art, comics, creativity, fine arts

Content vs. technique; solidifying an identity

I just blew through the second half of a free online watercolor class that I started and then forgot about. Because I have (very) mixed feelings about it…I won’t say whose class it was. What I will say is that to me, it fell short on content. Technique was plentiful…but the themes tackled were very, “safe,” to the point that I was led to wonder why this person made art in the first place. To me, reproducing or creating “beauty” is no longer an aim in and of itself.

I am, however, biased in that I have been firstly a writer (and trained in Literature, on top of that — not Science Fiction or Horror [even as I might have wished]), secondly or thirdly an artist or illustrator (depending on where you place “beadworker” in that hierarchy, and depending on how you define “artist” or “illustrator”). I’m aware that content is not a high point in making jewelry. However, it is fundamental to Literature, and maybe I just am a “comics” person to the point that I hope to find it in Fine Art. Which means that I get disappointed frequently, I guess.

That is likely a good thing where it comes to my making a “comic” (bad art with a good story can often be forgiven; a bad story with good art, not so much)…but it’s disappointing when I know that I’ve worked in so many creative endeavors because there were things bursting to get out of me, and it seems that the person I had hoped to learn from, doesn’t appear to engage anything like them.

There’s this…or perhaps that she was intentionally making her tutorials so that we would just focus on technique. But then there’s the question of why we would want to do that in the first place, and how to adapt those skills to facilitate expression with content. I mean, you know, so it’s more than just something aesthetically pleasing. Of course, “aesthetically pleasing” does infer that there is some kind of content; maybe below conscious awareness; maybe lacking words.

But it’s kind of hard to relate to someone who draws experience from nature, when you’re in human-created environments a lot of the time, and they aren’t always nice to look at or inhabit. In such a case, obtaining art of nature feels like it could be escapism. And I’m not sure in what manner to value escapism (as versus engagement), in a time such as ours.

So…there was something good that came out of this, which is that I know more about where my own priorities lie, at present. Also, I didn’t pay any money for it. Just time.

The reason why I’m a bit disappointed is that I went back to the tutorials to see just how I might use the watercolors I do have…and this is entirely not what I want to be doing. It’s someone showing me what she does, and I barely see how that intersects with what I would do. As I originally looked at her work because she is known for working, “loose,” as I was constantly encouraged to do in my Art classes…I’m thinking that maybe it’s just not me to work loose, and never will be, and that it was a pedagogical mistake for my teachers to try and push me to work differently (or my mistake to listen to them). I mean, maybe that was just a view of a bunch of members of the Art Department (where I can’t trust that specific Art Department to be neutral, any more than I could trust the members of the English Department to be neutral).

I have started to look up some things on Illustration, which may be what I’m trying to find with this, as versus Fine Art. There is also the point that Illustration is devalued next to Fine Art (like Crafts are devalued next to Fine Art), and I’m starting to think it’s because Fine Art as a discipline doesn’t really know what it is or what it’s doing or why, at this point. After Modernism hit (I’m thinking Duchamp), causing people to question the very definition of Art…well, yeah. I’m not sure if we’ve fully recovered from that, yet.

Not intending to insult people who can make Fine Art, work, because I know sometimes it works, and sometimes it works spectacularly. I just didn’t find what I was looking for, with this last tutorial. Which, you know, it’s like what did I expect, it was a free class over the Internet. And I’ve paradoxically been able to realize the most about who I was, by accepting who I was not.

I guess the bright side of not knowing what Art is, is that then it opens the field to be more than what it has been, historically. I just wonder…to what extent learning from the past, won’t help. That doesn’t mean to avoid traditional media; but rather…if Art is becoming something more than what it has been, to what extent will learning what it has been assist us in creating what it becomes? And will learning what it has been allow me to recognize tradition and paradoxically, release me from trying to depend on it?

art, craft, creativity, food, needlework, painting, paper crafts, personal, sewing

Switching between modes?

Now that I know there are no additional assignments for my course and the end is in sight, I’m feeling a good deal better about it. For the past few days, I’ve been chipping away at this, trying to get it done before I need to. The bright spot here is that I’m now ahead of schedule, to the point that I can relax a bit.

By next Friday, I hope to be totally done, though through Tuesday (it’s currently Friday), I’ll have at least half-day commitments.

I’ve decided to use library computers for my ongoing job research; at least, where it comes to accessing previously unknown websites. Although I’m using a relatively high amount of security on my computer, I encounter enough broken links to make me cautious. (Actually, the cautiousness pre-dates the security — it was just validated by my need to keep myself online while I was in school.)

