Posts Tagged 'Creativity'

Observations on Watercolor

I’ve got artist’s block. Maybe it’s because my muse is away, or maybe it’s because my budget leans more towards loan payments than new Daniel Smith paints, but either way — watercolor painting is not coming easy to me these days.

On the other hand, it may not be a mental thing at all; I might just be clashing with a new paper. For the past few years I’ve used Arches blocks, and before that I mostly stuck with various Strathmore papers or Canson student-grade paper. But recently I’ve been working on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb cold press paper, and perhaps I haven’t adjusted to the new texture.

…either that or I’ve spontaneously lost all my skill and/or talent.

In order to resolve any doubts about my adequacy as an artist, I decided to go back to the basics. For me, that means getting watercolor-tunnel-vision, which I’ve maintained for over a week now (it’s beginning to give me a headache).

Speaking of which: Has anybody actually read all the way through’s watercolor section? Like, thoroughly? Watercolor artists know the website as one of the most thorough resources (web OR print) for everything everything watercolor; from color theory to brand comparisons of brushes and paper, the experience is like reading a friggin’ textbook, complete with lightwave diagrams and the molecular structures of pigments.

Anyways, expect a lot of geeky paint posts coming up, including (hopefully!) a paper comparison review.


Two Gifts, and Two Artistic Tensions

Two gifts coincide in a way that makes me start asking questions: a pile of magazines, and a graphics tablet.

My uncle, a retired graphic designer, sent me some old issues of Communication Arts from 1998, 2000, 2003. They’re beautiful publications, and definitely encouraging to see so many beautiful pieces of art coming from so many professional fields. But my heart ached when I read some of the captions: “commissioned to combine twentieth-century art references with [Software Company X] tradeshow elements that would result in attracting attention while communicating [Software Company X’s] message.”

Artistic Tension #1

From the artist’s point of view, it’s an intellectual and aesthetic challenge. Why not take Rene Magritte’s Son of Man and cleverly replace the apple with a speakerphone/dustcap, and then have speakers falling from the sky… and yes, I do believe artists deserve a professional challenge, and this one was successful, and yes I believe that artists should be able to make a living. But from Software Company X’s perspective, they’re not trying to make an artistic statement. They’re not even trying to make art– they’re creating pure corporate self-promotion. And in this case, it’s not just a matter of different perspectives– because the software company is the one who serves this piece to the public, repackaged as a piece of advertising. The meaning of the painting is altered: it is not artistic or intellectual,  but monetary and self-serving (to the company, not the artist). As Lewis Hyde would say, it exists as a good, not a gift.

But not all the captions are like that. My favorites are from book illustrations, or posters for plays. Even if the theater poster is self-promoting just like the software company’s advertisement, the difference is that its promotion is meaningful beyond the immediate stage production. It supports and sustains the arts, and helps preserve public awareness and support for the arts– which, by nature, require public support in order to survive. Whereas software technology becomes a matter of “necessity” –people will buy it because it’s necessary to exist in the modern world. Art is not “necessary” in that same way, and that’s what makes it both fragile and of utmost importance.

Artistic Tension #2

These were published only eight or ten years ago, and almost every single piece is created with traditional media. Ahhhhhh!

This is where the stack of magazines makes me stare at my new Wacom bamboo tablet in a fit of artistic angst. It’s mindblowing that traditional media was so recently the absolute norm for artists and graphic designers. Caption after caption, works that I could swear were digital were actually created by hand: ink and watercolor. acrylic on canvas. pastel on paper. acrylic on cardboard. oil on gesso. These artists must have had such an emotional connection to the thousands of years of artists before them. They were completing the same essential act as Michelangelo, for pete’s sake: using their hands and tools to lay line and color down on a blank canvas.

I think my Bamboo tablet is pretty damn cool. I’m primarily using it to illustrate a graphic novella that I’m collaborating with a friend on. But even after just a week of playing with it, it’s so easy to get sucked in. There are a thousand graphics applications to buy or download, and it’s always becoming simpler to re-create a piece that looks hand-made. It’s scary. And I refuse to lose perspective– or to stop having ink- and charcoal-stained hands.

Corners, Nooks, and Spaces (part 2)

me at the office, 2005

I like a clean space for creativity. Because creativity can get, umm, messy.

