I’m starting to feel better, for real. For the first time in weeks, I felt up to a nature walk with Huck and Rilla. Sure, we only went around the block, but after weeks of radiation fatigue, that felt like a really big deal. We wanted to see if the giant conifers at the end of our block are Douglas firs. They aren’t! But we found one in a neighbor’s yard one block over. And then another, and another. The cones are quite distinctive, with little upward-pointing bracts between the scales. Our pinecone collection is growing. Big excitement for my SoCal chaparral kids.
In one of the firs, we spotted a Northern flicker directly overhead. We watched him until our necks ached, then hurried home because Rilla needed to paint him before she burst. We know flickers pretty well through my parents, who have a nesting box with webcam in their backyard. Wee ugly baby birds every spring—very cool. So it was extra exciting to encounter one in our new neighborhood.
Northern flicker by Rilla
These days I find I dread opening tabs in the morning. The news has been unremittingly awful for so long. I’ve fallen quiet on most of the platforms I used to be chatty on. Facebook and Twitter have become outlets for activism (which annoys some friends, but I can’t help it; I can’t not try). Only on Instagram do I shut all of that out. I worry, sometimes, about sharing happy and peaceful photos over there, or here, when there are so many horrors unfolding everywhere. But I need it, I need that space for celebrating the good. And since Instagram is a stream platform where the feed, hosted and controlled by another entity, scrolls away and could disappear altogether some day, as platforms do, I’m compelled to bring those memories over here too, where I can keep them safe. Thus the repost of the thoughts above, which I shared on IG yesterday.
I find I’m using IG Stories more often, too, to show quick glimpses of our day-in-progress. I got a sweet note from a reader yesterday who mentioned that she appreciated the window into our homeschooling days. I know how she feels; I love those peeks into other households. IG Stories disappear after 24 hours, and although my online urge is always toward preservation and archiving, I like the transitory nature of those photo and video snippets. It feels like sharing just enough, not too much.
I started this post this morning, and now it’s dinnertime and I’ve forgotten where I was going with it. Ah, well. Back to the salt mines. (Rilla got curious about that phrase yesterday and we spent twenty minutes watching videos about actual salt mines. Because of course we did!)
The 100 Day Project begins today. I’m wary of committing (even in a vague personal challenge kind of way) to any non-work or -family task that lasts a hundred days, but I love following this project on Instagram and found a way I can make it work for myself. As a way to help keep my daily sketchbook practice going strong, my ‘project’ will be to put color down on paper every day for a hundred days. Paint, colored pencil, fountain pen ink, collage…whatever medium I feel like on a given day will count.
To participate in the project, you share your daily efforts on Instagram with the hashtag (#the100dayproject). Now, will I manage to keep up with that part for a hundred days in a row? Not likely. I generally only feel like sharing a tiny fraction of what goes into my sketchbook. But that’s okay. The rules are malleable in voluntary internet challenges, right?
So today is Day 1. This morning I was showing Huck the delights of wet-on-wet watercolors and this little fish turned up of its own accord. At least, I see a fish. My IG friends see a man’s profile.
Don’t worry about diving into this late, if you’re of a mind to participate. Follow elleluna on Instagram for more info, or visit this post for particulars.
September 7, 2014 @ 8:59 am | Filed under: Art
The Basic Line Drawing class at Creativebug led me to the blog of its instructor, illustrator Lisa Congdon. Lisa and her work have galvanized our artistic pursuits around here, especially Rilla’s and mine. Something she said in one of her videos really grabbed me: a while back, she decided she needed to improve her hand-lettering skills and decided to practice lettering every day for a year. Now her illustrated quote prints seem to be among her most popular creations. Her work is quite wonderful, and I love the idea that an already accomplished artist challenged herself to develop new talents by committing to practice every day for a year. This ties in perfectly to the habits posts I’ve been working on. Daily practice, even if some days what you produce falls flat.
