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.

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:

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.

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.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Harvest Home

I am a fall person. I was born in October and the scents and flavours of Thanksgiving are an integral part of all my birthday memories. For me a birthday is more about giving thanks and apple crisp than it is about chocolate cake and gifts. And so in gratitude for being given another year of bountiful living, and of Canadian Thanksgiving, which we celebrate next weekend, I am sharing with you the 'how to' of my tangled cornucopia piece.

Just before we get to the 'how-to' part I'd like to give a little historical background on the title of this piece and the subject matter.  Harvest Home is part of the Anglican tradition and celebrates the safe gathering of the crops. The date is movable and in years when significant events happened, like the end of a war, the service was held on a non-autumn date. In 1578 the British sailed into the far north of this continent, to Frobisher Bay, a part of what is now Canada, and held a service of thanksgiving to mark the occasion. As to why we use a cornucopia to mark a feast of plenty, the commonly accepted explanation is that Zeus had a goat as a nursemaid when he was a child and after he broke off her horn while rough housing she was granted food for life.

And now, the how-to...

I started the process by creating a sketch and black line drawing of the piece I wanted to create. I've uploaded it as a free PDF on Moote Points' epatterns page: I encourage you to modify it to reflect the items you generally display with your cornucopia. I'm working on 90lb Arche hot press watercolour paper and I did my line work with a .30 Rotring Isograph technical pen. Although I still use Microns for most of my tangled tiles, I prefer the density of the black ink from the technical pen for my coloured work. These aren't like the ones I remember from the past - I've never cleaned my new ones and after six months I haven't had a clog yet and they lay unused for over a month this summer while I was travelling! There is a seal inside the lid that prevents the drying problems that caused the clogs that you may be familiar with.

The next step was putting some base colour onto the drawing. In the past I tangled my pieces and then coloured them. What I found was that my line work became faded looking and that I often needed to go over it again. Now I put the vast majority of the colour work down first and only make minor tweaks after I tangle. I started with Inktense Pencils which are ideal because the colour becomes permanent and immovable after it is wetted with a brush. I start with an undercoat of yellow on my leaves and on some of the fruits and vegetables. Once the yellow is dry and start to add the other colours. The yellow underneath gives real life and vitality to the leaves in particular.

In this case I couldn't get the richness I wanted on the cornucopia so I took out my QoR watercolour pallette and added some intense golds and rich red browns. I used Nickel Azo Yellow and Quinacridone Gold. It was one of those beautiful high autumn days so I made full advantage of it and worked on the patio with lots of natural light and garden inspiration.

I had my husband make a video of the process so you could see how I work. In addition to painting the cornucopia I also demonstrated how I added some feeling of volume to the grapes with a fuschia Inktense pencil.

Once everything was dry I started to tangle and just had fun with the linework. I used mainly basic official tangles that I teach in my beginner's classes. I know there are many fancy tangles but I find that I turn to the basics over and over again and they make working on these projects so much more meditative and soothing.

Once the tangling was finished I used my inktense pencils to pull up a bit of shading and add some depth.

Now that the artwork is done I can use this to print cards and to create a background for placecards.

Have a happy and bountiful Thanksgiving whether yours is now or in November!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Tale Behind the Tale

This story begins a little more than 30 years ago. I was laying on a beach in St. Lucia, the sun burning into my skin, my mind drifting. A bird appeared in the tree beside me, cocked his head and started a conversation with me. He introduced me to an earnest man on a mission and a young girl who didn't know how to sail. They weren't real of course, but they stayed with me when I got back from holiday and I used them, and the place I met them, to teach a lesson on geography and mapping. I kept the map, filing it with my teaching notes for that unit. I thought about the bird, and the man, and the girl from time to time.

