From the Page to Reality: Thoughts on Finishing One of My Everyday Journals

 First, let me define “everyday journal”.

My everyday journals contain Anything and Everything, from stream of consciousness journaling to sketches and paintings, from project ideas and lists, to habit charts, church notes and handlettered quotes, all stitched together with the cord of my neuroticism. They are handbound, with pages made of thick, toothy bristol paper, and are usually (but not always) small enough to fit in my purse (favorite size 7×8.5) All the smaller ones have covers that are made using kitchen chipboard, like cereal boxes, and the covers of the larger ones are actual book covers taken off old books and covered in decorative paper.

I have other books which I consider to be “art journals”. They  are made with 140lb watercolor paper and contain more acrylic paint and no pages that are exclusively writing (although I do write on my painted pages). They usually feel more forced to me than my everyday journals, more like I am trying to “make art” and perhaps am failing at it and so should stop right away.

In my everyday journals, there are no “rules” and Little Miss Perfectionist isn’t welcome. Paint sometimes bleeds through the paper, some (or maybe most) of the drawings totally suck and there is a lot of boring sameness in my constant desire to Manage My Time and Improve My Self and Get A Lot Done, and I succeed in that for a while and then I fail, and then try again, etc. etc. ad infinitum, and that’s pretty much what I chronicle in my everyday journals.

Here are a few pages from the past three years:

1) a habit chart (which usually cover about 2 weeks)
2) a self-portrait I did over some journaling
3) some dried rosemary from our 2014 garden (stashed in an envelope page)
4) a diagram of my circle of influence vs circle of concern.
5) some sketches for printable ideas for “freebies” to get people to sign up for my Rough Edges Life mailing list
6) covers that are decorated with “engraved” aluminum tape (a very easy technique that makes it hard to believe your cover used to be a cheezit box)

From the Page to Reality

My current journal has taken me almost four months to fill. When I got to the last-ish page, I noticed that there were a lot of ideas that kinda “went somewhere” quickly. That doesn’t necessarily happen with every journal. I am telling you this not so that you will think I am so impressive Dahlink, in my accomplishments.  But rather, so that you can see what a good tool a journal-based creative practice is for a person like me (and maybe like you too), someone who has limited time to create/achieve/produce and is not known for high levels of focus. I am a self-improvement junkie, as you may already know.  This disorder, if left unmanaged, can lead to excessive reading about self help, rather than actually helping oneself and perhaps might even lead to wallowing in one’s most unhelpful habits. But keeping journals like this, which have no rhyme or reason or expectation, has helped me more than any other “technique” to be steadily productive on a sustainable level. Maybe because all these ideas would have vanished into the ether if I didn’t have my journal around. Not to mention the little snatches of memory or personal insight jotted down randomly or contained in a few sentences of writing. (I still have a lot of bad habits though, this isn’t a miracle process by any means).

What Came to Fruition In This Journal

  • Here are the first and second stages of the idea that became the banner image on this blog (although ideally it is for my new business website, which is unfortunately NOT one of the projects I have completed):

We won’t talk about the fact that I actually prefer the middle image. When something gets too polished I don’t like it as much. Plus in the final image it looks like my cup hand is amputated. But since my “brand” is all about persevering creatively through imperfection, I allowed that to remain.

  • A few days after the Mockingbird Conference last February, I was still trying to figure out what the Mockingbird fundraiser zine would evolve into. On the right is a list of my motivations and fears about the project. It was not a big success financially, but it’s not true that No One Bought It (which was one of my fears). It did just break even. Also I may presell them at next year’s MBird Tyler conference. So a new opportunity did present itself even if I didn’t sell as many as I’d hoped.

And here is the completed MBird zine. Hopefully I can master watercolor skin tones by next year. I am not crazy about the stark whiteness of the Magills, who are stunningly attractive and always have the glow of health, but who would have undoubtedly looked piggishly pink under my “artistic ministrations”. THIS ZINE CAN STILL BE PURCHASED HERE:

  • Another wonderful providence is that I bought Anne Kennedy’s book Nailed It and I fell, immediately, deeply in love with it. I don’t remember how it happened now, but Anne and I started corresponding, and now we are friends. I even had a guest post on her blog, which was not even on my fantasy radar of what might possibly happen, ever, even in an alternate universe, between me and such a cool person as Anne. Here is a page whereupon I made a sketch inspired by the cover of Nailed It, probably a few days after I received it. I was thinking about writing a review Praising It to High Heaven (which I have not yet done because I haven’t made a zine since that time, and I would not relegate such an important piece of writing to the ephemeral blogosphere) :

