Tomorrow I’ll be shipping my quilt “Tango with a Technopus” to the the San Jose Quilt Museum’s 2nd International TECHstyle Art Biennial (ITAB) as part of San Jose’s larger ZERO1 festival in Silicon Valley.
The American Visionary Art Museum is an wonderful place — three buildings of fantastic architecture dedicated to self-taught artists who follow their internal compass. The gift shop filled with art books and vintage toys and gimmicks was alone worth the trip around the Baltimore harbor on a rainy day.
Talking to my mother on Mother’s Day, she mentioned that she had recently written a memoir for her college class reunion. I asked if she’d send it to me. When the email arrived, I realized I’d been given a wonderful gift — chance to know my mother better in a different time and place. She said I could publish it, because I thought others might be interested in these memories of college life in the late 50’s.
Washington University had an awesome reputation for a young, naive woman like me in 1958. We began with Freshmen Camp at Potosi and then rode buses back to stately Macmillan Hall with its paneled walls, well-worn wood floors, and creaking stairs. From the window of my third-floor room, I could see the post-WWII faculty housing across the drive. My possessions were minimal: a manual typewriter, lamp, clock, dictionary, clothes for a year, hatboxes, and head-sized hair dryer. In the hall was a phone for receiving inside calls, and pay phones were downstairs…
It’s great to get these little messages now and then to keep you going. Thanks Little Tokyo, our neighborhood Japanese restaurant, I needed this!
All week I’ve been trying to get ready for PechuKucha #6 at the Creamery Arts Center. I’d kind of planned on presenting my 20×20 images of artists’ portraits done in iPhonegraphy, but had to widen it to just iPhone portraits in general.
After hearing the phrase “Keep Your Head in the Game” at a meeting, I spent the weekend thinking about what it meant to me. I suppose it’s probably a sports term, but the phrase reminded me how I’m sure that my subconscious mind can work on creative projects, event when my body can’t.
This list isn’t really about time or project management. It’s a list of some techniques that I use to try to “keep my head in the game” — to keep my brain working, thinking, and developing ideas for creative projects or problem-solving, even during times when I can’t physically work on them. Using them, often later when I do get back to working in body and soul on that delayed project, I’m gifted some new ideas or insights that help move the project forward.
1. Walk around and look.
Even when you’re not working on a project, it helps to look at it frequently. I keep projects up on my design wall for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally walking by and looking at them from different viewpoints. This could apply whether you’re working on a painting, a graphic design, a sculpture, your garden, or part of your house you are wanting to improve.
Research shows that exercise and movement is good for the brain, and it’s hard to have new ideas when you just sit in one place or look at something from the same angle all the time.
Get up from your desk to look. Look for something that’s broken that you can fix later. Look for something ugly you can improve. Look for problems and what causes them. Look for surprises.
Or you could take a walk in your neighborhood or down a street and just look for things are that beautiful, wonderful, or noteworthy. Because sometimes something totally unrelated to your project will inspire you to add a new element to your project, something you didn’t plan or expect, but that can make the project better and uniquely yours.
2. Make notes or sketches.
While you’re walking around looking at stuff, it’s good to take notes in a notebook, in your day planner, in your moleskine, on a napkin, on your mobile phone. My notes are pretty scribbly, and sometimes they are just doodle drawings. But I can look back at a doodle drawing and instantly remember the time and place I did, who was there, and what I was thinking at the time.
Later when you need material for your blog post, action plan, or turning a sketch into a final drawing or work of art, those notes or doodle drawings are invaluable.
3. Take photos – lots of them.
Photos help record things as they are, so taking photos over time and studying them can help you to see how there have been changes in places/projects you want to effect. Photos help you to see details that you’ve forgotten, or to see things are they really are, not just how you remember them. A series of photos over time can help you see if you are improving something, or if you have made a mistake, at what stage to go back and re-direct.
I organize my photos in different ways for different projects using Flickr, Aperture, and iPhoto. Other good possibilities to collect and save photos according to projects or themes are Picassa, Pininterest, Tumbler, and Instagram.
4. Use mobile devices.
Mobile devices such as smart phones, pocket cameras, iPads and tablets are great for quickly recording ideas or notes on the go.
A main point here is to spend some time when in a relaxed environment learning to use the device, so that when you want to really want to use an app or tool, you are ready. If you wait until a high-stress situation when your project depends on it, it will be difficult to both learn how to use it and get the results you hope to achieve.
When I’m learning or considering using a new device or app, I imagine what for what situations it would be useful or fun to use — and then practice, play, experiment!
