Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Case for Synthesis

I fell in love with the work of Ann Hechle in the 1980's. She is an elegant calligrapher with a style that is at once both clean and complex, she has a way of using colour that is subtle and engaging. I tried to get her to come to Toronto to teach but she was unable to because of  family commitments. And so I packed my bags and headed to the University of Sunderland in northern England for a conference where she was teaching. To be honest I had no idea what it was she was teaching. I didn't care. The course was on Sacred Geometry and that week changed my artistic life.


Ann, pictured here in her younger years and in later life, started our first day with a piece of white paper and a stone that she had found on a nearby beach. The stone was round and smooth and dark. She worked her magic with it, moving it around on a sheet of white photocopy paper. Her voice was quiet, slow paced, thoughtful. She wove a spell with that rock and taught me more about design in that first hour than anyone before or since. My attraction to stones and natural forms had been strong before. After that day, the attraction became an obsession. And yes, I went to that nearby beach and found a stone to bring home as an aide-mémoire.


I have had the opportunity to study with Ann a number of times and each time I come away richer for the interaction with her brilliant mind. Each time I have arrived in her class as a different student because I have taken the time to practise and use the lessons I learned in her classes and in others. Each time I have allowed the process of synthesis to take place.


And this process of synthesis, the lessons I learned with the stone and with all the other stones and natural shapes I have studied in the ensuing years, shapes and images that have seeped into my artistic vocabulary until I reach for them without thinking, are the reasons that the newest official  tangle, Spoken, speaks so eloquently to me. It is why I bring to you the case for synthesis and urge you to work in ways that will let a similar process create magic for you. Not so that you can create my imagery but so that you can create your own.



What compels me towards Spoken (and its kissing cousin Arukas) is that it encapsulates the design energy that I felt during the Sacred Geometry class when we explored not only the power of one but also the power of the other numbers that inform the history of western design without our even being aware of them. What is magic about Spoken is that it is a practically failure proof way of dividing space that creates a balanced, energetic, vibrant dynamic on the page. Take a breath, draw an ovoid anywhere on your page. Follow the simple steps to create Spoken. Try it for yourself.




But more importantly, think about the classes you have taken recently. What were the big ideas you took away. Give yourself the gift of time to fully immerse yourself in the lessons and watch how they inform your work and make you grow. This is the gift of synthesis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Post-Conference Funk

I've just returned from Tangle U 2017 and I am dedicating this blog to my fellow attendees. They may be experiencing Post- Conference Funk today and in the days ahead and I have some advice for them.