Just like the actor who yearns to be in a band, I’m a writer who wishes I could draw. Draw really well, I mean. I have so many artist friends whose work knocks my socks off. Watching them at work—oh, that’s the best, witnessing their command of line, the rapid unfolding of story on the page. My own work is so internal. All the color and life it possesses comes from within, from a store of words, ideas, memories, experiences—like Frederick the Mouse in winter, calling up the colors and stories and sun-warmth he stored away during the rich seasons. I love this process, I wouldn’t be me without it; but there are times I yearn to grab those colors and pour them directly onto the page without having to first simmer them in the crucible of my own mind for so long.
Not that I don’t think visual artists transfigure experience in crucibles of their own—I don’t mean that at all, and perhaps my metaphor is running away from me. What I mean is, there can be an immediacy in drawing and painting—you see it, you sketch it, you have it—that is wholly unlike the way writing happens for me. I suppose the place I find immediacy in writing is right here, on the blog, where, as I’ve said, I try to write more rapidly, in what I’ve come to think of as a kind of mental freehand. And the thing I love about drawing, clumsy as my skills are, is that the words part of my mind is actually silenced for a time. I think drawing may be the only thing I do where that is the case. I think in words, I see them scrolling across the screen of my mind always, always—when you speak to me, I see the transcript of our conversation. While things are happening, I’m searching for the words to recount the experience—it happens automatically, I can’t not do it. I first became aware of it on a plane headed for Germany when I was fourteen years old. I was frustrated that I couldn’t just be IN that moment, living it—I was already writing it up in my head.
I remember once telling another writer friend, as she described a similar experience: Oh, you’re like me, you think in narrative. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a mind that doesn’t work this way—except for those brief flashes of silence that come while I’m sketching. And yet I’ll go years without drawing. My skills are elementary (I can go a bit beyond the stick figures I was joking about the other day, but not far) but I know that, like all skills, regular practice would improve them. And so (to come back to my point at last) I was charmed by Lisa Congdon’s determination to hone an aspect of her work by doggedly doing it every day for a year. It’s a simple and even obvious notion, but how rarely such persistence occurs to us! Or occurs in practice, even after we’ve made the resolution.
And then a few days ago Lisa interviewed another visual artist on her blog (delightfully named Today Is Going to Be Awesome). Jennifer Orkin Lewis is a freelance illustrator living in New York City, and her work is lovely, lovely. I was instantly smitten. I learned in Lisa’s interview that in April 2013, Jennifer decided to paint in her sketchbook every day for a month—which turned into painting in her sketchbook every day, period.
…I decided to do a painting a day for the month. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself and I ended up spending hours each day on them. I finished out the month, but it was stressful. In May I did it again but my rules were that I would limit it to 1 hour and I would only paint food. I finished that challenge as well but I felt too tied down to that theme and I didn’t experiment enough. I picked up the sketchbook I’m using now last October and I started painting in it. Something clicked and I really liked how the paint went onto the paper, its size, the fact that it wasn’t a gorgeous sketchbook. I kept painting in it so when January came it just flowed that this would be my daily project. I decided to post them all on Instagram to hold myself accountable to painting everyday.
When I went to Jennifer’s Instagram account (@augustwren), I was blown away. I think what I like best is that she posts a snapshot of the day’s painting alongside the paints and brushes she used to make it.
Kotor Montenegro by Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Image source: Instagram.
“I’m in Venice, these are some things I saw in shop windows.” Image source: Instagram.
Scottish Sheep by Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Image source: Instagram.
“I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly disciplined, so I have surprised myself. I have loads of 1/2 finished sketchbooks on my shelves. A great result from the practice is I now have hundreds of pages of personal reference material. I’ve gone into it to look for color combinations for projects, for the shape of a flower, a technique.”
Please do click through to read the whole interview—it’s fascinating. Jennifer now works on these paintings for 30 minutes each. 30 minutes a day for over a year. She posts the finished pieces on her website, and the range is quite breathtaking.