I was a different person back then. I was teaching public school, taking post graduate classes, fast tracking towards a role in education leadership. There wasn't a lot of time for hobbies but I was active in calligraphy, and quilting. My husband was fully engaged in building a successful career and he traveled a lot and I went with him as much as I could. The places I went started to work themselves into the story of the bird and the man and the girl. Not the complete places, but landforms I saw, trees, odd characters, phrases, expressions.  The story lived in my imagination, it never got transferred to paper. And then we plunged into parenthood and the river of life got more complicated and I forgot all about the bird, and the man, and the girl.

When we realized that the river of life was too deep and too turbulent and that we were in danger of drowning, we decided to make some changes. I quit teaching and, drawing on all I had learned from an intensive calligraphy course with Reggie Ezell, I started a calligraphy business specializing in invitation work. I lasted about a year at that but along the way I found work teaching in rubber stamp stores and for local calligraphy guilds. I designed a line of rubber stamps and taught more and further afield. And then in 2001 I published my first book, Simply Bound. Suddenly I was a writer!

One day in the midst of all of this I decided to clean out my filing cabinets to make room for current work. I hadn't had my teaching files open in years and the temptation was to just chuck it all without looking at it. The map I'd made so many years before caught my eye. I took it out to look at it and the story of the bird, and the man, and the girl came back to me. For the first time, I wrote it down. Just the story of how they met on the beach and how he taught her to sail and she introduced him to her father, the king. Not much more than that. There was no time for fiction, I had 'real' books to write.

When I took my creativity coaching training we were required to set creativity goals for ourselves. I realized then that I wanted to do more creative writing and not just focus on professional writing. A goal requires action and so I found myself a writing group and allowed myself some time to write just for the sake of writing. Not much time, just a little. Fiction writing seemed frivolous, did not pay its way like professional writing did. The story I'd begun in my head twenty years before started to grow, and grow. The world it was set in became more visible to me. It had its own flora and fauna, its own culture and craft, its own stories and legends. I began to write these other stories down, to enjoy the act of creating legend and myth. I didn't talk about it in public because as Robert Heinlein said "Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."
Last year I decided to own my fiction writing in public. I started to talk about it openly. I chose to refocus my work days, to give this other world a larger portion of my attention. I'm going to be 60 in 2016 and I set a goal of finishing the story of the bird, the man and the girl before that big day. Of course the first book has turned into a trilogy while I wasn't paying attention and there is a sizable collection of accompanying myths compiling themselves into another volume and then there are conversations flowing around by the curators-in-my-head who are talking about building an exhibit of the artifacts I am drawn to create that come from this new world. I can't keep this simple. I'm going to have an exhibit ready to be shown at the time of the release of the books. All the roads I've ever taken, all the books I've ever read, all the skills I've ever acquired, seem to have been leading to this project. Which brings us to Fendrich.....

I wrote the Tale of Fendrich the Three Feathered a couple of years ago. I needed a back story for a character's name and one night in a dream Fendrich appeared to me. Not the whole story, just his face and his long hair with three feather growing amidst it. So I sat down to write about him and his tale began to take shape over the weeks and months that followed. That was Step One.

Step Two was deciding that I needed to develop a new alphabet. If I was going to write out his tale for the museum exhibit I want to have, it seemed important to have the work reference the culture that humans have evolved but that it also be different. There are sound reasons for this within the books but I'll choose to talk about that another time. I am forever grateful to Randy Hassan, Ewan Clayton, Georgia Angelopolous and Ruth Booth for agreeing to be my sounding boards during this process. They were generous enough to give of their time and expertise in ways that both encouraged and challenged me during the process. After much work and experimentation I came up with a monoline alphabet that would be rendered in graphite. It is legible, readible, but not easily so.

Step Three was to choose materials. I work on Japanese paper as much as I can and I found a paper that worked well with graphite and was also a little rough and more organic. The lettering is done in graphite, specifically a Palomino pencil, the one with the charcoal grey paint. The initial caps were used sparingly and are based on the alphabet I designed stirred together with crude versions of Celtic motifs. The caps and decoration are done with chalk pastels. The graphite and the ingredients for the chalk colours are things that have been used by artists since the beginning of recorded time on Earth.

