Twenty-eight.

Today is my birthday. I am now 28 years old.

As I have been sorting through piles and piles of photos in the evening, I have been trying to remember what I projected my 28th year would be like when I was younger.

1992.

When I was 12, I wanted to be veterinarian. Or an author, looking at a pile of books with my name on them.

1998.

At 18, “artist” came into the picture — in the future I would surely have a studio filled with big canvasses.

2003.

At 22, a Ph.D. in history seemed moderately likely.

Self portrait.

Last year, I wanted 28 to involve a new job for Josh, some illustration projects, and some things that haven’t happened yet.

You know the really fabulous thing, though? Nothing I’d imagined was as good as what I got. I’d trade an art studio for our little apartment any day, and I’m so glad that I’m not wading through a thesis on medieval history right now. My younger self couldn’t even imagine a husband who stayed up late to pack a special birthday lunch (and even stuck in a dollar bill for a soda).

At the rate things are going, I think 28 is going to be great.

(Family: the photo at the top is the incredibly dorky one I mentioned at dinner on Sunday. Wow.)

Still sorting.

After a full day of housecleaning and stuff-sorting on Saturday, I’ve come to the realization that — as always — this moving/packing thing is going to take me longer than I’d thought.

Sorted so far: parts of craft room, knick-knacks, some tableware, linens, books.

Still in disarray: other parts of craft room, kitchen stuff, my clothes, very full file cabinet, photos, portfolios, random personal belongings.

Waiting till husband is done with school: huge quantities of CDs and VHS tapes, his clothes, desk area.

And then there are any number of categories that I haven’t even thought of yet, like stuff that lives in the bathroom cabinet that you really don’t want to throw away because that eye cream container has a little more left and you want to use it sometime, just not now. I try to psych myself into thinking that I’m not the kind of person who likes clutter, but the evidence points strongly to the contrary. I mean, I rounded up my vases on Saturday and found that I own at least 15. Yikes.

The approach to packing/de-cluttering that I’m currently employing is Slow + Steady. Start now, tackle small areas at a time, and try not to get really bogged down in memories. Stuff is really a treasure-trove of memories, isn’t it? I hold on to so many things not because I love the object itself but because I’m afraid that I’ll forget the person who gave it to me if I pass it on. But as I sit on the verge of a major move and the prospect of paying to ship all my whatsits to Florida (or storing them in my long-suffering parents’ basement), I think I need to part with some of my treasures. So I am picking things up, looking them over, smiling at my memories, and setting them resolutely on the yard sale shelf.

Even though the first box won’t be shipped for weeks yet, my move has already begun.

New cardinal gocco prints going into the shop soon!

Monday Moving Sale:
In light of all the other things going on, this week’s sale is pretty low key. I’ve marked the Portrait of the Artist gocco prints (Cardinal and Puffin) from $10 to $8, since I’ve decided that $8 will be my new 5×7 gocco print price point. I toyed with the idea of starting a new gocco print set (I have them all planned out!), but I think that it will have to wait until the end of May.

New puffin gocco prints going into the shop soon!

Sorting.

I have begun to sort through piles of belongings in preparation for our mid-May move to Pullman, having learned from experience that it’s best not to leave this for the week before. Along with craft supplies, books, photos, and linens, I’ve begun a little digital de-cluttering as well. Seeing as our digital data storage situation is a bit precarious, I’ve begun uploading some older pics onto my flickr account. Have I mentioned how much I love flickr? I know that I use, like, 5% of its capabilities, but I’ve been really happy with my experience so far. The free version is fine, but since I like to keep high-res files of everything I upgraded to a pro account in January and haven’t looked back.

I found these photos from a few years ago and decided that they are fairly expressive of my thoughts at the moment. Lots of things swirling around.

Glass of water.

Swirling.

Bubbles.

Have a good weekend, all.

A Day at the Beach: Barnacles.

If you’re tired of beach paintings, you don’t have to worry…this is the last one (for a while, at least). Given my short attention span, I’m kind of impressed that I managed to finish four.  Painting in sets is definitely the way to go, though: it forces you to really work on an idea and a technique instead of just skipping along to the next thing. If you have trouble sticking with something, try telling a bunch of your friends that you’re painting a set of four and that you’ll put them online when you’re done — it really helps with the motivation!

Barnacles.

I think this one is stylistically a bit different than the others — it’s more layered, in a way. It sounds silly, but I wanted to get a little bit of the inblended paint-by-numbers look. So when I painted the barnacles at the bottom, I kept the different layers and colors distinct. What do you think?

Detail.

