Search This Blog


Friday, January 30, 2015

2015's Word of the Year

With the recent writing challenge, I'm striving to post to this blog twice weekly; Tuesdays and Fridays.  Let's see how that goes.

Those of you who read me fairly regularly, either here or on Facebook, know that I've been using Christine Kane's 'Word of the Year' angle of designing and developing focus for the year at hand, instead of doing the old tired New Year's resolutions.  It has transformed how a 12-month period manifests itself for me, and what I learn along the way.

Climbing Sulphur Mtn. in Banff to leave a stone
 in memory of  my brother
Last year's word was 'Adventure!' and I certainly had a few of those. One of the things that word taught me is that no matter the significant situation, even when it's a bad situation, positive things can be had from it. Memorable things. Even a grim matter can be  turned, at least in small part, into a positive thing, and yes, even into a bit of an adventure.

This year begins with many things on my radar, things that must be carefully planned for, and potential things that absolutely cannot be planned for but instead will require enough mental agility for them to be met head-on.  I need to learn many things, develop new skills, brush up on old skills and train physically in order to achieve all that can be achieved in this summer's adventure.

At the end of last year, all this was written down and attentively examined in order to come up with a good focus word for 2015. It didn't take long before a potential word stood out clearly from the other candidates.  Vitality!  That's the one.  Here are a few definitions that really ring out for me - exuberant strength and mental vigor; the state of being strong or active, energy; a lively or energetic
One of the easier climbs here in Washington. I'll be
hitting many hikes and overnighters in the coming
months to increase my strength and stamina.
quality; the capacity to live or develop, also physical or mental vigor; the quality or state of abundant or intense activity; power of enduring.

Many of the synonyms are even more appealing than mere definition:  buoyancy, brightness, cheer, pizazz, sparkle, zest, verve, vivacity, drive, spiritedness, keenness, ebullience, enthusiasm, fire, passion, mettle, power, stamina, fitness, hardiness, health, wellness.

Vitality needs to be present in the work I produce, as well - in imagery and in writing. So, with thoughts on all the matters that lie ahead this summer, much of it quite physical and other aspects involving significant learning and a certain amount of agility in attitude and direction, 'vitality' is certainly a good word to embrace in all its aspects.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

of Water and Water Media

7-Day Blogging Challenge, day 3.  I failed.  A post did not get completed in time to post last night.   That's okay though, because the important thing is, it got me writing again.

A Gathering of Gulls on Oregon's Coast
It is fascinating when a small pebble of an idea, once it is set into motion, develops legs and grows.  I'm getting more comfortable with the colored pencils, graphite, and watercolor pencils obtained for plein aire sketching.  Discoveries along the way have been rewarding, as I learn to mix it up, layer, and experiment.  This image is a result of the ongoing learning, and was produced in studio from photographs taken during a recent trip to Oregon's coast.

Ideas have a way of growing legs though, and now as I wish I had produced this while in Oregon, or at least collected sea water while there, I need to take the idea and try it out locally to see how feasible it might be.

Imagine if when producing the plein aire sketches, paintings and illustrations created in the west highlands and islands, I use a bit of water from local sources in the depiction of places and subject matter, and did so with focused intention and identify it as such.  Examples would be Liathach painted with water from the burn that tumbles down that mountain's side or from Loch Torridon if painted from a distance; Eilean Donan castle at dusk, sketched and painted with water from Loch Duich; other locations from the rivers Ness and Clyde, or depending on the scene and the location, a bit of collected rain water.

The idea has me stewing on all sorts of possibilities.

First things first though, I need to experiment with this locally here in the Pacific Northwest, just to determine if this is something I could do.  How will sea water affect a watercolor painting?  I'm eager to find out.  Roll on Spring, there is a list of things I'd love to try!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Think Differently

Seven-Day blogging challenge, Day 2.

Early last week I acted upon an idea. I went into Walmart, picked up two large 100-count bags of wooden clothespins and took them to the express checkout line. The clerk's eyebrows shot up when she saw my purchase, and she laughed.