  • And here are my first ever notes about Jordan Peterson, who I heard for the first time in mid-March. I had no idea at that time how he was going to become one of the Grand Obsessions of my life.  These notes I took while listening to him are intermingled with notes from Sarah Condon’s Tyler talk, and in both sets of notes is the word Suffering (with Sarah Condon thankfully having the word of Grace as an oh-so-necessary foil to JBPs almost neverending Law)

Dr Peterson pervades the rest of the journal, although there are some mind maps, a few pages with brainstorming for the upcoming habit chart/everyday journal making class that will be out by the end of August, and a painting or two:

I have many notes to help me as I create the Jordan Peterson Fanzine during the long, hot Texas summer. I’ve done sketches of him lecturing, and he never stops moving, so that’s a real challenge for me with my rudimentary sketch skills And in his honor, my habit charts are now titled with the admonition “Sort Yourself Out”

  • Another thing that began in this journal, and that seems to have become (for the time being at least) a semi-regular activity – church sketchnotes done using a template for an orderly layout (which pleases my inner zinemaker):

Three Days On, One Day Off

In addition to “being productive”, I learned something useful about myself near the end of this journal. I figured out that one reason I have always had a problem with time management is that planning or scheduling within a 7 day week doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s just rebellion, feeling like I am expected to just fit into this RANDOM social construct that I didn’t even ask to be born into, man! But whatever the reason is, I decided I was going to buck convention and try a four-day structure.

In case you have ever wondered, there are 91.25 four-day-periods in a year.

On each of three days I have been having a loose focus, and then on the fourth day I do whatever the heck I want. I need one day for grocery shopping and other errands and for housework. Another day for creative but “business focused” work and a third day for whatever seems pressing in the family or household – maybe, if I can ever break through my annoyance and resistance, I could do some reading aloud or take better care of the household finances.  Those are two squares on my habit chart which rarely get filled in with pretty colors.

In the little snatches of time apart from the day’s focus, I have been “fitting in” the things that too easily slip through the cracks, like reading real books, (most notably, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge) and also exercise, salads and brief but blessed moments of silence and inactivity.. Then on the fourth day/evening I can drink alcohol, or binge watch TV (which for me might mean three episodes) or just sit around all day reading Nordic crime fiction. But I am just as likely to spend an “off” day rearranging some room in my house, which is one of my favorite activities and technically would be considered both housework and exercise on the habit chart.

I hope your interest in making and keeping your own everyday journal has been piqued, and that you will let me help you in that endeavor 🙂

Be in the Rough Edges Life Creative Loop

If you have any questions related to journaling, personal excavation and/or creative practice (or if you just want to ask me some random question or tell me something) please email me at samantha@roughedgeslife.com

On my next “creative work” day I am going to make a video to go with this blog post. If you’d like to see that video, or be kept abreast of the progress on the habit chart class or the Jordan Peterson Fanzine, please sign up for my mailing list.

In Which I Re-Enter the Blogging World and Recap My Blogging History

I started blogging in 2002, as a way to affirm life after a 9-day bout of the stomach flu. My first-ever blog post was called “A New Beginning”, probably because I was so glad to not feel sick anymore, plus the blogosphere of that time was my oyster, People. I was a stay-at-home-homeschooling mother in my mid-thirties, and I felt like I had found my “tribe” in the Godly Woman Subculture (wherein I felt included but also interestingly “edgy”…since my Proverbs 31 credentials may or may not have been forged or from an unaccredited institution). At that time I didn’t even know what a digital camera was, so I didn’t understand how these women always had photos on their blogs from THAT VERY DAY, too quickly to have had film developed while they were already so busy with bread baking, latin games with the children, plus being the kind of wives whose husband’s desires were always at the very forefront of their humble and modest thoughts. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I started blogging at The Home Realm (where I wrote a few okay pieces but mostly, too many posts from my smug young mother vantage point) and I continued there until about 2006. I also had a few (basically unsucessful) forays into “business” during those years, and a short and forgettable stint on the now-defunct Intellectuelle blog (it’s my contribution that was short and forgettable, not Intellectuelle itself).

In 2007, I discovered the world of home fitness and became obsessed enough with that to start a blog called Eclectic Domestic Works Out. I chronicled my P90x experience and documented my workout DVD collection as it grew to over 200 discs. I gave up on that blog in 2009, but I kept working out almost daily until Moppet 5 was born in 2011. Since then I have been more sporadic with exercise, but I have retained a lot of my fitness gains and I do work out fairly often in short spurts. I have no idea why that blog even exists in cyberspace anymore.