After thinking about my realism post some more, I’ve come to the conclusion that I sometimes set up a false dichotomy between realism and abstract-ism. I mean, it’s not like those are the only two options! A lot of what I envy in other artists’ work is the ability to distort or exaggerate an object in a particular way. A great example of this is Camilla Engman, whose work I love — she’s certainly not entirely realistic, but neither is she abstract. I doubt that I will ever paint an entirely abstract piece, as those generally don’t attract me all the much…what I really want is to have my own particular way of exaggerating what I see into something new and unique. I guess that’s what I usually mean by “style.”

(Almost) abstract.

I felt pretty happy with the somewhat stylized effect in this painting until the thought popped into my head that it looked a bit like I had run it through a live trace in Illustrator. Ugh. Upon looking at it again I think you can pretty clearly see the layers of paint, etc., but it’s not nice to feel like you’ve just spent hours doing something a computer can do in 20 seconds. As Uncle T mentioned in the comments to the realism post, there’s not much point in acting as a mere image translator anymore since a computer program (or a camera) can do that so easily and effectively. The challenge to the artist, then, is to make something that requires more interpretation than just a rearrangement of pixels or vectors. Something that has to have human eyes + brains + hands in there somewhere. Something that is truly creative instead of just imitative.

Lauren asked if I have any “mentors,” and I’m going to have to think about that for a while since it’s really hard for me to generate a list off the top of my head. I might have a Mentor Week in the near future…wouldn’t that be fun? A week of sharing the artists/illustrators/crafters who inspire us?

On the (*cough*) sales front, now that all the paintings are done I thought I’d mention that I have just ordered 5×7 prints of each of them for le shoppe. All of the originals except (possibly) Barnacles have sold, but I will be selling high quality giclee prints of StarfishThe Pretty Rock, Seaweed, and Barnacles, plus three my three favorites from the Peaceable Kingdom set (Lion + Lamb, Wolf + Deer, Seal + Penguin). It will probably be at least a week before they go in the shop since I need to take some photos, etc., but I’ll let you know when they’re here. :)

Monday, Monday.

I am (literally) seeing things a little differently this week, as both husband and I picked up new pairs of contacts on Saturday. He has never had them before, and I haven’t worn them since our wedding day and, previous to that, my senior year in college. It’s kind of strange not to have the familiar frames perched upon my nose. We immediately picked up sweet new pairs of sunglasses, which are a luxury that neither of us have had in ages, and I love the freedom of not having something in front of my face all the time. I’m waiting for the you-messed-with-your-eyesight migraine to start anytime now, but contrary to my expectations, Excedrin and I have had been getting along quite nicely so maybe this will work out after all. I really don’t want to wear glasses for the rest of my life. Father-in-law has asked for photo documention of this momentous change in our lives, so I might try to snap some pics this week.

Before I forget, this week’s Monday Moving Sale special is on 8×10 prints. As with the cards (which are still on sale as well!), I am selling off my inventory and don’t plan to print more. So if you’re interested in A Bird for All Seasons, Three Days of Christmas, or Hats, get ’em now while they’re only $10 each…

A Bird for All Seasons.

And speaking of forgetting, my fam reminded me that I haven’t posted the winning Renaissance Fair poster from a while back. There’s a short bio feature here…um, can you tell I’m a little more long-winded than the other girl? I didn’t know how long it was supposed to be, so I was squirming in my seat at the awards ceremony when my “about me” statement seemed to go on and on. Sigh.

You can find images of all the past posters here, and I think the progression is really interesting to look at. They’re pretty diverse, but I think that some of the older ones are more graphically inventive — 1979, 1986, and 2003 are my favorites. What are yours?

The finished poster:

 Ren Fair poster.

The painting:

The painting underneath.

A closer look:

A closer look.

Stepping out of the pages…

Stepping out of the book.

Realism happens.

If you are the kind of person who has trouble drawing stick figures, you might want to stop reading now. Otherwise, you are probably going to find me very annoying.

My feelings about people who can’t draw are similar to my feeling about people who (like me) can’t run fast. Practice helps, of course, but in the end one must conclude that God doesn’t deal cards even-handedly. I know that I’ve already spent too much of my life wishing that I had someone else’s hand instead of my own, so that’s why I can’t decide whether I ought to be content that I’ve received a Realism trump card or whether I ought to keep shuffling things around and trying to find something a little more exciting at the bottom.

With few exceptions, my fall-back drawing style has always been photorealism. When I was growing up and scribbling little scenes in the margins of my notebook, my mantra was always realistic = good. Did the horse look like a ‘real’ horse? Did the face look like a ‘real’ person? If not, I’d better try and fix that.