Although not yet recognized by the medical community, rest assured this is a real syndrome. It is characterised by a general feeling of malaise and may be accompanied by an overwhelming need to sleep. Some artists find themselves feeling incompetent at art, feeling that there creations of the week before were a sham or a mirage. Severe cases of this syndrome can be quite debilitating. (Seriously. Although I am keeping the tone of this blog light I have known a number of artists who are severely effected. A friend once told me that he could hardly sleep for weeks before a conference and was ecstatic for the first half of the week. And then he confided that he woke up midconference feeling quite down, quite panicked, because he dreaded the end of the conference and the barren times to come.)  
I believe PCF is caused by a combination of things. First, there is the sudden cessation of  the adrenaline rush that is created when spending time with like-minded people who don't need an explanation every time you fall into a swoon because of art supplies. They know why you fondle a Palomino pencil or caress a PanPastel compact And then there is the loss of mental stimulation  compounded by the loss of a continuous array of eye candy. After days of living with your tribe, hugging your tribe, laughing with your tribe, crying with your tribe, feeling truly understood by your tribe, you are tired - tired right out - BUT excessively happy. And then suddenly you are thrown back into reality, plunged right back into it at the airport when you get packed in like a sardine on a plane with a bunch of 'normal' people who just can't understand you, don't even want to try. Your glowing creative light is smothered by their muggle breath. The plane lands and reality really hits full force. No matter how much you have missed your family, love your progeny, the reality of it all likely sucks. There are traffic jams and sticky counters, empty milk cartons, paying jobs to face, laundry to do...the fun is suddenly gone and you are expected to behave responsibly. And this is when you are most vulnerable to Post Conference Funk.
There is no known cure for this syndrome but I would like to share a few things that help me when I find myself suffering from it.
1. Sleep. You are overtired from running on adrenaline, eating too much, and talking all night. Go to bed early, sleep in late if you can. Otherwise you are going to act like a grumpy toddler and your loved ones will talk about you behind your back.
2. Eat healthy. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day and drink lots of water. You have to hydrate after you travel.
3. Play. Get out all the art supplies and finish what you started or make each project again. This is especially true if you learned a new skill. If you took one of my bookbinding classes cut some paper and get folding and sewing. Draw new patterns.Play with those new toys. Start a sketchbook to explore the new ideas you were exposed to. If there is one thing I know for sure it is this - LAUNDRY WILL WAIT! Remember how good it felt to be creative all day everyday? You are unlikely to be allowed to do this now that you are home BUT make art a priority every day and let something else go.
4. Every day at the conference you heard people say inspiring and affirming things. You need more of that in your life, especially this week. Last year Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book called Big Magic. It is a very inspirational read but what is just as good, and perhaps even better, is the series of free podcasts that she did to go with it. The podcasts are called Magic Lessons and you can download them for free from iTunes or from https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons. My favourite is Season 1: Episode 12, but listen to them all. They are about everyday people who are trying to live like artists and who think they are failing. Elizabeth counsels them and shows them that they are going to be okay. Her voice is calming and enouraging. The podcasts will buoy you up when you think you might be sinking. They will make you remember that you aren't alone, or abnormal or weird. And again, they are free.
5. Keep in touch with your tribe. Stay connected on FB or on on whatever other social media you use. Form private groups with five or six kindred spirits or as many as you are comfortable with and share uplifting ideas and images of your work with each other. Strengthen your bond with the new friends you've met. FB can be a force for good if you use it that way and ignore all the other stuff. Send letters, send care packages, burn up the phone lines. Now that you have found kindred spirits never let them go!
And now, I am going to have a big glass of water and go for a nap. The dog is coming with. Pretty much everywhere I go today the dog is coming with me. She hates the laundry room, so we aren't going there. And even a dog knows that the best thing to do with laundry is sleep on it.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Knotty Business

It has been a long time since I've done a blog post. Life has been busy, full of a myriad of twists and turns. I've spent lots of time tangling in order to stay as calm as possible.

Long before Zentangle, way back in the early 80s, one of the ways I relaxed was to draw Celtic knots. I know, I'm a strange one. The curves and weave of the lines really appeal to me. They've become second nature to me but I know they aren't for many of you. So, as we head into the "Irish" month I want to share a knotting process that really simplifies the process.

Stan has shot 3 videos for me which highlight 3 tangles: Feeling Knotty, Simply Knotty and Extra Knotty. You will find an informal step out and examples below.

Feeling Knotty:





Simply Knotty:



Extra Knotty:






Step Outs


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Rising From The Swamplands

There are lots of different ways of getting lost. Some of them are fun - like "squirrel " moments where we get off course following a new activity or trend. Some of them are caused by seeing something bright and shiny just off the path that we have to check out - I call these "crow mind" moments. Some of them are restoritive like a meandering drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon.



But often the road of life sends us around a curve and we find ourselves in the middle of a swamp full of hungry alligators and no  map to guide us out. There is quicksand to the left, snapping teeth to the right, smelly bog in front and no trail back. I don't know about you but when I hit a patch like this I can get really mired in the muds of despair, especially if the weather is bad and distressing news just keeps on coming. I've had a winter like that. I got a little lost and really blue and I have been struggling to get my bearings back.
I like to learn from my mistakes so this last few weeks, as I began to feel a bit stronger, a bit more able to deal with all the bad news, I've been thinking about what I did wrong and what I did right. I haven't handled things as well as I would have liked but I have handled things. I'm not being hard on myself - I'm just being honest.






What I  Did Wrong

I should have let relatively unimportant things go and found time for my personal art no matter what. I know that the work I do with my hands is good for my soul and that it is often the way that the strength of my faith has the time to wrap around me. When my hands are busy creating I find peace. I should have let housework and busywork go even more than I have. I should have eaten out more and made do with more healthy prepared foods. I should have but I didn't.