No Spring Chicken was born in 2010, a year or so into my Midlife Crisis. I was considering getting back into zinemaking at that time, but I guess I didn’t and started that blog instead. I still talked about diet and fitness a bit at first, but overall, NSC is a good screen capture of Who I Am Now (in germinal form). There are a lot of thoughts and feelings chronicled there, which were clarified for me a few years later, when I heard art historian Dan Siedell interviewed on The White Horse Inn, and then found Mockingbird. I last wrote on that blog almost exactly two years ago, when I started my eponymous blog (which shares characteristics with No Spring Chicken but has definitely also been a precursor to the business blog that will hopefully “go live” in early December.) I am also a “contributor” to the Creative Circle Blog, where I have not contributed since probably February.

One thing that concerns me about having a business blog or being a “contributor” or “guest poster” is how I will manage the contant drumbeat from the biz gurus to Stay On Brand, and even better if your brand is so inspiring and inspirational and full of those bright colors I hate. I’m sure I can come up with a somewhat cohesive and/or coherent “brand” (even with my various interests) but I don’t like the feeling that I can’t let the “brand identity curtains” get at all frayed. Like if somehow people get a glimpse behind the curated image, that’s a negative for your business. But since my business is called Rough Edges Life, I don’t want to feel trapped by my brand or like it is a facade. I need to have a place for my honest writing (especially since the zine is on hiatus) but not necessarily interspersed with “content” on a business blog. I think I will just keep this blog and link to it in my new About page, so anyone who might want to risk seeing “behind the brand” can do so.

Two women who were small-time bloggers on the periphery of my early blogging circle are undoubtedly millionnaires by now (Pioneer Woman and Ann Voskamp). I think it’s unlikely that I’ll become a millionnaire, but I am ready to “embrace the blog” again and see where that leads me.

Introducing Everyday Memoir, Part 1: My Box of Important Papers, Part 1

I have mentioned my Box of Important Papers elsewhere. What is in my BoIP is a lot of stuff that is important in the chain of my Everyday Memoir, mostly things that are individually printed or handwritten sheets and not bound like a zine or art journal. Since I am about to begin an online collaboration with a few other women, I was thinking about another online collaboration I was involved in – back in 2005  I was part of a woman’s blog called Intellectuelle, with a few women I still know (at least peripherally) through Facebook.

Intellectuelle was sponsored by The Evangelical Outpost (which still has a website that comes up blank for me). To be a contributor, you had to be one of the top 5 or 6 in an essay contest. I wrote some kind of post about apologetics, and was chosen to be one of the ground-level contributors, along with my still-friend Marla Swoffer. That first essay is the only one I don’t have a copy of (who knows why) and I’d love to see it, because I was never a whiz at apologetics and can’t imagine what I might have said about it that won me that contest.

intellectuelle

The first post is my “introduction” and it is dated June 30, 2005, and titled “Everyday Living Gives Us a Lot to Think About”. The final post was not even three months later, September 16, 2005, titled “Another Resignation”. Every one of my measly 14 posts began with a limerick. Some examples:

…from the post titled “Concealed Estrus, or Why is the Ovulation of the Human Female Hidden?”

There once was a thing, ovulation,
Necessary for human creation.
But it cannot be seen, and what does this mean?
Is there a Christian Explanation?

…from the post titled “Memento Mori”

There once was a gal quite alive
Who could think of no way to deprive
The spectre of death from a-stealin’ her breath
But she knows in the Lord she’ll survive

mementomori

This whole thing was nerve-wracking for me because 1) I had to make some appropriately intellectual post EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK and 2) I’m really not all that intellectual and most of the other contributors really were. They were doing stuff like reading difficult books and writing thoughtful commentary about them, probably seamlessly integrating all their other knowledge into the post as well. It’s likely they even spoke French and so were true Intellectuelles, while I was pretty much a poseur. We were also buying and moving into our first house at that time, and I’d had three miscarriages in the past year, and in general this was my last attempt to prop up a certain fantasy about myself as A Great Thinker, and I got out when I finally admitted that to myself, and I haven’t looked back.

This is an interesting pit stop on the Trail of Everyday Memoir (sometimes known as the Avenue of Absurdity). I could write a blog post or zine article on any of the same subjects I did at Intellectuelle, but I know my tone would now be different and my thoughts about most of the subjects have changed, maybe significantly. It’s both humbling and encouraging when I look at my past self, because I see definite evidence of sanctification while I simultaneously still possess some of the annoying and/or sinful traits of my youth, which range from actual bad behavior to well-hidden but impressively crappy attitudes that are rarely seen by anyone except me and God.