I’ve also written my last thank-you note from Graduation. :) That was more fun than I expected…I got to draw with translucent and opaque markers on top of a printed card. I also included one of my tatted butterflies (which seemed to legitimate the process of having made it). So the paper-crafting…I’m wondering about combining it with sewing. I don’t know how that would eventually work out, but I got the idea by using one of my awls to punch holes in the card, in order to tie on the butterfly (which I did with a needle and thread).

I really really really want to do something with a needle and thread. I’m not sure whether this will be hand stitching (like quilting or garment work), or embroidery — or beadweaving — though maybe I shouldn’t categorize it, at this point. Maybe I should just start piecing things, or embroidering samples to be stitched together later. I did see some really nice counted-thread needlework at the State Fair which encompassed shapes (curves) that I didn’t expect; but I’m not sure I’m that precision-focused.

What I did do today was practice my tatting. I’m still working on combining rings and chains, and haven’t yet had to restart my current sample (though I want to do it in pink and red instead of ecru and green). I’ve learned to watch for having put in the correct number of double stitches and picots before closing loops, and to keep from inadvertently catching threads within those loops before closing them. Because the pattern I’m working with now always has four double stitches before a picot (loop) or a join or turn, it’s easy to remember. And I am getting better — my hands mostly remembered the motions.

The really good point about this? I’m using DMC #5 perle cotton, which comes in tons of colors and is super cheap, so I don’t feel bad about using up expensive thread while learning. Really, the most expensive things are the tatting shuttles, and they’re reusable.

Since Wednesday, I haven’t physically worked on painting at all (unless you consider buying pads of quality watercolor paper, work; I’ve learned not to), though I have watched some instructional videos on painting. I suppose it’s easier to keep doing something I’m already doing (working on the computer), than it is to switch modes into something else.

However…let’s see. What have I been doing for the last three days?

So Wednesday, I was basically studying. Yesterday (Thursday) I did some produce shopping, specifically after things I could cook and eat, which weren’t sweet. Today (Friday) was the gym, and cooking. That was long beans with mild (Italian?) sausage, onion, green onion, a little hoisin, a little soy sauce, and a little sesame oil. It turned out surprisingly well, though D suggests using ground pork next time, so that I can tweak the seasonings myself (instead of having to deal with the sausage, which had some surprising flavors of salt and anise — although I have had Chinese recipes with star anise before [like Red-Cooked Chicken]).

I still need to shower, wash my clothes, and maybe change my sheets. Tomorrow, I might be able to hit the Farmer’s Market for stone fruit. We bought maybe 10 lbs. (D estimated) of stone fruit last week, and I’ve eaten the majority of it (that is, I haven’t had to toss much moldy fruit from that batch). That has had some odd consequences for my digestion and my weight, but I haven’t gotten upset stomach, yet. (That can happen.) The thing about Farmer’s Markets is that they have fresher and riper fruit than most of the stores.

I picked up some kale and Savoy cabbage to cook with bacon; I also bought materials for mushroom chicken (yellow, zucchini, and white zucchini squash; we have the mushrooms and frozen chicken breast). I’m thinking the kale is going to be the next thing to become unusable, though, meaning I should probably aim to prepare it as soon as feasible. (It generally just gets wilted and mildewy [fresh kale should never smell like mildew at the store], but it’s easy to replace.) The Savoy cabbage is the regular Savoy (a compact head), not Salad Savoy (a blossom-looking thing), so it will likely last longer.

EDIT: Actually, mushroom chicken with rice, sounds good for tomorrow’s dinner.

And, right: I got Poblano chiles and onion, to try and make rajas. I found out when making corn salsa last week, that scorched Poblanos with the skins peeled off are really delicious. You just take the seeds and ribs out and put them face-up under the broiler until the skin blisters and darkens and pulls away, then you can take the skin off (after they cool)…and the chile tastes excellent, just like that. I was really surprised. Rajas, as I’ve gotten them in restaurants, have Poblanos and roasted onion, though I am not sure how to do the onion, yet; I’m planning to try and broil them with the Poblanos.

On a wide scale, I’m looking at the probability of switching between modes of thought and behavior, moreso than now. I’m wondering if it will be possible to do detail and system-oriented technical work for my job, and not let that have an effect where I’m impacted in my creativity, at home and in my art. I mean, actually, work on not letting that have an effect, as a goal, and reason to pursue the Art.

Maybe my art can be my time to break loose from systems and precise, regimented thinking.