And when I wasn't creating I got behind on my comittments to the FB groups I belong to, the very groups that inspire and motivate me. And the more I got behind the harder it got to catch up. I should have forgotten about the missed weeks and just jumped back in where I was. I've done that this week and already I feel better. I've also finished pages that were started in simpler ways than originally planned. Just working in my journals and puddling about with the tools has been good for me.

I took on lots of work this winter and I got trapped in the worry cycle. You know the one. You worry about it, dream about it, fuss over it. Then you finally snap yourself out of it, get the work done and then you think "That wasn't so bad." Worry, overthinking, worst-case-scenario living...I keep trying to give it up. I need to remember how exciting and invigorating the work is for me, how the energy of the students is restorative and inspiring and stop worrying about showing up for class unprepared.

What I Did Right

I swam. When curling ended winter should have. But it didn't. It got grey, it got cold, it got inhospitable outside and I couldn't go for walks. I needed to move. I complained, I kvetched. And then a place became available to swim. So I stretched and swam and I felt better inside and out.



When all other creative work wasn't happening I started a simple little journal that I call my Blues Book. I just used graphite, a micron and a blue Stabilo water soluble pencil in it, at least at first. When I couldn't face colour or collage or all the other fun stuff I usually like to play with, I turned to it each night and just tangled and lettered in a simple way. Looking through it I am pretty happy with where that intuitive work is leading me. But even if the work wasn't any good I learned a few important things. First, to keep working even if it is really simple work. Second, in sharing my work and the feelings behind it, I have touched other lives and helped others find a way forward. Which leads me to the other thing I have done right...

I've shared my feelings with close friends and looked for ways of connecting with people rather than retreating. This is hard for me. I'm one of those bears that likes to go into their cave and suffer in silence. I am blessed with good friends who are good listeners and I am blessed with good friends who are creatives and who are happy to come and play with me even when I am a grouch. Laughter and tea are good therapy especially when mixed with colours and "what if we tried this" moments. And so is being reminded that things will look better tomorrow, or the next day, or the next...



What I Want to Know

We all get the blues. What I want to know is what you do when you lose the trail and get stuck. I think we need to talk about this more and be aware that we aren't alone in feeling this way. That would help. I'd like to have a tool kit of ideas to keep handy for when it happens again and to share with you and my students. So lets start the conversation here. Tell me what you do to move forward, to see the world in a rosier hue and leave the blues behind.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

I'm Not Getting Older, I'm Getting Wiser: Lessons Learned While Journalling

For years I have wanted to be a journaler. I've drooled over the journals I've seen in person and spent hours looking at journal posts online. Joining Facebook didn't help. There I kept seeing even more luscious offerings.

And so, midway through 2014, I decided to stop dreaming about journalling, decided to stop saying 'someday'. I signed up for The Documented Life Project. I jumped in with both feet that first week, already 6 months behind but keen to catch up and keep up. I started by getting a gelli plate and printing lots of papers and since it was too late to find a planner like they were using I cut my own pages, bought washi tape and started. I was all jazzed up. The next morning (yes, I know, I pack a great deal into a day) I discovered that washi tape doesn't hold book pages together. It should come with a warning label. It kind of ruined my forward motion. I got some pages done but just couldn't keep up. Couldn't find the time or the energy.




I loved seeing the work that group does but seeing didn't translate to doing for me and I needed to understand why. So I set about thinking about it last fall when I was out on my walks, trying to understand why I couldn't translate my desire to create a journal like the ones I was seeing into action. Here are some things I discovered about myself.

1. I wasn't going to work on a journal if I had to go to my studio and get out everything. My journal time was at night, when I wanted to relax while working. This was why I kept sketchbooks by my comfy chair in the family room. I could pull them out and draw while I watched TV and was sociable. The work in Documented Life was full of layers and stickers and fun stuff. That could not be created in an easy chair.

2. My style was more stripped down and muted than the style in Documented Life. While I was attracted to all the colour and layers of paint and 'stuff' on their pages I had moved past falling in line with the trends and needed to work in my own way. I was uncomfortable posting my work as it was so different. To be clear, this had nothing to do with the people on the site, this was my own problem, my own insecurity holding me back.