"Now are you going to use all those to do your laundry, or are you doing something else?"

I could not resist. "No, these are for craft items which will help me financially with expenses during an overseas trip this summer. "  she asked me to repeat that. Then she laughed again.

All she saw was an enormous quantity of wooden clothespins. An end product in a retail environment, and one of limited use or value.   She did not and could not see their potential. What I saw was something far greater.  What I saw were handy and attractive clothespin magnets, all neatly painted with custom-requested tartan sett patterns, made to order. What I saw beyond those very unique magnets included things like food purchased from Tesco and Morrison's, cooked outdoors in Scotland's wild country. Cans of fuel purchased at Tiso in Inverness, to cook those meals. A cold-press watercolour tablet, to replace the one I'll inevitably fill up while trekking through the West Highlands. And possibly a replacement bottle of Skin So Soft, to keep the voracious midges at bay.

You have to be willing to think differently, and be bold enough to act upon those ideas.  Don't think
about things as they are as though that is all they can be and nothing more.  Dare to innovate.  That is what I am doing here.  By the way, I am taking orders for these magnet clothespins in any tartan sett. I'll paint a set of eight for $20, shipped anywhere in the world.

The clerk's mockery in her laugh was unmistakable, but I really didn't mind.  After all, she only saw a pile of clothespins and thought it ridiculous that someone would purchase so many.  Where will she be in July? Very likely here, doing the same thing she was doing this day.  As for myself though, I've got my sights set at something much bigger - because I'm not just accepting things as they are as though that is all they ever will be, but instead looking forward with eager anticipation at all the great things they can be.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Late to the party (but starting anyway)

An interesting and timely challenge came across my screen today as I browsed blogs while between layers of freshly applied paint.  It was the blogging for seven days challenge put out by Seth Godin. That official challenge ends tomorrow. Yes, I'm late to the party, but I'm not letting that stop me.

I only very recently began listening to Seth Godin's videos through Youtube, he happened to be on one of Dave Ramsey's videos. Dave Ramsey is someone I listen to fairly often, along with Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and a few others, but it was the first time I'd listened to Seth while I worked away in the studio. Yes, that's me, late to the party again.

I'm late, but present nonetheless, and that is what matters. So much of what I heard in his videos this week really resonated with me... more than that, much of his material really switched on some lights.

Even though I am late to the party and the official party concludes tomorrow, I'm using this prompt nonetheless, but I shall apply it only in this blog and not on the official platform. Why? It's a matter of personal growth and development. I need to quit waiting for the perfect draft and just. Simply. Blog.  My story-telling needs to grow, as does my writing style, especially in the face of all that I plan to achieve this coming year.

My hope is this will provide the kick-start to get the gray matter and writing muscles moving. Consider this the first of a seven-day daily writing challenge.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


How do you attempt something that is far bigger than anything you've done before?  This is where I am now, in the throes of learning, practicing, planning, and taking on physical training in order to meet this upcoming adventure with as much preparation and readiness as I can muster.  I have a bit over six months remaining before I'm on that plane with backpack checked and bound for Scotland - and in order to meet that challenge with the best success, I must become the person who can pull it off.

Some of the preparations have been pretty straightforward and clear, but with others I have chosen more creative avenues in order to achieve them.  In the case of fitness for the strength and endurance required of lugging a 50-lb. backpack for days at a time over rugged country, I looked at options. I could hike as often as time, weather, and studio work would allow, which I do as often as I can. I could pay money to go to a gym... that one really didn't set well with me, as I don't want to spend any money unnecessarily while I'm saving for this.  Then, as I worked away in the studio, an ad came over the radio - UPS driver helper!  Perfect!!  I can go through hours of intensive physical work on these remaining days leading up to Christmas and get paid for it! Who could ask for better?

