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:

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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.

 

My First Painting That Will Hang On Someone Else’s Wall

This is my second painting done using the basic technique I learned in Jane Spakowsy’s last workshop. In general, I like it. I can see that I am making progress in skin tones and shading, though that is still a challenge for me. I really wanted the background to be more of a deep maroon, but when I did the final sanding, with all the underlayers it became this more reddish brown color. I do like how all the texture underneath shows up well. This is the finished piece and a detail picture:

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Here are some of the process pics:

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The only thing I may still do to the final piece is change the eye reflections a bit, as I seem to have a lost a bit of the “looking right at you” quality. In some ways, I almost always prefer the “almost done” stages when I look back on them. They are more raw. marla6

My influences in this piece were, of course, Jane, and also Klimt for the gold. Although I wasn’t thinking about his work when I did the painting, if the portrait reminds me of the work of any Master type, it would be William Waterhouse (without the bright trueness of his colors.)

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My natural style is obviously somewhat realistic. Whenever I try too hard to achieve a more quirky look or the more skewed realism of modernism, it hasn’t worked all that well.

This will be the first real painting that ever leaves my house and will live on someone else’s wall.

Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 2

Part 1, Here

10) Natalie Goldberg says, “Get to know your obsessions…ask yourself, what monopolizes my mind?” It has always been the “big” topics which have monopolized my thinking since childhood. Death. Sex (not having it necessarily, but rather how twisted ideas and my twisted experience of it has affected me – see #14). God. Philosophy and Psychology. All of my lasting interests and obsessions fit into one of these categories. Unfortunately, I have not yet taken all that deep stuff and produced mounds and mounds of honest writing.

11) I don’t usually think of myself as a person with a lot of regrets, but sometimes I find myself not starting something in the present because I wish I would have done it in the past. For example, I just got Danny Gregory’s book Art Before Breakfast (which I like best of all his books) and one of the suggestions is to draw your children. If I started doing that, I know I would regret not having drawn my other children, so I might not even do it now because I don’t want to feel that regret. Of course, later I would regret it even more since I won’t have drawn any of them. One of the unhealthy manifestations of my life as a memoirist is this weird feeling that I should be chronicling my life more thoroughly and consistently than I do, which is, of course, one manifestation of my sometimes almost crippling perfectionism.

12) I am really trying to be less emotionally repressed. Even when I was a kid (my childhood life being the start of my emotional problems) I was emotionally reticent, but I still felt my feelings. As I have gotten older I feel things less, which I know is a protective mechanism of some kind. One thing I am doing to try to combat this is to listen to more music from my past, which I usually avoid because, well, it does bring up feelings. I’m not talking about the music from my young childhood, I can’t listen to that at all or I get an anxiety attack. But music from my young adulthood and the babyhood of my older children can be hard for me to listen to. I have also been watching some television shows that are about family life and all the varied emotions that brings up. I seem to be able to feel negative emotions more easily, and some of those are normal, like the frustration that is all too common when dealing with the never-ending demands of young children. I also feel anger a lot (not that I really fly into rages or anything) but I do believe that most of my anger is a cover-up for all the emotions of vulnerability and abandonment and stuff like that. I’m trying to look at my anger when it shows up and see if I am turning my pain outward. I heard a Tim Keller sermon where he talked about anger, and how to make it productive rather than destructive. He recommended we ask ourselves two questions about our anger: What am I defending? What am I attacking? It’s embarrassing how often what we are defending is some selfish desire for our own comfort or peace or relaxation or whatever, and how often what we are attacking are those people we see as getting in the way of that. But I see how those two questions can help me when what I feel seems to be anger, but on closer observation the real underlying emotion is probably some kind of grief. I am learning to recognize when the the anger is only a front, and trying to let myself just feel whatever emotion wells up when I look deeper.

13) I am absolutely not into nature. I mean, I like being outside on a nice day (which means way below possible sweating temperature) and the quiet of a natural place (sans kids) can be meaningful. But I don’t really enjoy outside activities (except walking while listening to podcasts) and I don’t get inspired by nature in a creative way. I am so bored by the journaling books I have purchased that are full of drawings of plants and animals. If I were to draw something, I would always go for some kind of man-made object in my house, rather than go outside to draw trees or flowers. If I were forced to draw outside, I would likely draw my mailbox or the barbeque. What I most appreciate about nature is listening to birds, which I can do quite well from inside with the windows open in the morning. If I could have any kind of experience in the natural world, I would love to be transported to a time when wild birds were everywhere.