We’ll come back to the Box of Important Papers again in a few days.

 

 

 

 

Save

Creative Stuff Goin’ On

The last month and a half has been a proverbial whirlwind of creative busy-ness, planning, and some surprises. I spent a lot of August finishing my zines and being very nervous about sharing them outside my usual crowd. I went to an event called The Dallas Zine Party in early September, which was a panel of longtime zinemakers talking about their work in the zine world. Even though I’ve been making zines for more than two decades, I still experienced mild Impostor Syndrome symptoms when I was there. Unfortunately, the only antidote to those symptoms is to act like you aren’t an impostor, which can be difficult. But I handed my zine packages to the panelists and they all just seemed happy to get some new zines and not hell-bent on exposing me as a fraud. Later that night when I was making more zine packs for Day 2 of the event, I realized that I had a misspelling. On the zine COVER. The zine I had just given to 10 people earlier that day while pretending not to be an impostor.

I was mortified for about two minutes, then exhausted at the thought that I had to print new covers. Then I had an epiphany. I saw that I could “fix” the problem while simultaneously reinforcing the main theme of my zine – being “productive” while also accepting my very real limitations as a fallen human being. So, with the help of my trusty Pigma Micron pen:

zinecover

So, that ended up being a happy accident, and it was good for me to have to walk the Accepting Failure Walk, instead of talking about in an inspirational way (which is a good way to distract people) while behind the scenes I was eradicating any evidence of actual failure.

A few days after the Zine Party, I became a paid, published author. That had been in the works for a few years, and I don’t know if I believed it would ever really happen. The piece that was published began as an article in one of my zines from a decade ago, and it was interesting to see how it came to be a 22,000 word spiritual memoir. I have never had a huge interest in being a published author apart from my own self-publishing, and the reason Mark Galli (Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief) knew about me at all was because I sent CT my zines (way back in 2009, I think) in the hope that they would consider writing an article about zines and how they are an underused medium by Christians. So, it was a pleasant surprise that something I wrote so long ago would come back to benefit me in some way, and would be read by maybe tens of thousands of people instead of the (maybe) fifty or so that was my usual zine readership.

I was personally contacted by maybe 15 people after the CT piece was published. It was encouraging to know that my writing resonated with at least some people who don’t know me and don’t consider it their job as my friend to be encouraging about all my weird ramblings. Then, about a week after that was published, I got an email from someone at a Pittsburgh radio station inviting me to be interviewed on their show. That was a terrifying prospect because while I am fairly eloquent and somewhat funny in writing, I am not known as a super articulate speaker. I had visions of being introduced and then nothing but the sound of my drooling would be heard. But John and Kathy put me at ease and asked good questions, so the drooling situation was mostly avoided. My delusions of grandeur (that every single one of John and Kathy’s listeners would immediately order my zines) also did not come to pass, but I don’t think I could have handled that much business anyway. But I was invited to be on the show again, and that is happening this afternoon. They even made me my own graphic!

johnandkathy

I’m just as nervous about it this time and I have no idea what I am going to say about “the act of creation: what is it, how does it work for you, why is it important for Christians to create and flourish?” (which is how they are promoting my segment). Hopefully we can bypass the drool scenario this time, as well.

And then finally, my dear artist friend Donna has invited me to participate in an online teaching group called The Creative Circle , where three of us will regularly write and have videos about our own creative practices and our creative struggles, as well as “teaching” various techniques or art things that we do. That is a nerve-wracking situation for me, mostly because I am afraid of not getting the stuff done and proving myself once and for all to be an incorrigible flake. Realistically, I don’t expect that to happen, but the aforementioned Impostor Syndrome always has a serious flare-up when I think about having to come up with fresh content to “inspire and inform” people. The blog portion of the Circle will begin in November, and come January we will open it for subscriptions, which is how you will be able to access videos and other content and “Support for Your Creative Practice”. Go here if you want to get in on the ground floor.

Oh, and in the next week or so I am going to buy the domain everydaymemoir.com and get started offering my own zine/mail art subscriptions and tools to get you started on an Everyday Memoir Practice. So, I have a lot going on, which is interesting but also mentally exhausting. One of my perpetual challenges is trying to simultaneously do enough to avoid boredom and feed my alter-ego Self Improvementista, while also giving my Introvert enough downtime (she has been known to create drama if I don’t do a good job with that).