Step Four was to do the writing. It took some time. I'm at the point where I can only do half hour stretches at my slanted desk. I really enjoyed working with the letters, getting into the rhythm of them, seeing them flow out and build the text blocks on each page. After I finished the basic text, I went back and designed the intial caps and did the work on them.

Step Five was binding. I had many different ideas for the binding as I worked on the book. Originally I had thought of wooden boards with the soutache bird attached. It became clear as I worked on the book that the bird was going to be too much, not appropriate for the lettering,  and would have to be used in a different way. The research I did into thin wooden board covers wasn't encouraging and I had visions of warping and cracking. I happened upon a roll of white rawhide that looked like crude, thick parchment. It was rolled tightly and wouldn't lay flat but I was told I could wet it and stretch it to get a flat piece again. I got lucky. Letting it relax over time and then placing it under weights for a week seemed to do the trick. I cut it and waited to see if it would roll up again and it didn't. The stitching is a bit different than a traditional binding but also very similar. I have used tacketing to hold each signature to vellum strips and then the strips are attached to the cover. The case is not in keeping with the simple book inside. I played off the fact that when medieval books were rebound in earlier days an elaborate and jeweled cover was created that was not in keeping with the original work. I went with that as my inspiration using more sophisticated papers (although still Japanese) and incorporating my jewelled, soutache bird motif on the cover.

Step Six is the hardest. I'll be honest, it scares me to death. Letting people read my legend is hard. With the novels there is more time to develop plots and settings. With a legend you don't have that luxury and it has to read like a tale that could be told around a campfire by a bard or to a child at bedtime.  I am writing in a genre that used to be called fantasy, but nowadays it apparently is called speculative fiction. Think the gengre of C.S. Lewis and Narnia, Tolkien and The Hobbit, Ursula Le Guin and The Wizard of those books. Reading speculative fiction and science fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief. You just need to jump in and accept that the world is different and go along for the ride. Which makes it pretty much like being an artist... If you want to read the Tale of Fendrich the Three Feathered you will find it at It is free for now!

So this is the tale of how I got where I am today. I've told you a little bit about how a seed once planted can grow and flourish even after years of neglect. What seed do you need to tend to? What dream do you need to remember and follow? Get off the internet and get to it!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Thoughts on Responsible Committing

I haven't written in a while. Life has been full and there hasn't been much time for deep thoughts or even shallow ones! When I started writing blog posts I promised myself I would write every week or two, I kept the commitment pretty loose. I knew I couldn't handle a "I'll post every Tuesday at 12:00 sharp" commitment on top of all my other priorities. Without the fixed time for posting the inevitable happens: time flies. But while I am sorry that I haven't posted and amazed at how much time has passed, I'm not feeling guilty and this is good, this is progress!

I'm one of those people who gets very Type A about commitments. If I say I'll meet you at 11:00 for coffee I'll be there at 10:55 at the latest. If I say something will be done for Thursday it will be unless there is "an act of God or Parliament". I"m not saying this is a good thing: I'm just saying this is how I am wired. So I have learned to be pretty careful about what I commit to because I am going to hold myself accountable and there is just too much stress involved in not meeting the mark.

There is so much temptation out there that sometimes we get off track on our goals and commitments! Whatever I want to know I can find out with just a few keystrokes on a computer or tablet. One question can lead to hours lost in Google searches and "squirrel" moments. There is always more, more, more and it comes to us fast! We want to do everything and we want to do it right now! It has lead us to a place where there is no longer a sense of the need to develop skill slowly, with practice and over time. We want to do it all and we want to do it now! This is the age of the instant expert.