14) Although I still don’t love it (meaning it doesn’t turn me on) I think that it has been a positive thing for me to see mild to moderately graphic sexual situations in television shows when they are not stylized depictions of impossibly beautiful people having impossibly perfect sex or are abusive in some way. I’m not making any moral pronouncements about whether or not we should see these things, so please don’t give me a hard time about it if you disapprove. Being exposed to a lot of pornography before puberty really messed up my idea of myself as a sexual being, and I pretty much grew up having the cognitively dissonant thoughts that 1) my worth was totally dependent on how sexy I was and 2) that I was inherently undesirable. So, as you can imagine, in my mind I was screwed (no pun intended). In the past, whenever I would see a sexual scene  (I never really had this problem if it was a sex scene in a novel) , I would get high anxiety from this weird unarticulated feeling that sex was for other people, that somehow in the game of sex I would always be chosen last like the loser kids in P.E. Of course, I have been married for a long time and so have had a fair amount of licit sex, plus various pre-marriage illicit sexual experiences and people who have been attracted to me though we never had any kind of sexual contact. Seeing sex scenes in shows like Six Feet Under where even older people are having and enjoying sex, and some of the British shows where everyone is average looking has somehow helped me see that I’m entitled to my place in the normal human sexual experience, about which pornography lies.

 

Forty-Six Things About Me or a Not-So-Lurid Confessional of Middle Age, Part 1

When I was young and in the throes of the new blogging world (back in 2002 or so when I thought I was more interesting than I do now) I had a “100 Factoids About Me” link in my sidebar. They were just pithy little sentences that didn’t really tell that much about me (as I was even less willing then to really share than I am now) and I think I probably chose them to illustrate my idea of cool quirkiness. A lot of them are just simple facts about my life, which has obviously been quirky, and not always in a good way. But as I look back, at least a few of them seem to be me deceiving myself. Like Keith Green sang, “No one believes a thing you say, not even you“. I wonder how honest these new ones will seem in ten years?

1) I couldn’t stand Ann Voskamp’s immensely popular book One Thousand Gifts. I have also disliked 99.75% of the blog posts I have read on her immensely popular blog, A Holy Experience (full disclosure, I haven’t read all that many). I have a hard time with her writing style, I don’t find it inspiring or moving and it doesn’t make me fall to me knees in gratitude or want to buy her spinoff books. It confuses and annoys me on a good day and weighs me down with guilt on the bad days. I honestly have an easier time reading Calvin’s Institutes with its somewhat archaic theological language. I do, however, really like her daily habit sheet.

2) One of my longest-running (but still somewhat sporadic) external manifestations of sin is sometimes being a high functioning stoner. I have self-medicated with pot off and on since I was about 16. I went a full 8 years without smoking at all, from 2004-2013, but have once again had bouts of smoking since that time. I don’t think smoking is any more inherently wrong than drinking margaritas, but of course, it’s illegal and I use it in unhealthy ways. And like any drug or substance, it gives diminishing returns and also deceives you into thinking that it’s helping you when it really isn’t. It relieves stress for a time, jumpstarts creativity for a time – but after a while it increases stress and it’s horrible in terms of creative follow-through. I recently read a book called Grace in Addiction, and while I don’t know if pot is addictive in the same sense that street drugs or alcohol are (it isn’t all that physically challenging to give it up and it certainly hasn’t caused me to destroy lives, steal, cheat, etc. to get some) I definitely feel mentally powerless against it’s allure when it is available (see the first step of AA). Thankfully, accepting that coincided with being very burned out on the stuff and got me back on the proverbial wagon, where I will hopefully remain.

3) Motherhood has killed off way more of my brain cells than smoking pot ever did. I can hardly focus to read any more after all these years of constant interruptions to my thought process. I think it may be God’s way of humbling me for being somewhat prideful in my past intelligence (which was never really all that impressive, and in fact I have never been more than a pseudo-intellectual).

4) I’ve gone to a Presbyterian church since we first started going to church about 14 years ago, and while I am committed to the doctrines of grace, I don’t know if I am full-on Reformed. In general, I have struggles going to church and often get stressed about it on Saturday evening. That might be because I have had little children for so long that just the process of getting everyone up and fed is a struggle, not to mention being there with all the wandering attention spans, desires for drinks and (insert thing kids do at church that basically makes the whole thing just another period of unfocused multi-tasking, not much different than every other day). I feel guilty about it, but Sunday has never been a day of rest and prayerful re-creation for me. I also struggle with the whole “fellowship” situation, because by Sunday afternoon, after a long week of non-stop interaction with the many people in my household, my Inner Introvert has pretty much shut down. I literally get to church harried and parched and crave to simply hear the benediction that God grants me grace and peace, and then I want to go home.