One cool thing about being an Everyday Memoirist is that I know in a year’s time, I will come back to this post (the printed version, of course – since I’m all about paper) and I will have Thoughts About It. I will compare my delusions of grandeur and/or worst case scenario for my artistic career with whatever the reality is, which I actually consider to be a fun and edifying activity.

 

In Which I Read Three Books

I actually read three books this week. It has been more common in the past few years to read maybe one book in three months. I may have spent all my energy in reading them and have none left to write about them.

The first one was Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. She is the originator of the Bechdel Test, which asks the question: do two women in a fictional work ever talk to each other about anything but a man or men, which is supposed to be a good starting point for discussing gender inequality or sexism within the work. The test definitely has its limits, because there are shows like Buffy which are full of strong and capable women who also talk a lot about guys and romance. Ms. Bechdel is also the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Yes, she is a lesbian. I guess Fun Home would be considered a coming-of-age or family memoir, in comic form. It didn’t have the look of a graphic novel to me, which are usually too busy for my taste artistically and/or filled with too many unrealistically huge-breasted female characters who may or may not have conversations about archery or philosophy or other non-man subjects.

It’s not all that prominent a theme in the book, but the title comes from the fact that Ms. Bechdel’s father was a part-time mortician in his family’s funeral home (their family was way more dysfunctional than the Fishers on Six Feet Under). The main focus of the book is her father, who she eventually learned was a closeted homosexual who had/attempted to have inappropriate relationships with underage teenage boys. She never condones this fact about him, and in general presents him as a tyrannical figure in her family’s life. He died young and she believes his death was suicide, although it was officially determined to be accident. Her relationship with him became somewhat closer after she went to college and came out as a lesbian, although he was always mysterious and often communicated with her through esoteric passages in literature (he was an English teacher when he wasn’t embalming people).

This book has caused controversy because some students at Duke University refused to read it because it offended their Christian sensibilities. There are about 7 panels in the work which depict nudity, masturbation, and sexual acts. I’m all for people not reading things they don’t want to read, but why choose a secular university in 2015 if you are bound and determined not to encounter any shocking, offensive or immoral ideas? And as someone who had early and prolonged access to pretty hardcore pornography, I think that even most non-pornogrified adults are aware of the sexual act portrayed and have probably even engaged in it at some point. Even if you think gay relationships are wrong, how damaged can you be by a single black and white panel in a comic book? And is God really mortified if you see it?

I can’t say I really loved this book, but not because of the sexual themes. It was somewhat interesting but kinda slow, and it didn’t have any emotional punch for me. I didn’t develop affection for the narrator, Ms. Bechdel (not that I actively disliked her). But it did solidify my desire to draw comic memoir, which scares me. But I already have so much memoir-ish writing I could illustrate, including but not limited to my spiritual memoir that Christianity Today published. If I get up the guts I’ll make a few small comic memoir zines, to break it into manageable chunks. My new zine (which should be listed on etsy this weekend) has a two-page comic chronicling my early zinemaking history, so that’s a start.

Book Two was Jen Hatmaker’s new book For The Love. I had little love (perhaps a vague but fleeting affection) for this five-star favorite. There is no doubt that Ms. Hatmaker is funny. I think she might be more enjoyable as a stand-up comic. There are probably fewer upper-middle-class-yoga-pants-wearing Christian mothers on that circuit. Ms. Hatmaker seems to be wildly inspirational in her demographic, but like She Who Seems To Be Spiritual Godmother Of This Tribe, Ann Voskamp, her writing mostly depresses and annoys me (though I don’t think their writing is necessarily all that similar). On a literary level, I get tired of stuff being called A Thing. Or hearing that someone Just Can’t Even. I’m tired of Women (supposedly) Just Like Us for whom housekeepers and nannies are Things. I Just Can’t Even. Do (insert Thing) because I don’t have those amenities (though I acknowledge that many others probably can and do).  I also can’t imagine having a close knit group of couple friends to cook gourmet home-cooked meals for at our monthly Supper Club (even if my turn only comes once every three months) where we sip wine, have deep fellowship and cheer each other on in our ever-expanding repertoire of successful projects. I don’t exactly begrudge Ms. Hatmaker for having those things, but hearing about them makes me discouraged instead of inspired. I fully admit that this doesn’t demonstrate my deep generosity of spirit. It reminds me of how I felt years ago when I was reading the Mitford series of books, and I realized that the reason Father Tim and his wife Cynthia could be so productive and read so many good books was because they had a full-time cook and housekeeper who did everything necessary to their neat and well-fed existence.