I think that some of this comes from the way in which a child is naturally impressed by a display of technical competancy. If you show a room of six-year-olds a painting by a Dutch master and a painting by Picasso, they are going to be much more excited by the bowl of fruit. How did he make it look so real?, they will ask (and, in my case, pick up a box of crayons and try to do the same). I have found from experience that, when drawing for a child, it is best if all the lines connect and nothing is left to the imagination — woe to the babysitter who leaves the whiskers off the kitty drawing!

In my situation, this early tendency to prefer the straightforwardly realistic was also reinforced by the art training I received in school. I am not wanting to make a general critique of my very excellent private school, and I hope that anyone reading this will understand that I liked and respected my art teacher very much. However, my high school did not actually teach students how to draw or paint. It taught them how to copy. Owing in part to a philosophy of extreme reverence for tradition and in part (I’m afraid to say) to the fact that it is much easier to teach copying than creating, the students had very few opportunities to strike out on their own. I took an art elective just about every semester it was offered and only once did I have the opportunity to draw from life. All the other semesters, we were told to choose two “great paintings” and spend the entirety of the class reproducing them to the best of our abilities. This is not a bad exercise for improving technique and it is certainly very good for giving high school kids a proper view of their abilities (yes, Michelangelo was a lot better than you). However, it never teaches you anything about drawing a three-dimensional object and — due to the careful selection of artwork that was considered acceptable copying material — gives one a rather narrow sense of what is and is not good art. Representational = good, non-representational = bad.

It took a careful reading of My Name is Asher Lev when I was in college for me to start to re-think this approach to art. I will add that the book initially filled me with woe at all the ways in which I did not match the author’s description of the true Artiste and perhaps replaced one faulty paradigm with another, but in the end it was quite helpful.  Perhaps my drawing did not need to look exactly like the subject matter for it to be good. Hmm.

Before I wandered too far into apostasy, however, I was yanked back to the world of realism by my courses at the Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating from college and teaching abroad for a year, I spent two years living in Providence and taking night classes to complete two certificates, one in Natural Science Illustration and one in Children’s Book Illustration. My scientific illustration classes were, initially, everything that I had hoped for and craved. I was given an object and a medium and told to make my paper look as much like that object as possible. After two hours, we tacked our results to the wall and had a group discussion about why the right side was too dark, the left side too light, and the pencil not quite soft enough. This was repeated with pen, watercolor, acrylic, apples, oranges, flowers, and stuffed birds, and I learned a tremendous amount.

After a semester or two of this, however, I began to feel pulled in several directions at once.

You need to look at the textbook examples more carefully, said my scientific illustration instructor. Did you see the one where every scale on the fish is counted? I’m not sure all your petals are quite right, and the whole piece looks a bit flat.

You are much too tight, said my children’s book illustration instructor. Why can’t your drawing be more whimsical? Children like looseness, you know. Maybe you could be more spontaneous instead of planning the whole piece out so carefully.

As the semesters progressed, I went from feeling “mildly pulled” to feeling as though I was in the middle of a war zone. I had to be different artists on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights and somehow produce a corresponding gradient of homework. I began to look with envy at the other students who had only one assignment and one style to deal with. Some instructors were sympathetic to my plight, but those with a very specific idea of what they wanted produced many tears as I trudged up the hill to my apartment after class.

My distress increased when it came time to put together a final portfolio, i.e. that which you show to publishers and hope to get hired. Mine was the portfolio of a dabbler, and I knew it: my big challenge was finding an even number of pieces in each style so that I could at least make a consistent two-page spread. It was somewhat demoralizing to find that, after two years of hard work, I still didn’t have a discernible Paula-look that I liked.

Friends and family will know that, after finishing my courses at RISD, I had some very good reasons not to pursue illustration as a career. These included moving to a small town in eastern Washington, finding a dependable job that paid the bills, and marrying a certain wonderful man. I turned to crafts and sewing and occasionally covered the dining room table with pencils and paper and paints, but I couldn’t really describe myself as an artist. This was not bad — there’s a time for everything (including art), and my first year of marriage was not it. As time progressed, however, I began to participate in a few Illustration Friday themes and one of them turned into the Alphabirdybet letters. And then those turned into an Etsy shop. And then that shop turned into…well, I’m still deciding.

….

Wow, I really got off track. How about a little history of my art career? I meant to describe my ongoing love/hate relationship with realism, and I guess it turned into something else. But you get the idea, right? I always thought I wanted to be a really photo-realistic artist, but then when I got my chance it turned out that this wasn’t what I was really looking for. Counting fish scales? Making precise stippling dots with a rapidograph pen? These only encourage my rather destructive natural tendency toward perfectionism and are kinda boring to boot.

