Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Case for Synthesis

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


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


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


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



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




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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Post-Conference Funk

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

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


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Knotty Business

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

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

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

Feeling Knotty:





Simply Knotty:



Extra Knotty:






Step Outs