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:


You can take this workshop here:

This is the reference photo I used with her techniques:


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.







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).


Here are some macro shots:



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.



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.


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:


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:


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.


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


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


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:



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.


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


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?


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)?


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:


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:


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:



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



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:



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.

Another Month Offline for Book Work

I am starting to get some glimpses of non-chaos in my thinking about my book. I know that the most important thing is that I am qualified to write this book so I have credibility as an author. I think I have credibility to do the memoir, but not yet for the art side of it. So I am going to spend at least a month doing exercise after exercise in my art books. I ordered 12 sheets of Fabriano Artistico 140lb hot press paper, so I can make 12 of Teesha Moore’s amazing 16 page journal, and I want to fill every page of those journals with my experimentation. If I basically do a binge of filling journals with everything from hand carved rubber stamp alphabets to color mixing charts to comics, I’d have a record of what I do well and what needs work if I want to include anything like it in my book. I’m not talking about going through every art book I have and doing every lesson or project in them, but rather taking the stuff that already interests me and putting it together in some kind of scientific-study-verifiable-kind-of-way. I would definitely have to make all the journals at once and just start at page one and end at page, well, what’s 12×16? That’s kind of a generous number though because there are fold-out half pages in the journals.


So, when the paper comes I am going pretty much offline until I am finished with this project. I just bought a new digital camera that has very true color, so I will practice taking photos of the work (which is itself one of my weaknesses) and post it here, but that will be it as far as unnecessary internet use. I recall with great fondness my month offline last September.

Some Rambling About The Same Old Stuff

I am feeling some benefit from my maxi-minimalizing adventure and my hiatus from self-improvement. Even with getting rid of almost all stuff we don’t use, the place still gets pretty messy during the course of a day. But the process of cleaning up (even though it can look so daunting to my already chaotic mind) is much simpler and might take 25 minutes for the whole house, including vacuuming and sometimes excluding the kitchen (depending on what’s happening in there at the time). I think now I could actually follow a focused day kind of routine like recommended in Bootcamp for Lousy Housekeepers, which is the only housekeeping/homemaking book that made my cut during The Great Purge of ’15.  When there was worthless stuff in all my rooms (and I’m not talking about stuff that would be considered crappy in general, it’s just superfluous for me and our lives), any focus I put on housekeeping seemed to go towards maintaining and/or organizing the excess so it didn’t put out its tentacles and take over.

Now, post-minimalizing, if I go into a room that’s messy, what I see might be toys and dirty clothes on the floor (which does look super overwhelming at first glance and can really make my heart sink if I’m having a discouraged and/or bad-attitude kind of day)… but really, they just need to be picked up and put in their proper toy homes and the washer or at least laundry area. 10 minutes tops.  I am doing surprisingly well having no or low expectations of the outward impressiveness (or lack thereof) of my life. If I feel like painting, I paint. If I feel like cooking, I cook. If I feel like scrubbing the kitchen sink (which I occasionally do) it gets scrubbed. If I don’t feel like doing much at all I will just putter around all day, getting into this and that.

I finally started writing the mixed-media/memoir book that’s been percolating on my inner stovetop for a few years. I’m not sure if I know enough to write the kind of book I’m envisioning. Not sure if I have enough actual content for actual book length, which looks to be in the 125 -150 page range for this type of book. But making the book is the only thing that’s going to answer those questions. Either I’ll finish it and say, wow, this is pathetic I need more OR (I hope) wow, I can’t believe I had enough stuff to fill a book! I am gonna give myself a deadline and say it will be done by the end of September. I want to positively utilize those long months when we are hermetically sealed into the house. I have been trying to remember that I want to Make Positive Effort For The Good, which can often be a tiny thing.  I bet if I worked steadily for just an hour a day on:

1) book research – doing artwork and doing hands-on planning of the projects and/or

2) actual writing of memoir text portions that will probably lead into the projects

…that I could be way done with the book by the last day of September.

I have chosen my closest personal artist friend to read every section and give me feedback. I am keeping a little journal close by so I can jot down any thoughts about possible content. My oldest daughter is pretty much living in my art studio room temporarily while she does some redecorating in her own room, so if I am going to work with paint and stuff I am going to have to use my 8 feet of living room table for the time being. I’m going to go through my own art journals and see what “techniques” I already use naturally, and probably work my way through my few absolute favorite art books and try some new things to incorporate into my repertoire. I also need to look through my own zines and the book The Zine Scene, because one project will be an actual old-fashioned handmade zine.