3. The FB page for Documented Life was busy, too busy. There was so much to see that it was difficult to stick to my alloted viewing time (you know I like to keep to a schedule). I like to comment and not lurk and it was hard to keep up with it all. I needed a more intimate space to share and communicate in.

Mixed into these observations about that project were things I knew about myself from the past.

1. I find it difficult to feel free in a bound book because of the fear of messing up and because it was uncomfortable to have my hand falling off the side all the time.

2. Most of the books that I had tried journalling in were too large to hold, too heavy to travel with and I hated the paper for one reason or another.

3. I wasn't going to actually do this unless I had some people to 'hold my feet to the fire', to hold me accountable, in a good way. I am one of those people who needs help reaching goals like this. I needed playmates (or fellow inmates).

So I thought about all of  this and came up with an idea - why not start a group of my own! 

I'd set some parameters and post a message and see if I could find a few people who were interested.
I waited for 48 hours, a self imposed cooling off period. It still seemed like a good idea so I decided to post to the CZT FB page first as it would likely be a place where 3 or 4 likeminded souls could be found. How wrong I was. Within hours I had a tsunami of interest. And so Our Tangled Lives was born, a secret group of 150 members who agreed to work on weekly prompts, post at least once a month and be kind and supportive of each other.

And how has the year been? It has been splendid! The group has been a joy to work with and there has been such growth and blossoming that has come from it. A core group of about 40 have kept up in one way or another despite 'life' happening, the support in the group has been amazing and we are cued up for another great year.

And what have I learned?  What rules would I suggest? (Put "as much as possible" in front of these guidelines.)

1. Work with papers that you love and a format that is appropriate for you.

I worked in small 5.5" x 5.5" monthly journals and these suited me perfectly because I made them myself, with paper I loved. I never had the sense that I was going to ruin the whole book if I tried something unusual and it was a totally portable size. Each book had four folded pages in it so my hand didn't fall off the edge when I was working. I had room for four prompts and a few extra pages to play with. I used papers I had decorated myself, mostly gelli printed, a technique I learned because of all the lush papers in Documented Life. Having them pre-decorated or pre-energized was perfect for me. The colour and pizazz was already there urging me on and I didn't need to go to my studio or find the energy to create the right background. I also used some paste papers, Masterfield papers, graphite blasting etc. The paper I worked on was Arche Text Wove which is my favourite book weight paper because it is a little toothy, takes all kinds of abuse and lays flat afterwards. It also loves pens and pencils of all kinds. I made many different types of books over the year but my favourites were tongue and groove (Fold), interlocking signatures (Books with Girth) and pamphlet stitch. The others included two-sewn-as-one, meander, coptic, accordion, 2 minute book, long stitch variation and origami envelope.




2. Prepare to succeed. Remove as many obstacles as possible.

Prep is key for me. I got out my Xyron and put through lots of collage papers which I kept in a 12"x12" scrapbook box beside my easy chair. I also made up a smaller 5"x7" box which travelled well. Having the adhesive on one side made collage fun. No glue to worry about and you know how much I hate glue! The papers I used most were the deli papers I rolled my excess paint off on during gelli printing and vintage pages from old text books.




3. Work with tools you love and tools that love you.

I put together a selection of pens and pencils etc. in a carrier meant for garden supplies. This stayed by my comfy chair and held pretty much everything I needed to work on my journal pages. The selection changed some over the year. I spent too much on fancy markers early on but found I was rarely reaching for them. They are fun to have and I get them out periodically to play with. When I travelled I took my favourites which included my microns, a few favourite pencils, a core set of Derwent Inktense, a water brush and a Stabilo blue watersoluble pencil. When I was in a buying mood I did invest in a set of Rotring Isograph pens which I love and they don't clog like the old ones! I haven't been brave enough to fly with them yet.







