How was your September? Did your kids start school, or did you start teaching again? Did you start up college and quit hitting the beach so often? Are you at the same desk job but starting to feel your surroundings in transition – that chill and those first leaves beginning to fall and crunch under your car tires? September is always a month of transitions. For me, this month opened my creative floodgates in a big way. As an artist, sometimes you’re stuck, and sometimes you’re wide open, and I’m in a good spot right now. Here’s why.
First of all, my kids did start school, and I did start teaching again. Felix contracted LYME disease in July and spent August recovering, and that is a crazy beast of a disease, I’ll tell you what. He was feverish, cranky, and bored all summer. Bored, and yet, he had no energy to go anywhere. I’m not going to lie, this was very frustrating and trying as his mother. Everybody just had to hunker down and wait that stupid disease out. I really do feel that it stole my son’s summer.
But then he got better, and then he got happy, and his smile came out from behind the clouds. School started, and I brought that tall first-grader to school, and his sister started preschool at a gymnastics academy.
This gave me some free time back, and in turn, I felt more relaxed. I also started back at my job, teaching art to young adults with autism and other learning differences, which is just the most rad job ever. I added a “Craft-o-Rama” class this year for craftsy folk, and Art Block is getting more intense because we’re showing the students’ artwork at the University of Minnesota Institute for Community Integration in December! This is hugely awesome and I’m super proud of my students. I’m spending this semester building up our cumulative “portfolio” to add more pieces to the show, and then I’ll be framing like a madwoman to get it all done. It’s highly fulfilling and rewarding work.
I also just finished up a quick, three-week MCAD class – This time “Watercolor Painting for Illustrators.” What! I’d wanted a continuing ed class like this for years. The class was taught by Melodee Strong, and after looking at her website, her artwork was strangely familiar. I realized after a few classes that she’d illustrated two of our favorite board books – “I am Brave” and “I am Friendly.”
I’d always respected this illustrator because her colors are so vibrant, and the kids in her book represent a wide variety of race and ethnicity and are extremely expressive. It’s always shocking to learn that the illustrators and writers of your favorite books are, like, alive in the universe and teaching and talking and stuff. And in places like Minnesota. Right on! So I gathered a lot of wonderful tips from that class, but mainly I learned that I’m doing it right, even though I’m self taught. Seems I’ve gathered enough tips and tricks from various illustrators, books, and websites to be somewhat competent, and that felt good. The class was brief but we completed an editorial assignment for a farmer’s market article:
And after painting the editorial, I realized I kinda knew what I was doing, so I threw out all my junky brushes and my “student grade” paint and got real. I basically upgraded my studio to “BIG GIRL” status and got a ceramic palette, professional brushes, and lots of other fun stuff. Basically, I should buy stock in Blick at this point. Alex thinks I might be addicted to art supplies and he’s not wrong. All of these things — Having more free time, creating my teaching curriculum and working with new students, and indulging in new studio supplies and classes, have breathed new creative life into me.
Secondly, I found out about LYNDA BARRY. Have you heard of this woman?
She wrote this book called “Syllabus,” where she chronicles her experiences and lesson plans as an “accidental professor” of art.
She’s incredible. She’s got me drawing again! Every single day. And I can’t tell you how often I’ve bought sketchbooks of varying sizes, shapes, and quality with the noble intent of sketching every day. Then I fail and I feel bad about myself, and my sketchbooks all remain 1/3 full of uninspired, tight figure studies. Everybody tells you that you’ll only become a better artist by drawing EVERY DAY. But it’s Lynda Barry and her composition notebooks that have actually got me doing it, and feeling free and fearless. I think with these pristine white sketchbook pages, we’re all afraid we’re going to eff it up before we even begin. You have to put something pretty on that pretty sketchbook. But a lined composition notebook is like $0.98 and I just don’t care. Win!
She also has her students keep daily journals where you detail seven things you did, seven things you saw, a couple things you overheard, and then you pick something from the “did” column and sketch it out.
It’s a fascinating and eye-opening process, because you know you have to “report back” at the end of the day, and therefore, you become more observant and open to receiving the universe’s messages throughout your day. Does that sound wonky? Don’t make fun of me. It works. I’m more present and I feel like a spy that’s been dropped on an alien planet to collect samples and observations and report back. She also has another book called “One! Hundred! Demons!” which is kinda like a graphic novel in which she illustrated the “demons” of her life. Just brilliant. I’m loving this woman.
Besides the MCAD class and my obsession with Lydna Barry, I’m still working on the Tooth Fairy book and have completed painting on two additional spreads! Painting a children’s book is very slow going, so you gotta be patient with me. I’m spending every spare evening painting, but it still feels slow going. It’s hard to find the time. But at least I have the energy and the creative flow running through me. In October, I have the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, and if last year was any indication, it’ll be GOOD to walk into the conference feeling confident and energized, because the conference tends to hit you hard in your weak spots. It’s not a bad thing, because it helps you to grow as an artist. But I’m thankful for this time, and I’m going to soak it up!