The demo zine in the book will be called something like going zen, and one feature I want to have is a list of what I did in a day, rather than things I want to do in the future. So, today I did the day one work of making danish pastries (it’s a two-day affair), I washed sheets, sat outside with my younger kids and worked on this entry, I made nummy baked chicken with a spice rub, buttery white rice and salad. I washed quite a few dishes, vacuumed and enjoyed watching my little one playing with the Daniel Tiger figures I ordered her as a surprise. If I didn’t write all that down, I would think I did the proverbial Nothing. Hopefully I can finalize the list by saying I watched the Americans, but that won’t happen for an hour (God willing).

The End.



In Which I Write a Book

The writing of a book has always loomed large on my personal horizon. I finally got tired of seeing it there (looming all ominous like) and so last week I started writing the thing to avoid its terrifying gaze.

Even though I love planning as an “activity” or maybe even a “hobby”, it’s really only something I do when I’m looking at the proverbial Big Picture. Once I know I want to do something, the only way I ever actually get it done is if I just jump in and start. If I overthink  how/when/where I will do it or exactly what I want it to be like, I will get sucked into the Misty Land of Well-Laid Plans and never seen again.

Since I am an inveterate self-publisher, what starting means is creating a book format file in Publisher and simultaneously writing and designing the whole book. Since quite a bit of it is art instructional, that includes detailed photographs of me doing various art things (my hands look like lizard hands, though, so for vanity’s sake I won’t take any photos until I use a good lotion for a few days). So as not to get too intimidated, I am just thinking of it as a really long zine in color, plus with only my own stuff for illustrations. I have A LOT of art instructional books to look at for help in designing that kind of book. I usually work in black and white, so I’m not confident with designing in color. But without the margins, I am going to try to use bleeds (where photos go off the edges of the page). When it’s all done I will have it made into an online flip book and I will use that to see if any actual publisher wants to publish it. That would be my ideal, but I will self publish it some way if no one has any interest in it (NOT as an ebook). I’m not assuming any publisher would want it as-is, including my oh so perfect design and everything – but creating it from start to finish, seeing what works and changing what doesn’t, letting it come to be organically –  is what I have to do in order to complete a big project like this.

I am dealing with serious Impostor Syndrome as I work on it. But really, while I know I’m not the world’s greatest artist at this point, I believe I can be called an expert on Creative Chronicling and Everyday Memoir (the tentative book title):

bookblog2I think the uniqueness of this book would come from that angle. The market is pretty much glutted with mixed-media art books right now, so what I want the ultimate theme for the book to be is not artsy projects or “techniques” (which will be there) but rather leaving a creative paper trail of your own inner and outer life and also connecting with other people through art and writing in a non-virtual format. This book will bring together all I have created naturally and developed mostly on my own over the past two decades, with what I have learned through books/courses etc. Tentative contents, though likely to expand, change and/or morph:


I go back and forth, wondering if I should give myself a deadline to finish it. Having a deadline usually helps me, but only if the deadline is super close. If I give myself six months, I’d probably only work halfheartedly for five months and then cram to get it done. I think I just want this to be a project I work on steadily (which means in between all the family-and-household-stuff which takes up most of my time).

One last peek into the prototype so far (before I get started on the aforemetioned stuff that takes up most of my time) the first two-page spread of the introduction, which I assume will be pretty long:


Thoughts On Recent Podcasts

I’ve taken up walking again. One would think riding the hamster wheel of productivity would have given me enough exercise, but it really didn’t. It just made me tired but didn’t burn one damn calorie or build up my flattish butt even a little bit. So midafternoon, I have been parking the kids in front of their various screens, putting on the unobtrusive-under-the-hair headphones and listening to podcasts while walking for 45 minutes. Since I finished Tullian’s Romans series, I have moved on to the Mockingpulpit and The White Horse Inn. I’ve heard David Zahl do his magic, taking varied secular sources like The Onion, The New York Times and Brene Brown, and weaving it all into the story of our human condition and God’s amazing grace. My favorite quote from his talk on forgiveness (Matthew 18) “The only thing better than being right is feeling wronged” (the sad truth of which I experienced this morning in an incident which will remain shrouded in mystery.)

I have also heard Michael Horton interview Mark Galli, Douglas Rushkoff and Os Guinness on The White Horse Inn.