Well — there’s also a gradual transition here from being a student, into becoming a fully-functioning adult…which is a place I haven’t fully occupied, before. That is a good thing (the former, not the latter)! I mean, if I look at what I’ve been doing today, it’s normal life stuff. That hasn’t been “normal” for me, for a long time, if I’ve ever even been in a place like this, before…

art, career, creativity, fine arts, painting, psychology

Other people and their rules ;)

I think I’ve been learning some stuff about myself, particularly through the observation of workplace dynamics; and getting into both Cataloging and watercolors — and realizing what strengths each draw off of. It’s kind of instructive, actually, getting to know where people are coming from, which gives insight into why they say what they do.

One of these people is an artist, and the other is very focused on rules and propriety. Though they’re both very social, the tension between them is hard to ignore. In turn, I can see this as an outward reflection of my own tendencies (especially where it has been obvious they have each connected with and encouraged me in areas in which they specialize, or want to specialize).

I recently signed up for a Watercolor class in order to invest some time in my right-hemispherical thinking. I mean: I’ve done this for work. Why wouldn’t I do it for myself? (As a side note, it was much easier to get back to work on the Cataloging homework, after I had done this.)

A large issue I’m dealing with in my Art is the perceived need to plan, and killing spontaneity. I’m pretty sure this has to do with trying to pigeonhole and rationalize everything and make it methodical and rule-bound and systematic, which is a tendency encouraged by my study and my work. I’m trying to get away from it, though it’s difficult.

It may be made more difficult by medication which brings the rational part of my mind forward. When I was younger, unmedicated, and dealing with a couple of different diagnoses, it was much easier to be creative. Right now, though, I’m trying to work through a block, which makes it hard to even sit down to paint. I know I could be doing other things with my time, on which I would get more of a monetary return…but then the question is, does everything in life have to be directly about money? Or business? Or survival?

I guess that’s what a semester of Microeconomics will get you. That, in turn, descends from a dream of being able to make a living doing what you love. Making money off of what you love means monetizing it; meaning either you’ve gotta get creative and you’ve gotta have a lot of hope, (or be married or independently wealthy,) or it’s probably not going to happen.

Or, I could just be negative on this point. What I see is that being a professional artist entails a lot of risk — more risk than I’m willing to bear. From what I hear, it’s also hard to repay art-school loans, because of low returns after graduation.

Then there’s the question of why I wouldn’t invest in myself and my own happiness, and what I want to do in my life, besides work. It’s kind of obvious why I would want to take a watercolor class, because I could use assistance in restarting. However, I don’t think that community college is the way to go, this time.

For one thing, I’ve already gotten an AA in Art…though I could take higher levels of Watercolor and get back into Drawing, I’m not sure of the use of that without access to upper-division and Master’s levels of work. There’s also the question of where or how I would use the skills, which makes the cost of tuition seem unreasonable. In addition to that, I haven’t heard anyone say how much they appreciated art school (not community college, but art school); the ones I’ve known (college instructors) seem to think that it put in too many barriers between them and what they wanted to create.

I know that in my case, there were a lot of personal preferences passed down from my instructors’ instructors, that got emplaced as gospel for the entire class…which started as just one person’s personal preference. I mean, I heard a lot of stuff (I’m paraphrasing, here) like, “paint from life, not from a photograph,” “always paint the edges of your canvas,” “loosen up,” “what are you afraid of,” “don’t make sketchy marks, find a line and commit to it,” “don’t draw anime in that teacher’s class,” “don’t use opaque white in watercolors,” “draw the entire image at once, not one section at a time,” etc.

To people who know what the art-speak above means, it might be seen as helpful, even if just because it’s culturally ingrained; however, what is unhelpful is the fact that your students (especially at community-college/lower-division undergraduate level) may not understand that art-speak; and all these rules that you’re giving them, should they take them to heart while not understanding them; why you said them; what you meant; what the history is behind what you meant; or how to do what you’re asking them to do; are likely to impede what would otherwise be their natural growth. Growing on their own may cause them to shed what you see as bad habits, in the future, by themselves. But your discouragement and insistence that they be masters now, risks freezing their process so they never reach that point.

This is in addition to all the would-be teachers on the Internet who have their own opinions and angles and judgments of other peoples’ work and process and why theirs is better (and, likely fortunately, I can’t remember what I was referencing, here — other than minor incidents). The issue is that if you take everyone’s opinions to heart, you just basically can’t do jack without doing it in some way that someone will call wrong, and you would accept it as wrong, because you’ve already decided to let those peoples’ self-serving opinions override your own judgments of quality. So then, taken to an extreme: if you internalized every criticism someone leveled on process online, you couldn’t ever do anything “right.”