As I have cast around in the last six months for a “style” to use in my Etsy shop, I can feel myself again being drawn toward realism and simultaneously wanting to fight against it. I keep trying to start and finish an abstract-ish painting, but every time I find that I can only maintain it for about twenty or thirty minutes. And then I have to add feathers and leaves, shadow and highlight, background and foreground. I am not unhappy with my recent work — I’ve really enjoyed the Day at the Beach series, and I’m glad that you have to. It’s just that it’s not what I originally envisioned for the project. I’m like a pinball that keeps rolling back toward the hole at the bottom of the realism maze, only occasionally managing to get stuck on one of the little ledges half-way down.

Okay, enough soul-searching for today. Any comments/suggestions will, of course, be appreciated as I try to figure out where to go from here. In the meantime, it’s back to the drawing/painting board for me…

A Day at the Beach: Seaweed.

Here it is — painting no. 3 in the Day at the Beach series.

Seaweed.

This piece was an interesting challenge to paint because of the translucency of the seaweed. All of the other items in the series so far (starfish, rocks, barnacles) have been opaque, and I wasn’t sure that I could get the green-filled-with-sun color I wanted. I think that oils are a far better medium for that sort of thing…I’ll probably have to convert, eventually.

Seaweed (detail).

Husband really likes the background in this and the starfish painting, and I was pretty pleased with the way that they turned out as well — a bit of abstract-ness to go along with the realism of the main object.

Seaweed (detail).

I did have an inquiry as to whether the pieces will be for sale, so I’ll go ahead and clarify that now. The four in the set have been made specially to hang at Thee Malebox Spring Gala ’08 at Asher + Matt’s house on April 25-26 (er, if you’re local and don’t know where that is, let me know and I’ll scrounge up the actual address). The paintings will be $90 each, and any that are left will go into ye olde Etsy shoppe afterward. Interested in one now…? Send me an email or leave a comment and I’ll be in touch. I will be making some prints, but I have to say that the original pieces have a texture and luster that can’t be replicated.

A note about art sales: I try to keep this blog from becoming one big advertisement for my Etsy shop and I hope that you don’t feel as though I am trying to sell you things all the time. I’m not. I like to talk about the painting process, and a lot of times I end up trying to sell the finished piece since it’s nice to get paid for my time + effort and it makes me feel like a legitimate artist/craftswoman. However, I really don’t want my friends to feel as though I expect them to buy my work! Please feel free to read and look and never buy a single thing from me, if that’s what you want.

Monday Moving Sale: Cards.

In the spirit of preparing for our May (to Pullman) and July (to Pensacola) moves, I’ve decided to start clearing out some inventory through my Etsy shop. This will involve both items that I’ve decided to discontinue (cards, some prints) and some original pieces from a few years back.

 Sparrow cards.

This is both fun for me — hey, everyone loves a sale! — and good for my overstuffed craft room, which cannot possibly fit into a box at the moment.

Quail cards.

The first Monday Moving Madness sale is on the Sparrow and Quail Notecards, which are now $5 for a set of four. (Some other card sets are discounted as well). I won’t be re-printing these, so get ’em now if you like the design!

Because you are my loyal blog readers, I’ll go ahead and give you advance notice that all the 8×10 prints will go on sale at some point, but the Alphabirdybet Letters will not. I need to scrounge around my portfolios for the originals, but I’ll probably be selling off some pencil drawings (leaves, shells, etc.), a scratchboard piece or two, and maybe some watercolors. And they’ll be priced to sell. :)

Also, I am always happy to waive shipping costs for locals if you are willing to pick the item(s) up from my house or at church. I feel very silly shipping across town!

A (small) tragedy.

Because I like to plan too far ahead, I have started scoping out the Pensacola Craigslist to see what kind of furniture they have floating around. So far, I have found a pretty unimpressive stream of floral couches, mahogany dining sets, and rattan bedroom furniture. But then earlier this week I hit the jackpot: someone was selling what appeared to be–I am not joking–a real Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman for $150.

I emailed that day, explaining my interest but I couldn’t pick the item up right away. Naturally, someone else called faster and it was already gone. After I had already planned out my entire (imaginary) living room and (imaginary) apartment around that chair, complete with some sketches. I’m going to stop looking at Craigslist until July, because this sort of situation is probably bad for my blood pressure.

Have a good weekend, all, and come back next week for A Day at the Beach No. 3. Thank you so much for all of your kind comments about The Pretty Rock!