This was a 2nd-hire UPS was doing as they found themselves short-staffed just before Christmas, with not enough helpers. The work was very intense with long hours. I came home exhausted each night.  It's definitely been a jump-start in fitness during these cold dark winter days though, and the driver's route and schedule provided plenty of motivation to keep moving at a rapid pace.  The wide variety of terrain on our semi-rural route was great for increasing stamina, balance, and agility. Happily, I am still on call - so I may get some more fitness training out of this yet!

More growth underway - this involves various art media for field sketching.  I've been gradually gathering a variety of graphite, charcoal pencils ink pens, colored pencils and watercolor pencils - and I am experimenting and exploring which combinations of these will do well for me.  As I become comfortable with them, I'll begin paring down their quantities and colors to see what will be adequate in the field, providing color array and versatility without being too burdensome.  When your home is on your back for two months, every ounce saved really does matter!  As Spring approaches, I'll be using my pared-down plein aire sketching kit in a variety of circumstances and terrain.  Expect a lot of camping trips and field sketches from me in the future as July draws ever nearer.

There will be other areas of growth in the coming months. These will include training hikes with elevation gain and a full pack, brushing up my skills with map and compass, testing all gear in bad weather, drawing out-of-studio and on location whenever I can, indoors and out.  I will also be immersing in more studies in the Scots Gaelic language.

The graphic at the top of this post really sets 2015's tone for me. I've printed it and pinned it to the wall above my art table to remind me daily of everything that I need to become.

Until next week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scotland Adventure 2015 - Limited Edition Certificate

It needed to have quality. It needed to be unique. It needed to be something that folks would want to display.  I went with what is arguably one of the most iconic structures in the country, and it happens to lie near the end of the big east-to-west walk I plan to tackle - Eilean Donan Castle.

Relying on past training and experience in archaeological illustration, the tedious work in pen-and-ink stipple began.  The illustration is in acid-free ink, applied with a .01 pen, and wound up being many more hours than I ever intended to invest!  This was one of those "ooo, that would look cool!" situations, which typically conclude with great results but also typically put a pinch on time constraints.

I'm told that my technique in application is... ahem, unique. Most folks do the major outlines of the
structure and then tackle the details, but I started at one end, fully rendering that part of the structure, and then continued to build from left to right, fully rendering as I went.

Eilean Donan is the most recognized and most photographed castle in all of Scotland.  Gaelic for Donan's Isle, it stands sturdily on a tiny island on the edge of Loch Duich, a sea loch on Scotland's northwest coast, west of Kintail  and very near the Isle of Skye.  It may surprise many to know that it is of 20th century construction.  The castle was razed nearly to the ground and lay in ruin for a very long time.  The castle ruin was purchased by a MacRae in the early 20th century, and through research and very old plans and schematics, he was able to rebuild the old castle
very close to its original grandeur.  This castle has appeared in many major films - "Highlander", a James Bond film, and "Made of Honor", to name a few.

After several days, crossed eyes, and hundreds of thousands of ink dots later, a castle emerged.  The original will be matted and framed and hung in exhibition along with the miniatures and the other works that come from this project, but for now its image makes a fine feature on the supporter certificates.

The certificates are printed on a nice heavy parchment paper, which shows off an ink illustration
quite nicely.  To show the print number, my husband had the ingenious idea of using a compass graphic - so I set about creating an image with a blank center for such numbering.  Official certificates often have a nice foil seal. I thought that I would instead use a hand-painted thistle remarque on each, which seemed more appropriate.  Penning each supporter's name on his/her certificate was the next item. I tried a brush pen but it was sorely inadequate.  Mars black acrylic, thinned to ink consistency and applied with a quill shaped brush, has done the job quite nicely.  The certificate has been further enhanced with antique gold acrylic on the 'T' and the 'L' in 'Tapadh Leat, to produce an effect much like manuscript illumination in times long gone. Tapadh leat, by the way, is Scots-Gaelic for Thank you.