Since I joined the world of Facebook I see so many juicy opportunities to join groups and challenges and swaps. I see things I want to try and things I tried years ago and haven't thought of doing since. I see colours and combinations of images used in so many different ways that if I could I would be sewing and painting and drawing and tangling and reading nonstop, barely taking time to breath or eat. Or create. Or think....

That is the problem for me and maybe for you to. It is like being a kid in a candy shop with an unlimited budget and no parental guidance. You can get stuck on the sweet notes and spin out of control on a sugar high. You forget that life, like a diet, must be more balanced. It must contain inspiration, which the online world offers in an unending stream, but it must also contain substance and nutritious foods that give you the strength for hard work and deep thought. You also need time to think, time when you aren't eating, or thinking about eating, or shopping! And a healthy life includes exercise which in the art world means time on task, time with a brush or pen or pencil or needle in your hand.

So I need to commit responsibly in all areas of my life but especially on social media. After a little over a year on Facebook I have too many groups that I am following and this week I am going to pare that down a little. I've been really diligent about how much time I spend each day just looking and I make sure that time comes from places on the schedule that aren't intended for work or personal relationships. or exercise.

This year I've only committed to two art group challenges and I am proud to say that I chose well. I have kept up with those projects and seen real growth in my own work while finding inspiration and camaraderie within those communities. Square One, a tangling page that I have written about before, is almost a year old and continues to be a focused and invigorating group which I highly recommend. I've used it to challenge myself to do at least one Zentangle tile each week that pushes me, and often the focus tangle, outside my tangling comfort zone. The other group is one I started for myself when I couldn't find a group to satisfy my artistic needs. It is called Our Tangled Lives and is a closed community of tanglers who want to explore journalling with tangling, paper arts and text in a safe and supportive small group. I've learned so much from these women and I am thrilled that so many of them have made the commitment to the group and to themselves to work on the weekly prompts. I have posted a few albums of images from my monthly journals on my Facebook page,

Between my own personal art goals, my commitment to writing every day, my Facebook groups and all the rest of the things that go to making a life and being a wife and mother, my days are busy and that suits me just fine. Having firm goals and a fixed routine works for me, keeps me from frittering precious hours on unimportant things. What I've learned is that those goals and commitments have to be chosen carefully and responsibly and realistically if they are going to be worthwhile and successful. I'm much happier and more productive when I commit responsibly. I also have to remember that I have to give myself some leeway to blur the lines a little from time to time!

And speaking of responsible commitment, I'd like to end by saying that my parents have been a shining example of this. We are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this weekend.  They chose well when they chose each other. They have always had strong, mutual goals and have worked hard to build a good home, a supportive marriage and an enviable retirement plan. I've been lucky to have them as role models in my life and for my marriage.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Do You Know For Sure?

There was a time when I was a dedicatd Oprah watcher and O reader. Oprah's column "What I Know For Sure" was one of my favourite parts of the magazine. One month she wrote a column about blossoming rather than shrinking down to fit in and the tag line was "You are built not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more. To be more splendid. To be more extraordinary. To use every moment to fill yourself up." (Read more: It is one of my favourite quotes and I used it in this lotus book some years ago.

For about a year after it was published the column was posted on my fridge. In those days my house was full of teenage girls from early morning until dinner time. It was also full of teenage boys from mid afternoon until well past dinner time. My daughter and her friends were a particular concern of mine -  all bright, all unique, all a bit different. What I didn't want them to do was shrink to fit, shrink to be less scary to boys, shrink back when they reached the time to fly, shrink like women in the past had shrunk.They arrived for breakfast before school (don't ask!) and blew in like a gale force wind after school for tea and hot chocolate and copious amounts of raw vergetables, fruit, nuts, any unmarked (Hands Off!) cheese. They all read the article on the fridge, joked about it, thought about it. Even some of the troop of boys who were attached to my other one read it when they were helping to make dinner (I always made enough for two more and find myself feeding some of those boys still now that my son is home 'temporarily'.)