4. Play with friends. This can mean reaching out and making new friends which is scary.

Having the right support group is vital and I got so lucky with this. Truly they are a blessing. We came to the group with all sorts of different backgrounds and expectations but it worked because we were so positive and nurturing with each other. It also worked because we all shared a common language which was tangling. As artists we tend not to be as positive and nurturing of ourselves as we should be. We need our art friends to lift us up. Facebook can be a place to look for the right playmates if you don't have ones that live close to you. The key is to look in the right places and have an idea of what your needs are. Our Tangled Lives wasn't the only secret group I was involved in this year. I have written before about using a private Facebook page to get excellent mentoring and critique from a select group of friends.

5. Take time to assess your goals periodically.

We are going forward with Our Tangled Lives 2016. It has been such a positive experience for me that I wanted to move forward but I did take time to think about what my goals are going forward and how the group fits into all that. Some of our members are choosing not to carry on for a variety of reasons. This is good in its own way. They have looked at the commitment and decided that their lives and creative paths are asking for different things. Assessing where you are and moving forward consciously is good. We are adding new members who are nominated by our current members. I am looking forward to the different strengths and interests that they will bring to the group. There are still a few openings - send me a message if you might be interested.

6. Speak with your own voice.
This has been a mantra for me for years now. It is one of the main tenants of my teaching philosophy. I've written about it, lectured on it, tried to live it. My goal is to teach skills and encourage people to play with their toys as often as possible. My job is not to make something and teach you how to copy it. Never will be. What I am proudest about with Our Tangle Lives is that the work that is posted each week is diverse, personal and alive. Without looking at the name of the poster I can almost always guess who did the work. The members all have voices and they are using them.


7. Get Over Yourself!

The best thing about Facebook and Our Tangled Lives has been the constant posting which has made me much less afraid of posting my work. I only see the flaws and they only see the good stuff, or at least they are polite enough to focus on that! I am feeling more confident, less controlled, less afraid of people seeing my lettering. I know what some of you are thinking and you are right, I should get over myself and enjoy myself!

8. Find a formula that works.

This will take trial and error. I've tried lots of things over the years that didn't work. Our Tangled Lives did. How did it work you ask? Here are the basics:

-Members chose their own journal

- There was a prompt each week. For January  I wrote the prompts and they were pretty wordy! I wanted to make sure that everyone had as much info as possible and could move through the jitters they all felt. After that a list went up and  members of the group signed up to do a prompt for one of the remaining weeks. As the year went on and people got more comfortable the prompts got less wordy but never less exciting. We waited with great anticipation for the posting of the prompts each week.

-Members posted their work and we all got to see lovely eye candy.

It was that easy.

Going forward we are going to follow basically the same format. Members want a little more input on paper techniques and tangle ideas and I've tweaked the formula enough to add that without losing the freedom of the prompts.

My journal will be a little different this year. My work tends to be public, my journals passed around in classes and posted online and I am good with that. I was really impressed by the work that Aimee Michaels did this year and I want to try and emulate it in my own way. I am going to keep 4 hand bound coptic books (one for each quarter) in a size no larger than 5" x 7" for my public prompt artwork. In addition I am going to keep a larger journal for writing my thoughts about each prompt and the deeper meaning behind them and this will be mostly kept private. I am going to mix in some solid papers here and there, some Japanese washi, a few pages with flaps, some shapes...a few design challenges for myself.


I know December is a busy month. I hope you can find some time to settle down with yourself and examine what you want for your artistic life in the year ahead. What dream can you make a reality by doing a little planning and preparing?



Monday, November 02, 2015

Following the Bread Crumbs - A Story About Synchronicity

I love it when life opens up paths and I don’t have to fight my way through the brambles and the swamps to find my way. It happens so rarely that I’ve learned to really revel in the feeling of rightness and soar a little on the thermals before the next section of hard slogging and creative despair finds me.

October has been a great month full of lots of creativity, travel, friends and inspiration. There have been more than a few full circle moments and they have left me with a full heart and much gratitude. I’d like to share one of these experiences with you. It is one of those stories that unfolded itself without much help from me, all I had to do was follow the bread crumbs and enjoy the synchronicity.