A certificate, soon to be on its way to its owner.  I'm using two
protective papers, four corner-mounts, and corrugated cardboard
to see each certificate safely to its new home.
With so much invested in the certificate's creation, I didn't want to leave delivery to chance.  I am hand-cutting corrugated cardboard for each mailing, to prevent creases and folds. The certificate is further protected by white printer paper, both on top and underneath.  I have also fashioned archival corner-mounts out of strips of paper, to securely anchor each certificate to its corrugated cardboard mount. Two probably would have sufficed, but I wanted to make extra certain and used such mounts on all four corners.

So far eight of these have been shipped, with no
certificate, with two of its four corner mounts.  two protective
papers yet to be included.
problems whatsoever upon delivery.  It is my hope that I may continue to send many more, including folks on what is shaping up to be an amazing adventure!  At this point I am looking at a full eight weeks wandering some magnificent country and gathering a tremendous amount of imagery and writing for the body of work and for the book.  Scotland's great northwest continues to grow as a focus, and Torridon is very much on the radar.  I'll tell you more about areas I dearly hope to visit with next week's post.

 Until next Tuesday!
Packaged up, fully protected and ready for shipping!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Dreaded Art Block

Most artists experience these, and we dread them.  An art block can occur in one of a couple of forms.  At times the well simply dries up and we find ourselves with a complete lack of creativity or ideas. At other times (this is the one I have most often), the ideas are there but no matter how hard we try, what we produce never measures up to what we had envisioned.  I think this incarnation is the most frustrating of all.

When I hit the brick wall that is the second sort, I've learned to have patience - because ultimately
'Laird of Lochaber" Red stag in Glencoe, on
three turkey feathers. Lochaber District tartan
painted on the quills.
there is an advantage to it.  It is an evolution - you are experiencing growth in your particular art form and skill. It's a tough slog, but when you finally emerge on the other side of that block, you will find that something has changed.  You might not approach your art in quite the same way as before. You notice that you don't see quite the same way as before - you see and notice things you probably did not before - and in this, you will find your approach has changed, as well as your execution. Your technique has grown.  I have not experienced a block yet where I did not experience some level of growth.

While creative growth is great and we look forward to improving, what typically brings about a creative block?
Stagnation. When we produce, we often get into a routine.  What we produce becomes routine.  Maybe a particular style has become what is expected of us, and we eventually find ourselves bored. We might not recognize that at first, only that we are not as fired up to create as we once were.
Busyness. Raising my hand here - guilty!  We pile so much on to our schedule, we feel pressed to keep moving or else we'll fall behind.  Too much of this will promptly lead to burnout. You will run out of steam, as well as inspiration! Make time for personal time.
Health. No one can perform well after a period of poor diet or insufficient rest.  Likewise with lack of exercise.  Illness, stress, and bad things happening in your personal life also contribute as causes for a creative block.

So how on earth do you work through a block?  Once you've recognized and addressed the cause that put you there, break away from the work. Shake it up a bit, go do something different. Visit places that inspire you, go see the works of someone who inspires you and whom you admire.  Galleries, museums, and exhibitions are great for this.  Get out into nature and simply experience all that is around you, and let your senses take over. Does music inspire you?  Seek that.  Try a new style, a new medium, a new art form.

This Spring I had the mother of all creative blocks. It set in like a ton on my shoulders and no matter what I did I could not get past it. There was no guessing at the cause, the cause was grief. I had lost my brother very suddenly, very unexpectedly.  There was no getting past this very extreme matter until I addressed the grief I was suffering and said what I felt was a proper good bye to my brother. I will not go into detail in this post, but will probably make that its own blog article in the future on grief and healing and how I went about it. I will say that my approach was huge, but so was the relief and the healing that occurred. When I did what I needed to do and recovered from the pain of loss, I couldn't wait to get back to my brushes and paints. The inspiration was as great as the block that preceded it. And yes, I do believe the work that came from it saw an increase in quality.
"Power and Grace" - humpback whales on turkey feather

Your turn - what are some of the things that have given you a bad case of creative block?  What are some of the ways you worked through it?