Over time it started to look ragged. Despite this being a house full of paper, notes were jotted on it, sauce stains appeared, Gameboy codes were inscribed....I took it down and put it somewhere safe. You know what comes next don't you? I have no idea where it went.

And then I was in the States and cruising through Barnes and Noble letting the universe guide me to some good books and there it was, a new book from Oprah, a compilation of the best from “What I Know For Sure”. With great hope I opened up the book to look for the Table of Contents. There isn't one. I started to flip through and suddenly there it was! I didn't buy the book that day but waited till I got home. I have been enjoying all the articles but none more than the one about blossoming. (I was surprised to find the article on line when I was typing this up and wanted to include the quote. I guess it was available all along if I’d thought to look.)

So what do I know for sure? Twelve years after that column was published those teenagers are all grown and coping with life as twenty somethings in a big, expensive city. By and large they have blossomed into a pretty unique and interesting (okay, complicated) group of adults. It hasn't been an easy road for any of them but they are a pretty resilient bunch. I know for sure I don't want them blowing through here daily anymore but I do love to hear how they are when they do show up and I'm glad my family home was, and still can be, a port in a storm when it is needed.

I know for sure that I've reached the place where I am thrilled to have an empty nest. It gives me more time to blossom because I still believe I can be more!

So, what do YOU know for sure?

(And if one of the things that you know for sure is that you want to try the lotus fold that I used to make the book with the Oprah quote in it, here is a link to a short video that shows how to make the basic fold, how to shape it to make shamrocks and flowers appear and how to glue it in a journal.

Friday, February 13, 2015

One Size Does Not Fit All

This week I had the luxury of reading two books in a truly decadent way - I read them straight through, each in one sitting. Both books are short, the shade was deep and there were no other demands on my time. Bliss. Bliss and reaffirmation.

The first book was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I've read it before, many times. When my hand reached for a book from the 'waiting shelf' it hesitated, moved to this book from the 'best loved' shelf.  I tried to change its mind but it insisted and I demurred. I'm trying to do that, let my instincts guide me a little more. I read this book shortly after it was published in the early 90's, searching for novels for the voracious readers in my junior classes. It touched a nerve for me and for them. I read it to my children. I've shared it with fellow writers and let it illuminate the writing process for me. It speaks volumes about the role of memory, both good and bad, in colouring our lives. It never preaches but clearly has a message about free will, about making hard choices. I loved reading it through in one fluid line enjoying the story and the way information is conveyed simply, elegantly, slowly.

But it was the second book that was the real prize. Having read the first in one big gulp I had no fiction left to read. I have this game I like to play called Bookstore Serendipity, a game that has been made more difficult by the death of most independant bookstores in North America. On the days I play, I enter the store believing that just the right book will be presented to me, the very book I need. So I headed into Barnes and Noble and believed. There was a slow moving stroller in the aisle and I zigged. And there it was, the right book, dead ahead on the new in sci-fi shelf, even though it is clearly fantasy or speculative fiction. The author's name leapt out - Patrick Rothfuss. I've read two of his novels and I am eagerly anticipating the third in the trilogy. This wasn't it but the back cover made it clear it was about one of the characters from the books, an offspring of book, all about a mysterious waif that the hero knows. The book was slim and felt just right. I headed for the cash my heart skipping a beat. I've been working on offspring stories and myth as I work on my own speculative trilogy. I wasn't alone in this! How perfect!

And it was perfect. The writing was lyrical and strange, full of rich language and protolanguage, full of naming and instinct and compensating. A wonderful story indeed but there was so much more...a foreward and afterward that were sent by the universe, the true magic of Bookstore Serendipity at work. The message I needed to hear, which we all need to hear. If I could, I would include all of his words here but this will have to suffice. Here Rothfuss is talking about the reaction of one of his first beta readers.