The other important point about mobile devices is to be sure you can get your information out of the device. Smart phones and iPads have lots of apps that allow you to draw or edit photos. Just make sure you can email them, sync them, or upload them to your Flickr, Tumbler, Blog, iCloud, Dropbox, or Facebook account. Or know that you can download them to your computer hard drive to study or print them out on paper.
Because many of the apps I use are drawing, art or photo-related, it’s a big part of my criteria what photo resolution or what drawing file format that app will be able to export so I can use it later on another platform.
5. Build a bridge.
This is a technique that I learned from Twyla Tharp’s most excellent book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, one of my all-time favorites. The idea is that large creative projects cannot be done in one sitting or connected time period. So when you are preparing to end a work session or work day and you will not be able to finish, don’t work until you are dog-tired and out of ideas. Stop a little before, at a point where you can see the next immediate step.
Then when you come back to the project the next day or next week, you know exactly where to pick up and getting working again. You’ve built a bridge for yourself, so that you can move into the next work session without facing a writer’s or artist’s block.
6. Keep the project open.
If you have the space, it’s very nice to be able to leave a project open and ready to work in a different room or different part of your desk. I like to do this because for me, out of sight is out of mind. I need those visual cues to keep my brain working on something. A visual cue can also be small, like leaving my sketchbook open to a page I want to remember or small sketch on a post-it.
7. The brain is the best mobile computer, use it.
Back to using mobile devices, we’ve got the best one with us all the time. The brain is the best mobile computer ever!
There are precious minutes everyday, when we’re stuck somewhere, trapped by circumstances or waiting for something. These are great times to work on creative projects in your mind or to stretch your creative mind, play with it, and experiment. Write a poem in the shower. Make up a joke during a meeting. Imagine a cartoon while you’re stuck in traffic. Imagine taking a photo at the post office. Write a one-act play in the grocery check-out line…
If you have any more tips for Keeping Your Head in the Game, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear them!
I’ve been working the last few weeks to clean up and organize my studio to make an area for framing and collage art. Actually, the work has spilled out the door of my one-room studio and into the warehouse.
Since we don’t have any windows in the warehouse, it’s fun to look at the world map instead. And I just had a thought it would be fun on the world map to mark cities that I’m hair-ified, kind of like other people mark cities they’ve traveled to, I could mark the cities that I’ve turned into world class hair monuments.
It’s been a while since I’ve shown any pictures of my studio, but believe me — it may not look like it, but this is clean and organized. I’ve cleared off the 15′ table to make room for patterns and framing, and there are several projects here on the design walls in progress — some for our office building and some for a series called ‘I Wish You Were Hair.”
For Valentine’s Day I got a new iPad — well actually I had to wait a month before the new iPad came out, but it was definitely worth the wait! The new iPad has a great camera so I’m trying a new process where I take a photo of my sketchbooks with the iPad camera and then trace the drawing in InkPad, which is an iPad app.
I’m getting better at drawing directly on the iPad using both a stylus and my finger. These angels are traces of my hand doodles, and the woman I call Louise was drawn completely on the iPad.
All these different sources of drawings I combine into a single drawing that becomes a large pattern for a new quilt. This print was the end of the roll, so we had to squeeze it onto the last bit of paper.
Russ also helped me because the imported drawings from the iPad had different line widths and color characteristics, and it was tricky stuff to get them all to look the same. Not that it really matters since this is a pattern for a new quilt, but I do like my patterns to look nice while I’m working with them. So thanks Russ!
Also, we’ve got more big paper on order, so I’ve got to get back to the drawing board…
You can learn a lot about a person by the things they collect, and the stories they tell about those objects. A collected object often has a history of how it was found, when and where.
Or was it gifted? Then there is the story of who gave it and why. Maybe it was abandoned, and if so, there is a rescue story. Sometimes objects have been altered. Sometimes there’s a mystery — Who made it? How was it made? How old is it? What is it??
For an artist like Carla who uses found objects in the creation of art, the way objects are collected, organized, and stored is a window into their soul. Especially for someone who lives in a small house, everything saved is precious because space itself is precious.
When I visited Carla on Monday, she had just hung artwork in two shows, so her studio was almost empty, clean, and ready for new projects. Everything was stored neatly on shelves behind homemade curtains — until she started pulling out her collections of inspirations, resources, and materials to show me.
“These are old photos that I found at the Treasure House pawn shop”
“Here are some antique Japanese books that Hueping gave me”
“Here’s some scrap sign vinyl from your Halloween party”
“These are globs of paint that I peel off yogurt lids that I use as paint-mixing palettes”
“These are painted papers I’m going to cut out for collage”
“How did you make them, with a dry brush?”