I have to be clear also (because I’m not really bashing Ms. Hatmaker as a person or even as a writer) and say that in general I don’t like inspirational as a genre, and in fact my idea of inspirational may not be the norm. Whenever something degenerates into what seems like an affirmation, especially, I turn off. So while I appreciate, say, Brene Brown’s basic thesis about shame and vulnerability, I’ll start rolling my eyes when she says something like You Are Enough. I’m not necessarily saying that I don’t agree with that or other inspirational soundbites on a basic level, but it can just start sounding like an overly simplistic feel-good mantra or even like propaganda, and that turns me off. I have this same struggle in the art journaling world, which is full of often technically impressive pages which insist that we should “soar”, “bloom”, “connect”, “discover” or (insert inspirational mountain you can ascend if you can find just the right word).

In a peripheral way, my general dislike of some of these wildly popular “trends” (for lack of a better term) in books or art make me curious to know if my writing or creative pursuits could be categorized as “fitting in” with any other writer or visual creative.

Book Three was The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. I haven’t read any of her three memoirs yet, I just know about her from reading at Mockingbird. In addition to being a memoirist herself, Ms. Karr has taught memoir for years at the graduate level, something that still seems to surprise her a bit, considering that she came from a redneck family full of abuse, alcoholism and other dysfunction. This book contains her thoughts on the memoir writing process, the nature of truth in memory, as well as chapters dedicated to some of her favorite memoirs. I think I may be at some disadvantage as a memoirist because I am an only child and don’t have anyone my own age to compare memories with. She makes it a point to share her manuscripts with the people in her memoirs, even when the stories or memories are not pleasant or flattering. I have never done this with my mother. Not that I have written deeply about her as a person or about our relationship per se, but my childhood is such a volatile subject for both of us that I just don’t want to go there. After reading this book I wonder how much of that may be my avoiding the possibility of her challenging my memories, even though I don’t really think she would.

I find it ironic that so many people who like my writing say they are drawn to my honesty, but I don’t think I’ve ever been deeply honest in anything I have written. Even in my illegibly written journals. That makes me wonder how extremely guarded other people really are. I joke that telling the truth about my life is my spiritual gift, but that’s a lie. I’m still too afraid of my pain and my shame and am unwilling to unveil it all even to myself. And I do think about whether I want to name anyone in conjunction with it and tell their part in my suffering (even when it wasn’t their intention to hurt me or their fault in any real sense).

I need to read Mary Karr’s actual memoirs and see how she writes about her experiences of childhood sexual assault, a mother who was a serious drunk to the point where she sometimes brandished a gun in intoxicated anger, as well as her own drug use and alcoholism and her growing into her own sexuality.

I can tell that little by little, I am becoming more honest. With each zine I make I have a few more sentences or even paragraphs that say something real.

FOCUS – New Zine to Be Published Mid-June

This feels like a transition time. Baby is almost 4 and seems to be finally coming out of a long-term, hard-core gotta-have-Mama-at-all-costs phase (which has, in all honesty, lasted her entire life). My score of readers knows that I always have a lot of things I want to do or feel like I should do, but right now the overarching important thing for me to do is relearn how to FOCUS, both for my own sanity and to facilitate actual progress on the to-do list items.

I regret what has happened to my brain and my nervous system during the childbearing years way more than I regret my stretch marks or other physical signs of motherhood. I saw a documentary once about stress, and it said that many people in our culture are always in fight or flight mode. That put into words how I have felt for years, maybe all my life. It’s the pressure of “perceived threats”. That can mean being afraid that my past will come back and haunt me in some way, or worrying myself sick about what might happen in the unknowable future. There are also the ever-present threats of the present – like my all-too-common (though usually mostly subconscious) sense that somewhere, someone (could be my husband, the old woman at the grocery store or someone reading this blog) is judging me or expecting something from me that I cannot deliver.  All these things are actually incorporeal  – my feelings, neuroses, angst – but FEEL physical like threats that I want to run away from or come at with teeth bared. What that looks like for each of us will be different, how we manifest fight or flight –  but I assume (as a fellow human being in an often scary world) that you also deal with this unfortunate aspect of life in some way and have developed a few more or less ineffective coping mechanisms and/or annoying habitual behaviors in response.