Bread Crumb One: A few years ago my good friend Ruth Booth sent me a link to a TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert and said I had to watch it. I had no idea what a TED Talk was at that point but Ruth knows me really well and I trust her and so I watched it. I loved it! I fell in love with Elizabeth Gilbert that day. I’m a big fan of her way of thinking and talking about creativity. I have re-watched that talk many times and also her second TED Talk. If you haven’t watched these talks, treat yourself. http://www.ted.com/speakers/elizabeth_gilbert

Bread Crumb Two: Almost two years ago my husband signed me up for Facebook. I was resistant at first but decided that if I set parameters and kept to them that it could be a good thing and it has been. One of the bonuses is that periodically I see a post from Elizabeth Gilbert that makes me say “Yes!” and gives me a little boost.

Bread Crumb Three: My local bookstore chain sends out frequent emails promoting a whole range of things from books to housewares. I rarely read them, but late last spring I happened to notice Elizabeth Gilbert’s name in the subject header of an email so I opened it. They were announcing an event where she would be speaking in late September. I quickly pushed the button to go to the link for tickets and I bought two, one for me and one for Ruth.

Bread Crumb Four: After a long summer of anticipation the big night arrived. On the way in we got a copy of Big Magic, her latest book. Elizabeth spoke well and was very entertaining. She mentioned an author and I jotted down a phonetic spelling of the name (yes, I took notes!). She also mentioned a podcast series that she had created called Magic Lessons. I read the book and enjoyed it and I learned a lot from it. It is easy to read and full of gems and important insights into creativity. I read the part about Brené Brown with great interest and flagged her books on my bookstore website.




Bread Crumb Five: I was heading out on a roadtrip in October (driving to Wyoming NY for a yummy, inspiring retreat with fellow CZTs that is hosted by Chris Titus) and downloaded the Magic Lesson Podcasts to listen to in the car. Somehow I loaded them into my podcast list backwards, the last one first - I think the universe had a hand in this. The trip down was frenetic with heavy traffic and high winds. When the traffic eased a little I listened to that last podcast first. I listened to it three times. It was an interview with Brene Brown. She said some really important things in that podcast. She said thing I needed to hear, she said things my students needed to hear, she said things you likely need to hear. On the way home I listened to the whole series from front to back, in the proper order. It is all great stuff but truly, that last one was intended for me. You can find them here or on iTunes and they are free: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/



Bread Crumb Six: I downloaded Rising Strong by Brené Brown to read on the way to California. I truly can’t say enough good about it. It has changed my thinking on so many topics. It will be a road map for me going forward. It will change the way I create. It will change the way I teach. It will change the way I meet strangers and friends and family each day. I will be buying a hard copy of it so that I can mark it up and love it even more. It is all about how people come back from failures, both large and small, in their daily live and in their creative lives. It talks about shame and empathy and the fear of not measuring up, not ever.



















Bread Crumb Seven: I listened to Brené Brown’s TED Talks this weekend. Full circle, back to TED. They are good - not as good as the book - and well worth watching. I’m not sure I would have been ready for them a few years ago. I needed to follow the bread crumbs and walk the path that lead to them.
http://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown



Thursday, October 15, 2015

Faux Eco Printing

Keeping this blog short and sweet! Some day soon I want to write about where ideas come from but there is no time for that this week. This idea came to me while I was on one of the many walks I took over the Thanksgiving weekend. I love walking in the woods with the shoosh, shoosh, shoosh of the fallen leaves under my feet. It is very therapeutic to walk in the woods at any time but particularly in the fall. This year's colour wasn't as spectacular as some but we did get a lovely show of yellows for the weekend and the sun hitting them was nothing short of spectacular.


I'm heading to upstate New York this weekend for a gathering of CZTs from the 'border lands', certified tanglers who mostly come from New York and Ontario but we have some adventurous souls from elsewhere attending too. We are meeting at the home of the fabulous Chris Titus and using her studio space to explore lots of ideas and techniques. We call the get together Camerida. It will be fun filled and I am looking forward to the recharge. I'm teaching blackout poetry and I wanted a technique to use to quickly add leaf interest to the pages. While I was walking I was thinking about leaves and how to teach their shapes and it suddenly occured to me that we could use this simple technique. The minute I got back to the cottage I tried it out and was really happy with the results. Of course I found that others are doing it but it was 'my idea' for a few minutes and it was great fun to make this little video to share it with you. I call it Faux Eco Printing.