5) One thing that really pisses me off is when people tell someone they are taking something too seriously or that they should “lighten up”. People take seriously what is a serious issue for them, and not everyone’s serious issues will be the same. Just because you think something is lighthearted or a joke or not a big deal doesn’t mean that another person won’t see it in a more serious light. I’m considered a pretty funny person who laughs a lot, but I have been told this more times than I can count.

6) I have male friends who are not also friends of my husband. One of them died a few years ago. He was my first love when I was about 15 and I saw him off and on since those days of youth, the last time being in 2010. We talked on Facebook every so often, and after he died in 2013 I printed out our entire chat history and put it with the many other papers I have which chronicle my life. I’m very glad I didn’t marry him, not like that was ever an option. I also keep in some contact with a man I worked with back in my young adult years before children. One of my Alter-Egos would probably have been a good fit for him, but not my real self. My third and final male friend is someone half my age whom I have known since he was about 10. We have coffee together occasionally and sometimes I feel like we are very much alike and other times I feel like he is unknowable and my exact opposite. While my relationships with them are (or were, in the case of my dead friend) platonic, I feel different about them than I do my female friends. There is just this Other quality. My husband knows about these friendships and has never asked me to cease and desist. I don’t know how I would feel if he had women friends, but he really doesn’t have any male friends he hangs out with either, so if suddenly there was a woman friend it would be glaringly strange.

7) Despite being able to write long rambling blog posts, I have less to say now than I ever have in my life and/or I literally do say much less. In some ways this is a good thing, but I’m also concerned that I am getting further into my introvert shell in a negative, self-protective way. I was walking the other day and listening to Tim Keller’s sermon The Wounded Spirit, and I heard this:

“If you take a look at the third proverb in the list, it’s a very interesting proverb. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” What in the world does that mean? You say, “Well, I have friends. They can share my joy. I have people who understand me.” Do you know what this is saying? Again, don’t relativize this. Here’s what this is saying. Your insides, the movements and motions of your heart, are so complex, they’re so inward, and they’re so hidden there’s an irreducible, unavoidable solitude about human existence. Nobody will ever completely understand you.”

I impressively demonstrated my coordination as I walked and simultaneously nodded in agreement. Of course, he didn’t end on that depressing existential note and I wasn’t actually feeling all that nihilistic. But my point is that I think I am acquiescing too much to this very real existential aloneness. My husband has never been a chat-er, and I’m not so much either, but more than he is. I used to try to get him to talk to me more (or listen more about what was going on with me) which didn’t work very well because, well, no one likes feeling pressure to do something they don’t want to do. So while in a way that has been good for our marriage (me releasing my expectations that we should talk together more), it has driven me further into myself and I wonder how interested anyone is in anything I think or do, and what purpose trying to communicate really serves. I worry that I may be forgetting how to communicate and share, which is not good for someone who is naturally emotionally repressed anyway.

8) These days, when I honestly say I am “doing my best”, that is not very impressive.

9) I let my kids spend waaaaay more time in front of screens than I am comfortable with, which is a fairly new development. I figure that is better than the alternative of them visiting me twice a week in the loony bin. In the past I would have put together some big plan to change this, but now I think it is just better for me to let it run its course (For my sake, not theirs. They seem to be doing fine and their brains don’t seem any mushier than they ever have.)

…To Be Continued

 

 

 

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:

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You can take this workshop here:

This is the reference photo I used with her techniques:

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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.

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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).

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Here are some macro shots:

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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.

45 Minutes at a Time and the Stuff That Brings Up

I’ve liked the idea of breaking a day down into manageable blocks of time since the old days of Managers of Their Homes (although scheduling every minute of every day into 20 minute task-specific blocs is not for me).  In my journal from last summer (which was pretty much a detailed record of my self-improvement-overdose) there are more than a few pages where I mull over that idea. It was definitely good for me to give up self-improvement as a lifestyle and an idol, but I do need some kind of framework for my time or I will literally walk around the house all day jumping from task to task but not accomplishing much that is tangible. (I was amazed at how many steps this generated when I wore a pedometer). Because I am such a perfectionist, though, something as broad as “pick something to do for 45 minutes” can get me all stressed out. I start feeling like I must (for all eternity henceforth)  fit all my life into neat 45-minute segments. I would wonder whether this or that activity should go into  1) a housework block 2) an enjoyable but productive activity block 3) a something I dread or feel a duty to do block, or 4) a true relaxation block (which is how I would likely break it down). And what about the things that don’t fit neatly into any block! We can’t have unmanaged time running around now, can we? I’m serious. Especially when I am generally stressed out or hormonal, my thought process has some uncomfortable similarities to this humorous dramatization.