Giving a list of forbidden practices instills a sense of inferiority in someone who is just trying to help themselves develop. There is a case for pruning back bad habits, but you don’t prune a sapling back until it’s a stick and expect it to flourish (though sometimes it happens, if you get one with enough life force).

And doing things, “right,” or, “according to the rules,” makes some people feel safer. As in Cataloging, which is an extremely regimented method of making sense out of content, with the dual aims of access, and uniformity. My coworker who is apparently into Cataloging has expressed a fondness for rules which I don’t share, except when they allow me to shift the blame of enforcing a rule (which I didn’t make) off of myself, onto Library policy. (Bureaucracy at work…)

An example — an easy one — is the question of whether motor vehicle accidents would still happen if everyone followed the rules of the road. Most people do, most of the time, which is probably why the roads aren’t more full of carnage. But there’s an assumption that if everyone followed the rules, no one would get hurt. Is it true? I’m not sure. (What I can be sure of is that it’s a good thing that most people follow most of the rules, most of the time, because it makes things largely predictable, except for the errant vehicles which pop up on a daily basis…)

Then there’s the question of whether some rules are justified, or impact certain groups more than others. For example, the question of whether two people of the same sex can marry, which disproportionately affects non-straight people; or the question of whether abortion is ever a morally justifiable option, which almost exclusively affects women (I say, “almost,” because there are female people who do not consider themselves women, and there are men who were born with female anatomy, who can still carry children).

In other words…questions of right and wrong are being brought up in my life, right now, I suppose. It’s clear to me that I do consider myself a very ethically integral person, but I also know that sometimes ethical integrity means breaking rules (as rules aren’t always neutral, beneficial, or morally justifiable; they’re just rules). Dealing with the Art, and the avoidance of the Art, along with observing the psychologies of my co-workers, and dealing with the possibility of becoming a Librarian, is bringing this up for me.

Though I’m pretty sure that systematizing my thought isn’t something that I want to aim for, at this point. After all, I’m not a machine…

creativity, personal

Imagining pretty things = precursor to making them.

It’s another Thursday night, and I can finally say that I did, in fact, make it out to that art store. Mainly, the reason to go was for inspiration, though I found a new brand of linoleum cutters that I’m trying out, and was able to replace my worn Speedball blades. I know now not to use them on hard linoleum, which I didn’t, before. (According to web research, linoleum can have stone powder in it, which is probably what destroyed my X-Acto and Speedball blades. There is also soft linoleum, though, which is what I tested these blades on, tonight.)

As regards those Speedball blades: the handle (I’m using the red version; there’s also a blue one) needs some tweaking to get things in and out cleanly. Basically, the collet unscrews and that loosens a slot that a blade can fit into (on only one side). What’s weird is that loosening the collet to take the blade out doesn’t always do the job; sometimes the blade needs to be rotated in the collet to disengage. That’s not entirely safe, especially with the double-edged knife that got stuck tonight for some reason. I don’t know why, but I do know that I’ve had trouble with that handle from the beginning — maybe it just takes a little experience to use.

But yeah, I was able to pick up a set of replacement blades for not too much, and was really happy with them, when I got them home. I didn’t see any replacement blades for the X-Acto linoleum carving set.

Tonight I began drawing, again. I intended to design a new linocut, but things quickly moved away from that as I began adding (imagined) colors to the intended design. The deal with that is that each new color (aside from gradations), in a block print, necessitates a different block, or at least a different impression. What I’ve got is interesting, though a little busy. I’m fighting the urge to simplify my lines, meaning that I’ve got a lot of stuff that looks like old-style fire or ki.

I’m also trying to finish the Borden & Riley Vellum that I got a really long time ago, because I’ve used all but two sheets in the pad. It doesn’t make sense to hang onto the last two, especially considering how inexpensive B&R paper is. By accident, I got a duplicate pad of Fabriano hot-press watercolor paper, today. Luckily, this means that I don’t have to feel under pressure to make “good” art on it; though it is only 25% cotton. (Most archival-quality watercolor paper is 100% cotton; the lignin in wood pulp causes acidification of the paper, which can cause eventual color change.)