The obvious conclusion to this post is a resolution to work in my art journal every day for a year, but do you know, I’m terrified to make such an avowal? I always feel like announcing a plan on the blog is a surefire way to stall it. 🙂 So no public declarations. Just a tiny, quiet—resolve is too binding a word. A notion. A hope. Last night after the boys were in bed, while Scott and the girls were watching a movie, Rilla and I worked in our journals. We used the Lisa Congdon piece at the top of this page as our inspiration. I’ve got Lisa’s 20 Ways to Draw a Tulip book and right now I’m in the copying stage, just trying to improve my own command of line. Got a long way to go. I added a fern to my sketch, though, figured it out all by myself using photo reference, and I’m pleased as punch with it (while simultaneously nitpicking its flaws). My writerly affection for circular structure demands its inclusion at the end of this post, but you that terrifies me too! Well, I once posted a story I wrote when I was five years old. My mother saved it for me and now I look at the fledging handwriting and nonsensical dialogue (“We will have to take care of it. If we don’t it will die.” “OK. Let’s go to the store and buy a big Ice-Cream.”) with real affection. Maybe in a year or ten I can feel the same way about this.
A different kind of copywork. Rilla likes to work in miniature and I like to eat up the page.
One of the many long galleries at Balboa Park. Assignment: In a Row.
At Comic-Con two years ago (or was it three? they begin to blur), I dropped my camera in the street, and it has never been the same since. Even before that, I was finding myself more likely to reach for my smartphone than the camera when I wanted to snap a pic. I gather I’m not alone in this. As phone cameras have improved and apps like Instagram make uploading and sharing easier, more and more of us are relying on our phones to capture the memories we want to save.
At times, though, I’ve been frustrated by the frankly mediocre quality of my phone photos compared to the kind of pictures I used to get with my camera. When I saw that Big Picture Classes was offering an online course in phone photography—and furthermore, that my fellow former ClubMom blogger Tracey Clark was one of the instructors—I decided to take the plunge.
Oh you guys, I am SO happy I’m taking this class. The “Before and After” videos, in which various instructors walk you through the editing process on a single photo, using their favorite apps, made an immediate difference in my pictures. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the biweekly lessons with accompanying photo challenges, all based around themes like “In a Row,” “Lines,” or “Fill the Frame.” I’m much happier with the quality of the photos I’m getting out of my iPhone. Almost every image I have posted here in the past two weeks was influenced by the course.
The class runs through August 16 and you can sign up right until the end. You move through the lessons at your own pace. There’s a pretty active message board with lots of input from the instructors, and several bonus videos in which guest photographers spend some time talking about their phone-photography process.
Here’s a selection of my class assignments. There’s a gallery where students may upload photos, but the best place to see others’ work is on Instagram, where we’re tagging our work #bpcphonephotographyproject and adding tags for the individual assignments, such as #ppp2inarow or #ppp2shapes.
Taken at Seaport Village in San Diego. Assignment: Rule of Thirds.
I always swoon over the orchids in Balboa Park’s Botanical Building. Assignment: Fill the Frame.
Snapped in a corner of the music studio where my kids take piano. Assignment: Lines.
Another take on the Lines assignment.
I’m always admiring these beautiful succulents in my neighbor’s yard. Assignment: Fill the Frame.
There’s a man who stacks these rock towers at Seaport Village every day. Assignment: Shapes.
Another take on the guitars…Assignment: Black and White. (I think this may be my favorite of the bunch.)
Rose found this feather and we decided it was meant for my blue jar. Assignment: Light.
Another Seaport Village shot, but I’m not saying where exactly. 😉 Assignment: Fill the Frame.
I posted this one here last week, but I tried a slightly different edit when I shared it on Instagram. I think I like this faded version best. (I prefer the taller crop on the original, though.) Assignments: Vantage Point and Rule of Thirds.
I happened to read the Vantage Point lesson right before our trip to Seaport Village, and it’s what nudged me to get down on the ground underneath Beanie as she took a stab at flying this kite. I like how the kite is about to sail right out of the frame.
One of the things I’m appreciating most about this class is the way it makes me notice things in my surroundings that I might otherwise have glanced right past. I passed these cars in a parking lot behind the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con and was struck by the reflection of the slats on their windshields. Submitted it for the Black and White bonus challenge.
Thanks to the class I learned how to straighten the horizon in this formerly very tilted shot! I didn’t tag it for any of the assignments, but the way the wind was whipping that seaweed around, it could almost qualify for the Action challenge.
Tomorrow brings a new lesson—I can’t wait!