On a practical level, I know it is important for me to switch tasks like that.  One of my tendencies is to go all obsessive with an activity (usually for days and days at a time) and then wind up with burnout and even a distaste for the activity that sometimes last a while. I also don’t know how else I can practice mindfulness if I don’t have a nice mental barbed-wire fence I can corral my thoughts behind for those 45 minutes. But although my rambling thoughts do need a bit of corraling, I need to let some cracks form in my Armor of Emotional Repression. A few days ago I realized and/or admitted that for a melancholy type like me, there is pretty much always some level of sadness happening. Even when everything is going along blissfully (and I feel bathed in peaceful, Rivendell-ish soothing light) there is always a sadness because of the impermanence. The moment is passing away. Of course, that is somewhat more pleasant than the dreaded is-this-all-there-is-to-life sadness that comes with depressions, the times of despair, loneliness and/or (insert human suffering here).

It’s easy for me to be critical of my much younger Journal self – more externally obnoxious, wholly non-Christian – but she had some good qualities that I have lost. She was more more optimistic and/or funny in the face of the aforementioned human suffering. She was still cynical (but it was a hopeful cynicism). My disillusionment with myself and with everyone else over the years has been theologically correct (people pretty much hopeless, hence, Jesus) BUT I wish I could just suddenly transition from KNOWING that everything I need I have in Christ to FEELING it. I know our feelings don’t affect our standing with God, and I know that He doesn’t owe us spiritual warm fuzzies and all that. I just think that my general tendency to suppress my emotions as a coping mechanism is making me cold hearted in some ways. I think it’s standing in the way of my getting the gospel on a deeper level.

I know I had a lot of pain and stress and trauma early in my life, that my protective neuroses come from that. But I know that my fear of having my heart broken (in all those myriad ways this can happen in our world) is keeping me from loving people like I should. Over the years I have come back many times to the idea that we have to lose our life in order to find it, and that means letting go of it (or at least my conception of it) and all it contains. That hurts on so many levels.  I want to learn mindfulness because I want to see my life as it is, which is the life that God gave me. I want to feel the feelings my life (the living and the losing of it) brings up because I believe that’s part of the dying process of the Christian. I want to get to the living part so I’m starting to be maybe willing to go through the death.

I don’t know how I got from 45 minute time blocks to those existential musings, but ever since I was a teenager, if left to babble, I eventually link every seemingly mundane topic to some underlying stuff.

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.

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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.

Day Two, Art Self-Education

After I carved my stamps yesterday, I knew I didn’t just want to leave the “test page” look. I wanted to use those test prints as the bottom layer of a painting. I had put the corner stamp together in a pattern that looked like two little houses, and when I brushed gesso over it, the effect was Chagall-esque, and/or inspired by Katie Kendrick. In the work of both those artists there are a lot of pieces that are about people and their place, their home. There are women in kerchiefs, very Eastern European, before-the-pogrom feeling. So I jumped into the painting knowing I wanted that inspiration and to utilize my stamps somehow. Here is the progression:

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Just gesso and ideas for the painting over hand carved stamp test page. The gesso smeared the block printing ink. I just knew I wanted to integrate those stamp houses with some large face image.

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Added my standard Modigliani-ish face with Neocolor II water soluble crayons

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Added some gesso and line. Decided the face looks too much like a face I have in another painting, so I changed the face:

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Looking scary with vague undefined features. Maybe a good design for some weird group of faceless women in Buffy or something.

I didn’t really want that, so I added some line with a fine brush and india ink:

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I think the bluish cast in the first photographs has something to do with the lighting, but it did have a somewhat yucky blue cast (from smearing the block-printing ink) until these last few steps.

The painting isn’t done. I think I am going to make the upper right sky a dark blue to get a night vibe. I also want to add my repeating pattern stamp, probably in a gold paint, on that dark blue. Also want to add more village touches and get some patterned paper in there somewhere, even though I don’t want a busy piece. As of this point, I think the painting is successful as far as getting the Chagall/Kendrick influence. If I can get the stamps integrated well into these upper layers that will be great. We shall see.

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.

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

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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?

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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)?

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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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:

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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.