"Readers expect certain things. People are going to read this and be disappointed. It doesn't do what a normal story is supposed to do."
Then Vi said something I will always remember...."Those people have stories written for them all the time. What about me? Where's the story for people like me? Let those other people have their normal stories...This story isn't for them. This is my story. This story is for people like me."

And what he finds is that all the people he assumed wouldn't like the story did. And at first this confused him and then he realizes this about himself and the character in the story and all the beta readers:

"I think it's because we're both somewhat broken, in our own odd ways. More importantly, we're both aware of it. Auri knows she isn't all quite proper true inside, and this makes her feel very much alone.
I know how she feels.
....I cannot help but wonder how many of us walk through our lives feeling slightly broken and alone, surrounded all the time by others who feel exactly the same way."
(exerpted from The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, Pages 153 and 158)

And this was what I needed to hear, again. This was the big prize in the game of Bookstore Serendipity. It is alright to work on something that doesn't fit comfortably in the main stream of art or life. Years ago when I was just beginning to find the nerve to discard the opinion of an instructor and cling to my own vision I was once told that a letter g that I had created in a calligraphy class "would not be understood by the man on the street". And I said "I didn't write it for the man on the street". The instructor was not amused but I suspect that I should have listened more carefully to myself that day and I would have saved myself a lot of second guessing and other critic-induced grief along the way. I, we, need to live in support of our own vision. We need to accept that one size does not fit all and get on with creating what we were meant to create. And along the way we will find that we aren't alone.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Love Letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook

One morning last winter I came downstairs to a fresh pot of coffee and the news that I had joined Facebook. My husband had given up suggesting and had just made it happen. Initially, I was in shock. I looked at it and wasn't sure what to do with it. He'd picked a few friends for me and to say that the selections was random would be an understatement. I decided it was a grand mistake and moved on with my day. The second day he was a bit more insistent, was bold enough to go to the "I dare you" phase of talking me into an idea. I added a couple of friends of my own choosing. The word got out that I was about. This tsunami of comments and posts headed toward me. This I didn't know what to do with it all. I almost quit you forever. Facebook, you knew all this sudden activity was bad for me and you put me in stasis for a week and this turned out to be a good thing. It gave me a chance to absorb some of what was coming at me. I began to see all the visual input as a good thing. I had little conversations with old friends that I generally only got to see once a year. I began to learn the lingo and make fewer mistakes. I discovered that my husband had been right - it would be good for me to use you Facebook to connect with people and feel less isolated. I even admitted as much to him. As you can see he is a very serious person whose idea of right and wrong is quite impeccable.

So now I am a Facebook person with a ton of new friends and more visual stimulation than I can handle. In terms of keeping me up to date with all the new trends in the art and craft world it has been great. Connecting with calligraphers, bookbinders, tanglers and illustrators all over the world has lifted my spirits. I have more quotes and cartoons saved than you would believe and have even smiled at one or two things that involve cats. All this is good but to be honest about six months into our relationship I began to wonder if there was more.

And there was! The first 'more' came along serendipitously and I have written about it before. I saw a posting about a new group that was beginning called Square One where there was going to be a weekly focus tangle and a real commitment to getting back to the basics of the Zentangle practice. I joined up, got out my tiles and the brain cells started firing again. This continues to be a wonderful, focused group relationship that keeps my creative juices flowing by challenging me to think outside of the box.

After the calligraphy conference in Dallas last summer I realized that it would be really beneficial to have some input on a project I was starting to work on that involved creating my own alphabet. As you know Facebook, this is a pretty narrow field of interest. One morning I had a brain wave. I set up a secret group on Facebook and asked a few of my colleagues to look at some images of my initial foray into the alphabet design. I'm grateful they said yes and took some time to look at my roughs and give me suggestions. They posted images of work they'd seen and historical examples of styles that were very helpful. Together we created an album of images that I go back to frequently as I work on my project. This was so simple to do and so beneficial for me. I've started working on a finished project and have the first section of a major manuscript book underway. If it was going to have a wordy foreward I'd give you a credit Facebook.