I’ve had the good providence to hang out with Mark Galli a few times, so it was fun to be able to picture him as he talked with Michael Horton about two of his recent books, Chaos and Grace and God Wins. As the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today magazine, he knows A LOT about what is happening in all the streams of Christianity, and is funny and compassionate. I’ve never read Love Wins, but I have been tempted to watch an episode of The Rob Bell Show on the Oprah Network.

The interview with Douglas Rushkoff reminded me how much I love sociology-based non-fiction. His book Present Shock is right up my alley (and I am smugly pleased to remember that I read Future Shock in the 9th grade, when my brain was way more well-functioning than it is now) . The premise of the book is how many people now see life as existing in the present moment, rather than seeing the present as one part of the past/present/future triad. I wonder how this relates to postmodernism (which I don’t understand all that well, but which distrusts unifying theories or metanarratives) and/or emergence theories (which I understand even less than postmodernism).

He makes a simple reference to how a digital clock differs from a traditional clock. In a traditional clock, you see the time in context with the whole of the day and even see it progressing with the second hand. But in a digital clock, it is simply 2:37. There is also the issue of constant streams of information, the “latest” news, the most recent tweet by your favorite Bird. What does this do to our mental state? Does it contribute to anxiety because now is when everything happens? Does contentment fly away when we are always looking for the next big thing? (Those may actually be my own questions). He mentions how this focus on the now is very different than the zen or tao idea of being present in the moment. “Presentism” (as Mr. Rushkoff calls his theory) seems to be about how much you can do or consume in a given moment, while the zen idea of the now is how much you can pay attention to what is happening in and directly around you in a given moment.

While I don’t know if Mr. Rushkoff is a Christian or even religious at all, he made the interesting response to a question from Michael Horton – that this is a What Would Jesus Do period, rather than a period where we look at the whole narrative of Christ. That’s not to say that we don’t make choices in the moment or live existentially in Christ, but that the focus becomes what we are doing right now for God, that it’s somehow all riding on what I do in the present, rather than what Christ did in His Grand Narrative. I’m sure he didn’t mean it in the same way, but that is similar to the idea I’m seeing in a lot of recent reading and listening – that when the focus of the Christian life becomes the life of the Christian (meaning my life and your life) the gospel is shrouded both for ourselves and even for unbelievers. It is shrouded for ourselves because we are myopically focusing on ourselves, gazing at our spiritual navel (is it an innie or an outie? does it need a good cleaning?) It is shrouded for unbelievers because the gospel is about grace for total losers, and when we try to hide the fact that we ourselves are total losers, we perpetuate the myth that God Likes Christians Because They Are So Squeaky Clean. And that leads to unbelievers either:

1) seeing through us and rightly calling us hypocrites or

2) feeling that their own non-squeaky-cleaned-ness means God could never forgive THEM

As for Os Guinness, I had heard of him but didn’t know what he wrote about or that he was a Christian or that he had one of those incredibly soothing British voices. He was being interviewed about his book Rennaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Hard The Times. It sounds like he probably shares with Michael Horton the belief that Christians get too easily wrapped up in a culture war mentality. I was so soothed by his voice that I may have been lulled out of consciousness a bit, because although the book sounded interesting, I can’t remember much from the interview. I did remember that I had on my very own shelves a copy of his book The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever, so I pulled it down so I can attempt to read it if my brain complies.

Listening to all this good stuff has reminded me of my pseudo-intellectual past and roused my alter-ego who is a bohemian and regularly hosts late-night gatherings of intellectuals, philosophers, poets and artists at her loft.

I am thinking of ordering every book by an author I hear interviewed on one of the walking podcasts. Although I don’t want to get re-entangled in intellectual productivity and/or identity enhancers, I know that I need to slowly rebuild my brain cells, and the books all seem accessible for a low-brain cell person like myself. I also would like to challenge myself to read more of the articles linked at Mockingbird and maybe read the Brain Pickings Offerings more closely (without making that a new law). One of the wrong assumptions people have always made about me is that I am well-read. I am, in fact, not well-read and even when my brain cell count was much higher, I was never a great thinker even though, yes, I did read a lot of books compared to, well, a non-reader. I was also opinionated and somewhat articulate (especially in writing) so I could pull the wool over people’s eyes pretty easily about my intellectual prowess. Maybe the fact that I’m not spending so much time and energy wool-pulling will eventually translate into energy spent really learning (and that goes for the creativity stuff as well).