I honestly believe that my body now reacts to the constant interruptions of children (and the over-complication young kids bring to otherwise simple or straightforward tasks) the way a proverbial caveman would react if they were suddenly being chased by the proverbial saber-tooth tiger. This doesn’t mean that I literally think my kids are out to get me (although they can be as manipulative as any sinner at any age). It’s like this:

kids

And that’s just one example. It’s like my brain can no longer hold a thought for more than 10 seconds even if I am alone. I think this is probably what they call neural pathway development (or in my case, neural pathway destruction). I notice this problem especially when I try to read, but it has affected everything I need or want to do. Having to do something like run a simple errand or do a basic household chore is almost a trigger in itself. I get anxious  and even somewhat panicked even thinking about doing whatever it is because I know it will require so much more from me than chopping celery. My body interprets it as a threatening situation. I can fight by literally fighting – or at least getting really grumpy and showing it. I can take flight by simply not doing “it”, whatever IT is.

My own self-improvementy thoughts (completely apart from dealing with other people) usually also feel, if not always threatening, then at least exhausting.  In practice, this makes me inefficient, because I will let my ideas (if I am feeling competent and/or productive) or my emotions (if I am feeling depressed and/or stagnant) distract me from what I am doing. I will literally be in the middle of washing dishes (a good and necessary, if sometimes maddeningly mundane task) and in response to a thought like, “Such-and-such would be a good thing to have in my next zine”. I will turn from the dishes like some mind-controlled person in a sci-fi show responding to her master’s inner call or something, and head to the computer or notebook. That’s if I’m feeling productive. If I’m feeling depressed the thought at the sink might be, “Oh crap, I’m already washing these dishes but those (insert your favorite expletive) sheets have to go in the washing machine. Man, I am a total failure at this job.” So, I turn from the dishes (in the same sci-fi manner, only looking more despondent) and go get the sheets off the bed. The most likely next act in this scenario will be someone in the family inserting their need or request or simple comment into the fray, and neither the dishes, nor the zine work nor the sheets will get done.

So, I need to focus in at least two senses. I need to focus on what I am doing at the moment and, yes, pay attention to it in a zen-like manner but mostly just finish it already. I also need to plan at least some focused time for the things I say are most important to me. This could be having a mental date with myself at 2pm every day for a workout DVD, or a plan to sit with my 7-year-old for thirty minutes to read aloud, or setting aside the whole day for only basic housework and zine stuff. I’m not sure of the specifics, in fact it is specifics I am afraid of, because when something has been specified or codified that’s when it’s most obvious if (or when) you deviate, which (in perfectionist-speak) translates to FAIL.

A new zine comes into this situation because it, in itself, is a form of focus. So, it’s a natural container for six weeks or so of my thinking and planning and (most importantly) execution of FOCUS. It should be ready for mailing by mid-June. I don’t think it will a Thirty Days Zine exactly, but it will be done quickly, in that Thirty Days spirit. I’m going to charge for this one. Not sure how much yet, but that info will be made public when it has been determined.

 

In Which I Take Jane Spakowsky’s New Workshop

Jane Spakowsky (aka Gritty Jane) is probably my favorite of the mixed-media women artists I know. I especially like how her stuff is colorful, somewhat whimsical, but never cutesy and has the feel of masters portraits to me (she is also an art doll maker). I took one of her online courses about 5 years ago, before I was really ready to paint for the sake of painting. She just released a short class which documents her process making this painting:

janeisis

You can take this workshop here:

This is the reference photo I used with her techniques:

grittyjaneall

I made mine in my art education journal (which is why there is that line across the photos where the pages meet) and it was neat to see how many layers of paper and paint that 140lb watercolor paper could take.

jane1

jane2

jane3

jane4

jane5

jane6

This next one with the spirals is more a homage to Jane’s older work (about when I was taking the other class – but there are a few spirals in her current painting too). But I didn’t leave the spirals, so the pic above is the finished piece (but I might add the spirals back in because I like them).

janespiral

Here are some macro shots:

janemacro1

janemacro2

I think I did a pretty good job using Jane’s process. I wasn’t able to capture that “looking up” pose in the reference photos, and her face is a little more classically “pretty” than I like. As usual, my skin tones and shading need some work, but I think it is improving (albeit almost imperceptibly). The skin tone in real life is somewhat less pale than is showing up in the photos.

Stamp Carving Test Page Painting

stamppaintingdoneThis is the finished painting on my hand carved stamp test page. I got the look I wanted for it (with the Chagall/Kendrick plus a Modigliani/Klimt influence) and I integrated my hand carved stamps into it. That was the assignment, and I completed it. I am not yet rebelling against the Inner Instructor (a new alter-ego, I guess) who is telling me what to do.

I used the hand carved stamps, block printing ink, gesso, acrylics, Neocolor II water soluble crayons and decorative rice paper. I don’t think these colors are perfectly accurate, but they are close. It’s somewhere between the image above and the one below. The purples are more red in real life, like the final image, which is taken in odd light and is a few steps before completed.

stamppainting3

redpurple

Obviously, I’m not good at setting the white balance on my new camera, but if I had to choose, I would say that image three is the most accurate, but still not perfect.