This winter I have had the pleasure of working with a small group of tanglers on a year long journalling project. We limited the numbers and kept the group secret and this was a good decision. As the weeks have gone by we have developed a real sense of community. We've gotten to know one another as we carefully feel our way into creating our own styles of journalling and responding to the world. It feels safe somehow to share with these people, most of whom I wouldn't recognize if I met them on the street. This was so simple to set up and so simple to use and adds so much to my daily practice of art. Don't ever stop supporting groups like this Facebook.

So here is to Facebook. The next time someone tells you that you are a waste of time you can tell them from me that it ain't necessarily so! Like everything else in life it all depends on how you use it!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Critics Abound

We made the decision to get a new dog a couple of years ago. We discussed it at great length and when we had decided to go ahead we spent some time discussing what behaviours we would and wouldn't accept from her. It was a good thing we did. Within minutes of picking her up we fell in love and it would have been so easy to let her have her way on almost everything. But we have all stayed strong and she is a wonderful addition to the family. I know, you are wondering why I started by talking about the dog and I promise it will all become clear by the end of the post! And besides, it is never a bad idea to start with a really cute picture.

I have been thinking about critics a fair bit lately. There is never any shortage of people who feel they should share their opinions about my work with me. Over the years I've been able to develop some skills for dealing with those people. When I really get upset by things they've said I try to remember that only I can give them that sort of control. I try to consider the source and their reasons for being critical. I raised my kids with what I call the Bambi Rule: If you can't say something nice, don't say nuthin' at all (Yes, I know Thumper said it!) There are so many ways of talking about a piece of work in a positive way while still helping the person move forward with it. It is too bad that so many instructors, fellow artists and yes, even family members, forget that constructive criticism is better than destructive criticism. It is also unfortunate that these aren't the toughest critics to handle. The really hard critics to get a handle on are the internal ones.

I've tried a lot of techniques for getting rid of my internal critics. Some of them look a lot like real people I know and others have much creepier visages and personalities. I've tried ignoring them, yelling at them, ignoring them, railing against them, ignoring them, banishing them, ignoring them.....none of it works for me. There have been days... months... years....when they have kept me from doing any real work. They have certainly kept me from taking great joy in my work. The minute I stop throwing about paint to decorate paper, an activity they abhor so much they pretty much abandon ship, they creep back in and become a chorus of verbal assault. I'll not bore you with the details, you likely have a similar chorus in your head and I don't need to give them any new ideas.

I'm not saying that the critics, both real and internalized, don't have their purpose. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have taken up the daily practice of calligraphy and kept at it until I could make at least a credible piece of lettered work. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have worked at developing ways of making straight cuts and well folded books. If it wasn't for them I would still be sewing crooked seams and puckered quilting stitches. Critics have their uses but it is the constant drone of comments, the overpowering sound of the voices that drown out the quiet creative thoughts that need time and positive energy to grow. So, what to do?

I took Abbey for a walk a few days ago. While I was walking along I was thinking about critics and simultaneously I was thinking about how good Abbey was being even though she hasn't had as many walks as she should have this month. She was walking at my side, not pulling or wrapping the leash around my ankles or my cane. The dog on the opposite sidewalk was yanking and twisting and turning and barking. The time we put into training Abbey was so valuable. And then it struck me, my critics, real and internal, need to have a set of rules to follow. This isn't a new thought, I've tried it before but I've gotten lax and let them get out of hand again. Instead of ignoring or banishing them I need to train them and I need to be firm. Don't know how this is going to go in the long run but I know two things for sure: I'm older (and perhaps wiser) so I've stopped caring as much about what others think and, the universe seems to agree with me. After I walked Abbey I went to the art supply store. I found this pencil case. Now I need another pencil case like I need another critic in my head but really, I couldn't leave it there! Rule Number One for critics from now on, both real ones and internal ones....