Follow by Email

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to Survive Winter



OK, so listen.
I know you're tired of the snow. We're all tired of the snow. It's been snowing since Halloween, right?
But you must get a grip, because my calendar says Jan. 30, and this means that we have more snow on the way.

So put your boots on. The coat that makes you look like a beach ball. The hat that everyone laughs at. Your gloves, if you can find them. (Did you lose your gloves again? Honest to goodness ...)

Now go for a walk. Yes, I know, the sidewalks aren't clear. Go someplace, then, where the sidewalks are clear, and take a little walk. Not five minutes, but maybe 10. Twenty if you're feeling ambitious. Look up in the trees. Notice the architecture, the bare branches. Count how many little bird nests you see. Isn't it cute when you see them topped with snow, like little cupcakes in the trees?

Walk around until, as one friend says, your thighs freeze. If your thighs are anything like mine, this will not be an instantaneous process. Walk around till your little rabbit brain -- the one making lists of all the things you have to do -- shuts up for a while. Walk around till you stop mentally arguing with that obnoxious person in your life. Just notice the snow. All that snow.

Perhaps a thought will cross your mind, as you're beginning to see a kind of frigid beauty in it all. You'll remember how, on one of the warmest days last summer, when the sun was peeling the paint off your car, you had the thought, "The seeming permanence of this is all an illusion, because winter is waiting in the wings. It's there, taking one step onto this stage every day, and soon enough I'll be wishing I were this warm."

So it is today. It's Jan. 30. We have two more months -- TWO MONTHS! -- of winter left, for god's sake!

And yet there, in the wings, you see the toe of spring taking its first steps on stage.

Now you may go inside, my friend, and make yourself some soup.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Is It Like?



True story: For years, I had this recurring dream that I went back to college. Note that this is not The Test Dream, which I've also had. This was a recurring dream about yearning to go back to college so I could learn again, in that schooled way. In my dream, I literally was going AWAY to college, and there was always this question of what to do with the kids, who were unlikely to be able to live in a dorm room with me.

Anyway, as you know, I eventually stopped dreaming and went to college, though from the comfort of my own home. (Family problem: Solved!)

So what is it like, you might wonder, to go re-do in the middle of life what you once did, only with a middle-aged body?

Well, sometimes it feels like covering miles over a marathon race course. I try to squirrel away energy for times I will need it. I try to think only in terms of the next few days, and block in time to get things done for the week. There is a chaos to school life, an overtaking nature that I either forgot about or that never affected me the first time around. School work encroaches at odd hours. Not in unpleasant ways, but just in unpredictable ways.

Anyway, here's a little drawing that should be something I did in my sketchbook, except that my sketchbook, per se, has been weirdly neglected lately as other drawing and projects have overcome things. In the bowl is beef stew that I made specifically so I could draw it. And I did not drink the wine. I left that to Carlo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

From Blank to Something



Above is a sketch that was ultimately rejected for a project I'm doing for a client. I liked it well enough to post here, though, and it provides a good segue into a brief talk about brainstorming.

The creative process, as I experience it, can be a lurching thing. You have goal, or perhaps an assignment. You have a blank piece of paper -- either literally or metaphorically. You want something winning to end up on that piece of paper, whether it's a splendid poem, an alluring short story, a portrait, an illustration or a design for a page or a product.

How do you get from here to there? Are there steps or activities that you regularly use to ease the passage?

Sometimes I read blogs where the creative person cops to having an abundance of ideas -- too many, actually. (See the wonderful work of Alisa Burke on my blog roll.) For most of us, though, it might be a matter of generating a lot of ideas with the hope that one or two are worth fine-tuning.

But I have to say that for me, this is both the most challenging (and therefore exciting) and frightening part of the process because the trip from Blank to Something can be like a brisk 15-minute walk or like a sun-drenched drive across the country in a 1987 Buick with a bad radiator. The unpredictability of it all is just so unsettling.

Here, though, are a few things I do when I have an assignment.

1) Scan my bookshelves and the internet for imagery of all kinds. The point is not to see what others have done like this, necessarily, but just to set fire to the visual imagination. One of my favorite short-stories got written after I was captivated while watching a guy who worked behind a counter at the local deli. The medium there was fiction, but the inspiration was visual.

2)Make lists. My brain thinks faster in words than in images sometimes, and it seems that whipping through ideas -- half-baked and otherwise -- at a brisk pace is better for the process than torturously examining what my gray matter produces at its regular clip.

3. Ask for help. I can't tell you how many times people I know, especially my kids, have offered some little tweakishness to something I'm working on that makes the whole concept snap into place. But even when that doesn't happen, getting feedback can deliver insight into how other minds look at an issue, which is likely different from how you look at it. The idea, after all, is to produce something that isn't the first cliche to come to mind.

4. Ask questions. One of the best questions, in terms of making decent art a little better is, "How could this be better/funnier/bolder/more dramatic?" When I'm working on idea-generation, starting ANYWHERE and asking, "How could I pump this up?" will probably move me along the rope.

All right, so those are some ideas on ideation from me. But as I've indicated, I'm still a struggler with this process. So how do YOU get the wheels turning? I'd love to hear!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It Seems I Just Got Done ...




It seems I just got done heating up some chicken nuggets when I turned around, and there she was -- walking across a college campus.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011



Sometimes, in the middle of the night, you just have to draw a vulture.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!



What did you do last year? Did you try something new, go someplace special, create like you've never created before?
Me too. Not to brag, but I did almost everything on last year's list of intentions, except for becoming rich and famous. That was just a shot in the dark anyway.

This year's list is similarly general, mostly because I don't have the will to be more specific right now, due to my weeklong illness. What I really wanted as No. 1 was FEEL GREAT ALL YEAR BEGINNING TODAY. Sigh. That would be nice.