I’ve written about this before. I don’t have a type A personality, really; it’s more that I appreciate the aesthetics of a good space. Sometimes messy spaces can have great creative vibes (case in point: this beautiful studio from hens teeth on Flickr), but sometimes they can totally impede creativity. Example:  “I have a thought (/image) which needs writing down(!) …and, shit, wait, where is my pencil? Commence scrambling through: the piles of papers/the abyss of an art supply drawer/the bedsheets.

My Father-The-Architect has a fantastic office; I remember going there after school as a kid. He’d give me a set of Prismacolors and let me render an elevation drawing for the afternoon. Beautiful.

I’ve worked on and off with his office since high school, but it’s still one of my favorite spaces for working on my own creative projects.

History of the Orchard


At times the world seems to demand a moment of reflection: to bring your feet together and stand still, to breathe deeply the newly-crisp air.

In Virginia I was only just beginning to feel it: the peak of Harvest time, full of watermelons. But the academic calendar forced me to jump start a new season, driving north and skipping a few weeks forward into cooler weather.

So I thought (in my moment of reflection) that it would be a good time to revisit The Orchard. You know, that mental place where ripe ideas hang low on the branches, the namesake of this humble blog.

Ironically, I was sorting through poems entitled “The Orchard” when I came across a poem by Kathleen Norris, whose book of nonfiction sits just to my left, dog-eared halfway through. Her book Dakota got me through last Spring Break the same way that In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens saved me a few years ago. The poem is titled “The Monastery Orchard in Early Spring,” and ends:

Encounter with fruit is dangerous:

the pear’s womanly shape forever mocked him.

A man and a woman are talking.

Rain moves down and

branches lift up

to learn again

how to hold their fill of green

and blossom, and bear each fruit to glory,

letting it fall.

*   *   *

In one sense, the orchard resembles the garden in parallel world mythologies and fairy tales. It is enclosed; it is forbidden; it is the realm of the gods. More than the garden, though, the orchard is immortal; it is old (these are trees, after all, not daffodils).

Poor Persephone, who ate the pomegranate seeds from Hades’ orchard and was thus tied forever to the world of the dead. The Monkey King, on the other hand, stuffed himself with the Peaches of Immortality, setting off a long chain of events which ends with his elevation to Buddhahood. But Pomona, the wood nymph, tried to enclose herself in her orchard in order to keep suitors away, and was eventually forced to marry Vertumnus. Daphne too, being chased by Apollo, turned into a tree. Coincidence?

It’s a complicated place, the orchard: women running every which way, trying to find safety in trees, or running away from them. Some do find safety; others are victim to Trickster’s invasion (The Monkey King is China’s Trickster figure; Vertumnus disguises himself as an old woman to seduce Pomona, the Norse Trickster god Loki allows for the theft of the goddess Idun’s orchard, which contained the apples of immortality).

It’s a place where women, having always been the target of theft alongside the other ‘forbidden fruits,’ are beginning to climb trees.

And some are wandering into the woods, which are equally immortal but a bit more crooked than the orchard’s rows. Women are re-learning how to graft trees, which is the method for repairing fruit trees, and for making hardier breeds. Beautiful beautiful, to be grafting new trees from history.

Others are writing in the shade, resulting in something like Alice Walker’s Celie, who says, “my first step from the old white man was trees.”

Sisterpoet & The Act of Creativity


My little sister and I write poems together, one word at a time. Her word choices, silly and brilliant, free me up in my own poetry. I am reminded of the fun in writing: “baking poisonous toadstools into ovens..”. Sometimes we compose the most inspired phrases, and I make sure to remember them for the future: “doughy birdcalls” and “rise into the loaf of a moment.”

In the modern world, few people know how to collaborate creatively. Plagiarism rules and intellectual property laws discourage us from working with other creative minds; the creative act becomes solitary, secretive, and high-pressure. 

No fun at all.

New Journal

Opened a new journal today, an intended sketchbook that I had to gnaw on with my thoughts instead because of the smooth smooth paper– sturdy, no-bleed, with gloriously tactile laid lines. I use my Lamy Safari to write even if it is cliche, because it’s the only fountain pen I can afford right now. 

I keep hoping someone will take pity on me and mail me some delicious art or writing supplies, for me to caress and abuse in the name of the creative spirit. But really, all artists should be poor because it breeds resourcefulness– digging through the recycling bin for paper to bind together into a new sketchbook, squeezing out every last drop of Mod Podge and then using the jar to hold your brushes…

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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