And, I suppose, I could even start out with grisaille sketches again, if I wanted to. Grisaille is basically a term for “greyscale;” it allows one to isolate, compare and adjust values (lightness or darkness) in an image, prior to making a color version. I have Lamp Black watercolor (not to mention, black ink — though I wouldn’t use waterproof ink with delicate brushes — I hear pen cleaner is harsh on them), and I know these types of studies aren’t hard. I might want to tackle that in the near future!

Which reminds me now that I have dip pens and new brushes to try out…I got them a long time ago, and didn’t have the time to devote to using them at all.

I’ve been collecting things to draw for years, too (this being why I have a bunch of the plants that I have, which reminds me that I still need to repot the Dwarf Umbrella plant), so I shouldn’t have a hard time finding a subject. What jumps to mind at first are shells, and my mineral collection, though I’ve also used jewelry. Scarves, maybe combined with jewelry, could be a more advanced study (fabric is notoriously hard to render in painting and drawing). I also have some trinkets and a vase and a pine cone…I really have been collecting stuff, haven’t I?

Yeah, I do have a lot of stuff to make images out of! My poor plants, though. They aren’t in the greatest of health, and that’s majorly because they’re indoors. Particularly, the succulents need more light, but with the amount they need, I would have to put them outside. Given how well the little one in the crack in the front yard is doing (which is basically a weed now), they would probably be okay as regards water; but I also like having them around, too.

The Dwarf Maidenhair Fern is still…ugh. I mean, seriously, I’ve looked up Maidenhair Ferns online and found them referred to as “The Diva of Houseplants,” from more sources than I care to list, though how many of them are copies of each other, I also don’t care to verify… The fact that I have the one I do is basically my own fault, though, because I have a thing for Maidenhair Ferns. When they’re healthy, they’re beautiful. The issue is that they need constant watering and misting and high humidity and don’t tolerate much of anything well (except shade).

My house isn’t cold, dark and damp, so of course the fern isn’t happy. On the other end, we’ve got my hardy Dwarf Umbrella plant, which needs watering once in a while and some light, and it’s happy (though while I was sick, I forgot to water it, and it nearly died).

Luckily…I don’t yet have pets. If I did, I would have to be more vigilant, though I do have a dream of getting two or three guppies. For some reason, I really like guppies–! The fact that they’re also hardy is very good; the major issue is what to do if we end up moving, or where to put the aquarium. See, if I had an aquarium, I could put the fern near it, and that would likely make it humid enough for them.

I also have recurring dreams of having fish that I’ve forgotten about which have died of starvation, though, which is not that encouraging. However, I’ve gotten a lot better about routine essential things…particularly sleep, medication, and caring for the plants. My folks wouldn’t have given me an aquarium unless the plants stayed alive. Right now, though…I wonder just about having an aquarium with aquatic plants in it. I think I would like to have fish in there, who would be able to complete the cycle of food to poop to plant to clean water; but it’s a monetary and care commitment, not to mention what would happen if there were a major earthquake.

Of course…I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve lived through a number of major earthquakes. I wouldn’t call it PTSD, but I once in a while think to myself about what would happen if an earthquake occurred now. This is probably just a survival thing, because it happens more frequently than any major earthquake occurs. But I do know that it’s scary to be in a house with a full aquarium when the ground is rolling — both for the fish and for me. If it weren’t a practical awareness with a practical use, I’d call it anxiety, but it’s probably a good anxiety to have (to a degree).

Of course, though, there is also the anxiety of being far from home…which relates to my job search. Particularly…in a natural disaster, I might be called in to work, and in a disaster like Loma Prieta, which knocked out a major bridge, tunnel, and freeway leading to the Peninsula, it might take a very long time to get there (while my house might be in danger of burning down).

The practical thing is to move closer to work; but housing prices are exorbitant in this area, and there’s the question of what I would do if I lost my job.

Maybe I can just make a terrarium, eh? Put a little Venus Flytrap in there and some soil and rocks and lights, or something. A fern might like that…the only question is how to avoid steaminess in there, or the eventual development of mold.

Maybe I should read up on it.

Right now, it’s become Friday morning…I should probably do something like sleep (though I accidentally fell asleep, right before dinner). Tomorrow, I need to work on my Dewey unit…hmm. I know it was suggested that we see the Pikachu movie then, but I think that with everything going on — to be responsible, I should at least start my next unit (I haven’t touched it, so far). I only have until Monday, to get it done.

The biggest pain with that is actually taking notes. I don’t mind the reading or watching videos; the annoying thing is trying to guess what information is important, and trying to recall it. I could have done that instead of writing this…but I didn’t want to.