In general, I like this painting. I think it is simple and also simplistic as far as being pretty much totally unoriginal. I feel like it needs more village elements but I didn’t want to put another house right under her chin and couldn’t think of anything else. Maybe a clothesline or something would work. I don’t like floating images even though Chagall could pull them off. My skin tones always need work, in my opinion, although something about the mask look appeals to me. The gold pattern in the back is a slight Klimt influence and it is my hand carved repeating pattern stamp, printed in gold acrylic. Also the hand carved corner stamp can be seen here in the background.

detail

detail2This is the second or third time I have put circles in the hair and/or scarf of a drawing or painting. I guess it is a repeating motif for some reason, which reminds me of the mosaics of Empress Theodora:

Theodora

I don’t know whether I should say that the stamp carving lesson ends with the completion of this painting, because I definitely want to carve more stamps. I don’t really love painting patterns like Matisse, but I think I would enjoy carving patterns and incorporating them that way. It’s also a good way to get gold in, which I almost always like to do. In fact, what this painting needs in order to be finished are some gold dots.

Lesson One, Stamp Carving

I’ve tried to carve stamps a few times before, but I never had the right materials. I used corks and erasers and an xacto knife, and none of them looked great. When Julie Fei-Fan Balzer (whose website is a literal treasure trove of info) released her book Carve, Stamp, Play, I knew it was the stamp book for me. I’ve had the book and the supplies for about a year already, and this is the first time I have carved any stamps.

I had a 4×6 piece of rubber that had a corner taken off of it for some reason, so I decided I was going to carve as many stamps out of what was left as I could. I started with the first lesson which was carving a simple heart. You draw or transfer the design to the rubber and then color in either what is staying or what you want to cut out. For the heart, I just drew it then marked out what to cut away. There was actually very little carving with the speedball carver because you basically just cut the whole outside off.

stamps1

Then I had this little corner piece and I improvised a corner stamp with it. Also, I made a repeating pattern stamp.

stamps2

I had to use a few different sizes of carving blade to do the repeating pattern one. The yellow is the first printing and there was a lot left to carve – you can see the extra lines. That is the look you want if you want a faux-woodcut, I think (which I like and will probably do often). I carved off more rubber and then printed in green. There is still a little that could be taken off, but in general I’m happy with it now. You see how you just join them up and they make a repeating pattern?

stamps3

I can see that learning to carve thinner lines will be a challenge. You can see how much more finely carved Julie’s repeating pattern is. Mine is kind of clunky, which is a style that I like, but I don’t want to always make big clunky stuff just out of laziness. And there are a lot of stamps she shows that are very intricate and would need careful carving to be able to see the design.

I really enjoyed the process of carving the stamps. It was very meditative, like some people say they find zentangling or knitting. I think after making these three stamps I can carve an alphabet no problem. What I would really like to make are these interlocking stamps – you see in the upper right corner how there are three stamps to make the woman print (hair, shading and line)?

stamps4

I have five more 4×6 rubber blocks, so my goal will be to carve it all within the next week or so, and hopefully I will understand the process pretty well by that time. I can tell that this is something I could be good at and will want to incorporate into my work in some way.

My Art Self-Education Begins

I haven’t received my paper order yet, but I found a single piece. So I can show you how to make my all-time favorite journal. You start with a 22×30 sheet of 140 lb watercolor paper (all the journals in the back are made in this format, with the one on the far right being four bound together in an open-spine, hardcover book:

arted1

Measure the paper into three 10-inch sections on the long side, then you use the ruler as a tear bar and get three sheets like this:

arted2

I forgot to take any pictures of the folding process, but what you wind up with is a total of twelve full two-page spreads, with four three-page spreads of two different sizes:

arted3

innerpage35

The first thing I am going to do is carve some stamps, using Julie Fei-Fan Balzer’s book and speedball cutting tools:

arted5

arted4

I’m not sure if I am going to follow all the beginning stamp-making tutorials or just jump in and try to carve an alphabet, which is what I really want to do.

I am also going to be making Experimental Paintings on my many book-cover substrates. I may try to sell them off at a cheap price after I have 10 or so. This one started as a sharpie drawing on a piece of paper that got paint on it. It’s not done yet, the gesso layer is just the middle:

experimentpainting1

exppainting2

I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it next. I think I want to get some Gritty Jane influence in there somehow, and get rid of the cartoony look of the original sharpie face.