences, I have developed a new Special Interest: runes.
After helping out at DragonFest at West Stow Anglo-Saxon village, I chanced upon Lauren Panepinto’s Muddy Colors articles on art and magic [1] [2] [3] and, as a result, I ended up picking up a set of rune stones and starting to read voraciously (after the reading deprivation, obviously).
Between learning the the staves themselves (in all four variations), memorising the ideographic interpretations with all their nuances, learning how to write in runic (and thereby adding Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic to my ‘to learn’ list), boggling over the rune riddles, learning about runic cryptography, practising making bind-runes, and figuring out how I could use a combination of those things in my art, that’s given me quite a lot to play with. And that’s just the rune-work! Let’s not get into my decision to make a Lenormand deck and start tinkering around with sigils.

Reading deprivation

The main thing that surprised  me about this exercise was that I didn’t miss reading books. For anyone who knows me, especially anyone who knew me as the kid who mastered walking, eat and even brushing their teeth while reading, that’s pretty shocking! I definitely don’t have a book-reading issue, but that’s been replaced by a phone-checking problem. I used the Leechblock plugin to curtail my browsing on a desktop and Extreme Power Saving mode to short-circuit the habit of checking apps on my phone and, although my social media use dropped off fairly easily, I was compulsively checking my messages (I decided I ought to be able to talk to people and not drop off the face of the Earth for a week, a mistake in hindsight – if I hadn’t been able to check at all, I might have found the task easier). I worried that I was setting myself up for future issues by simply adding interesting articles to Pocket to read later, but since coming off the deprivation, I simply wasn’t that interested in the articles and deleted them.
Being disconnected from the world definitely improved my mental health and it’s a practice I’d like to repeat periodically.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Keeping to my 10 minute social media limit
  • Checking messenger as a substitute for reading/games
  • Remembering to turn on Extreme Power Saving mode
  • Restraining myself from buying too many books
  • Keeping myself focused on the projects I’m already working on
  • Making time to do my morning pages

Morning pages

A complete wash: between the 4th of July and the 23rd, I didn’t do any morning pages.

Artist’s date

I don’t know if I did a specific artist’s date this week.
Unfortunately, I wrote my checkin in stages, so I’m writing this bit nearly six weeks after I started. I can see from my planner that I made more of an effort to get out of my own head, meeting friends and working on physical, non-art projects – my rocking chair is dismantled, sanded, and ready for new springs, which I ordered this week. Interesting and tiring and fulfilling, but not ‘play’.

Verdict

All in all, it’s been a big week, and discovering an interest in runes and the rekindling my lapsed spirituality gives me things to think about in Week Six, which has a stronger than usual emphasis on faith.

The Artist’s Way – week three

Overview

This chapter has been a nightmare.
Not through the exercises it’s asked me to do, but for multitude of reasons, including the death of a friend, which meant that a lot of things got deprioritised.

Thinking through who I admire and why, some (most) of my choices felt superficial. I know that they were based on the public persona of famous people, but I look up to the persona, not the person. I still love Ray Bradbury’s prose, even though I disagree with some of his personal opinions, and I’m pretty sure Carrie Fisher and I would have very little in common, but – based on what I know of her – she seemed amazing.

In the last few days, I’ve also started dreaming again. Nothing that makes any sense, and nothing that I can recall in the cold light of day, but I did recall having a dream for the first time in years.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • I’m pretty sure Quirk and Robbie are on their way out. It’s sad, but I tried my best. Apparently potting trees from the wild has a very low success rate. They might come back, once they’ve had time to recover. Only time will tell.
  • Real life taking priority. Everything in its own time, but it’s still a little frustrating.

Morning pages

I feel better for writing them, but I’m not sure they’re reaching as deeply as they need to. I definitely felt better about my bereavement after writing about it, but I think there’s more deep-seated stuff that I need to excavate and the pages aren’t touching it yet.

Artist’s date

I honestly can’t remember what I did for this. At one point, I said I was going to learn a magic trick, but I haven’t yet. I baked, maybe? Had a lie-in?

Verdict

This week dragged on so long and it’s been such a mental and emotional rollercoaster, I can’t remember most of it. I know I said working through this in my own time was fine, but I think I’ll try to pick up the pace!

The Artist’s Way – week two

Overview

This one got off to a tricky start. I didn’t re-read the chapter, and so missed out on some of the instructions, and took two weeks to complete this one. It’s okay, I’m doing this on my own and I can go at my own pace.

This chapter, Cameron talks a lot about “crazymakers” (her word, not mine). People who turn up at inopportune times and wreck your plans with utter disregard for your feelings or wellbeing. I don’t seem to have any in my life – they sound like the sort of ‘friends’ I’ve avoided or excised – so, instead of trying to disentangle myself from them, I examined my own behaviour. After all, Cameron said that such people are often blocked creative. I don’t thrive on attention – quite the opposite – and the idea of upsetting my friends genuinely concerns me. I could stand to do better (everyone could, probably), but the person I sabotage the most is myself.

The biggest issues I’ve faced this week have been:

  • Morning pages

Morning pages

I had a chat with my therapist about them and he thinks they’re probably useful. He also suggested only writing two of them if time was an issue. I was hesitant – I’d noticed that I start to uncover some significant thought processes around the one-and-a-half-pages mark and didn’t want to jeopardise that, but he reckons that the brain – when confronted with a finite amount of time/space – will put off doing the important work until it absolutely has to and that, by shaving a page off my writing, I’ll come to the same conclusions half a page earlier. I’ve been trying that for a few days, and it seems to be working out.

Artist’s date

I planned to go somewhere new this week, but life intervened and I ended up gardening instead (making hay while the sun shines). It’s been a while since I gardened and, in one of those fantastic coincidences, a chance conversation has reignited my old interest in bonsai at the same time that my weeding uncovered some oak saplings that had planted themselves way too close to the house, so I’m now the caretaker of two potted oak trees.

Quirk and Robbie
Quirk and Robbie

Because I’m a shameless nerd, I’ve dubbed them Quirk and Robbie. Quirk (in the foremost pot in the photo), and is a single root ball with with four trunks; pragmatic and fmily-orientated. Robbie (in the hindmost pot) may have become detatched from Quirk while I was digging them up, but is now an independant young thing looking to establish his own identity  (having given them name and personalities, their inevitable deaths as a result of my incompetence will crush me, but that’s future me’s problem).

Verdict

All things considered, this was a pretty chill week. The topics of my morning pages are still varying wildly – ideas for The Story With No Name one day, musings on mortality and grief the next, and whinging about how tired I am the day after. It’s a process and I am finding it useful; the switch to two pages doesn’t seem to have affected that too much.
I rated adventure and spirituality as the weakest points of my life this week, and I’ve been trying to think of ways to fill them up. Meditation has, ironically, been pushed out of my morning routine more often than not because the morning pages ran long. That said, the weather’s nice so I’m in the garden more and been trying to pay more attention to my environment during my my lunchtime walks, and I’m feeling more grounded in reality than I used to.