“Yes, and with sponges and that one on the corner of the table was done with a cabbage.”
She showed me a photo of four people in a boat. We guessed it was from the the 1920’s judging by the style of clothing and hats and wondered who took it.
A Japanese book, a thistle, paint peelings, and painted papers
“Hueping gave me this Japanese book. Look, I can carry by the string like a purse!”
Some things are too beautiful to cut up, so Carla scans them and preserves the original.
A collage of two houses that hangs in Carla’s hallway has always been one of my favorites. Curiously, it’s hanging right outside her son’s bedroom, a boy whose time is divided between his mother’s house and his dad’s house that is right next door.
When I stopped back by later that evening to see how the light had changed, Carla had already cleaned up her studio because she is getting ready to go on a trip.
Going to visit her family, Carla showed me old photos from her childhood and her mom’s Chinese family in Hawaii. Her dad has passed away and her sister is struggling, Carla is going home to help her mom move into a nursing home.
This is a photo essay that I did as part of a Mobile Phone Workshop I’m taking with Sion Fullana. All the photos were taken on my iPhone and edited with photo apps including Snapseed, Noir, Crop Suey, and touchRetouch. Thanks for letting photograph you Carla Stine!
Mysterious to me because I sometimes wonder where people go when they Go To Sleep. That’s such an odd expression if you really think about it, as if we are indeed going to another place.
Where do we go when we are asleep? It’s almost as if we are absent, missing, or traveling somewhere else inside our head to places that others can’t see or imagine.
Sleep seems like the border between life and death — the borderland between the conscious and the subconscious.
I’m always been interested in tapping in my subconscious, but it was only later in the life that I even thought to try.
One of the first things to trigger this idea for me was reading Dorthy Brande’s Becoming a Writer. She suggested starting to write immediately upon waking, and making every effort not to fully wake before getting some writing on paper directly from the uninhibited subconscious. Although most everything in the book is completely relevant today, it was written in 1934, so I can’t remember how she said to deal with bright lights from a computer monitor 🙂
Actually when I wake in the middle of the night, I try to turn down the brightness of my iPhone or computer monitor. Later, I started to apply this to drawing and would draw by nightlight or candlelight so as not to wake up too fully before I sketched out a few ideas on paper. I know another artist who keeps a sketch pad by the bed, and upon waking, draws in it before he ever opens his eyes.
I read Becoming a Writer as part of a class called “Image and Text” that a good friend and talented writer, Jo Van Arkel taught years ago. It combined two loves of my life, writing and visual arts, and has continued to influence my work to this day.
Recently I came across a blog post on Meg Worden’s blog about a online class called “Lens on the Human Condition” with Bindu Wiles that would combine iPhonography, iPhone apps, portraiture and creative writing, so I signed up.
During an online discussion someone mentioned the most revealing self-portrait are naked, but I was taking photos and falling a sleep one night, and the next day looked at the photos and thought how even naked, we still have poses, affections, and inhibitions. When we are asleep, we are maybe in our most natural, uninhibited state. That’s what got me wondering where we go when we are sleeping and really, what we are.
So I wrote a poem about sleep. Then the difficult task was to develop an image to express the same idea.
a wrinkled cheek,
a leg twitch, a cocoon wrapped in bed cloth
waiting to be reborn
or heaven bound.
Closed in the dark, alone
we are ourselves.
The photo was taken with an iPhone camera, converted to black and white in Snapseed, and tinted with color in Pixlr-o-mantic. You can see some of my other mobile phone experiments on Flickr where I’ve been spending a lot of time lately.
2012 being the year of the Dragon, our Japanese friends Kazuko and Takehiko sent us a beautiful new year’s card and calendar. I love this guy because he’s friendly, comical, happy, fierce, and a little goofy all wrapped into one swirly mist. I’m sure K+T had fun picking him out, and they did a great job.
I’m wondering what the dragon is holding. Seems I faintly remember some folk tale about a pearl. Or maybe it’s the moon? I’ll email Japan to ask, but if you know the story let me know.
After a quick assessment of the dragon’s personality, I was totally shocked when I turned the calendar over. It’s all custom woven textile art, even the numbers. The back is another completely different work of art – a different mood, subject, creating a whole different thought process.
I often turn my own work over and study the back, intrigued at how different the two sides can be.
There’s a lot to relish about mail from another country. Here’s the beautiful postmark from Isesaki, Japan.