American Visionary Art Museum


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.

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For those who have been wondering if I fell off the end of the earth, unfortunately for many weeks I was teleported to another dimension called Really Hard Work. Not just the brain-drain kind of hard work, but also the kind that completely wears you out by the end of the day.

I was able to sustain my energy by ingesting vast amounts of red licorice, coffee and diet coke. But at the end of each day, I didn’t feel like writing blogs or making art — all I wanted to do was come home and fall asleep playing Plants versus Zombies on the sofa. And since I sort of lost my sense of humor for a while, it’s probably better I didn’t write much.

Now that I’m getting back into the blogging mood, here are more pages from my sketchbook. While in Japan, we visited a high school, and I got a chance to draw the girls in music class. The school has a blue uniform that sort of looks like gym suits and looks very comfortable. I wouldn’t mind wearing a uniform — It would save having to decide what to wear every morning!

540 Stone Monks

Here’s some pages from my Japan sketchbook. At the Kitain Temple in Kawagoe, there is a small plot of land with rows and rows of Buddhist monks, carved from stone between 1782 and 1825. A note on the guide sheet said no two are alike. It’s not just that the statues are all different – it’s that each one has such distinctive personality, each one was doing something different or expressing a different emotion.

Some were laughing, some crying, some sleeping, fishing, praying, planting…. They were difficult to photograph because the area was dark and shady, the statues broken and covered in moss. So I started drawing. I wish I could have stayed longer and drawn more, but it have would taken a long time to draw 540.

If you can’t read the writing, it is a legend I copied from the guide paper that they hand out at the information desk. Our Japanese friend Kazuko said the legend wasn’t in the Japanese version of the guidebook.  So I don’t know where the legend came from, but I still like it.

“It is said, if you feel among the statues in the dead of night, you will find one that feels warm. Mark it and return in the day, and you will find it is the one most resembling yourself.”

I haven’t posted many photos of Japan, since I’ve given all those to Russ to organize with the thousand he took. But I’ve been studying the stone monks because they have become part of project I’m drawing, except instead of stone plants and baskets, my monks are holding cell phone and kindles. These photos aren’t very good (Russ has much better ones) but they give you an idea of the place.

Here’s another drawing from the museum of the Third Shogun which was near the stone monks. You couldn’t take photos in there at all, but I wanted to draw these things after I found out what they are.
Farm tools?

Torture devices?
They were used when chasing people to catch onto their kimonos so they couldn’t run away.

Stop Making Sense

Thank you David Byrne for reminding me of this. I don’t know if it’s too many committee meetings or the bah-humbugs, but lately I’d been feeling sort of sour on art. Then Friday we watched the 25th anniversary re-release of Stop Making Sense — a theatrical performance and concert movie conceived by Byrne and produced by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia).

I’ve been watching snipets and songs from the dvd every day since then, especially when I work out in the morning and feel so energized about making art again. In his self-interview in the extras section, Byrne asks himself why he named the movie Stop Making Sense to which he answered, “because making music and performing don’t make sense,” and later about the meaning of the big suit — because I wanted my head to look small and my body big, because the body feels it before the head.


A drawing and discussion of the Big Suit are featured in a great journaling book Drawing From Life: The Journal As Art. There are photos of Byrne’s notebook as he traveled in Japan and was inspired by the flat and larger-than-life Kabuki costumes on the Japanese stage. Besides a simple sketch of the big suit, there are bits of conversation and brief impressions recorded that later would become part of lyrics for songs.

I think what I like about the movie is what Roger Ebert said is “the overwhelming impression throughout Stop Making Sense is of enormous energy, of life being lived at a joyous high…(Byrne) jogs in place with his sidemen; he runs around the stage; he seems so happy to be alive and making music…”

That, and the performace art type visuals on the theatrical stage behind, the big screen images of books, body parts, cryptic words, the fluorescent light bulb nod to artist Dan Flavin… did you know that David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth – founders of the Talking Heads – were alumni of the Rhode Island School of Design?

The idea that Art doesn’t Make Sense works for me. I think it can have meaning, but does it really make sense? Seems when I try to make it make sense — make it too logical and explainable — I kill it. The spirit of the thing anyway. I have to leave some part or elements in a project mysterious and nonsensical, then it seems to have a spirit of it’s own, and I seem to enjoy it more.

And now for no reason, a digital collage from the sign at Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe and the set from the Daily Show….and have a beautiful day!


Cover for a Gratitude Journal

graditude-journal-cover.jpg Here’s a quickie project that was fun to make. I had a small quilt that I liked, but never finished. So I cut my favorite part out  — the swoopy loop stitching — backed it with two pieces of fabric and zig-zagged around the edges.

graditude-journal-cover2.jpg Inside it has a pencil pocket, ribbon page marker and an office calendar that I’m using for this year’s gratitude journal.

My friend Merrilee makes beautiful covers like this, except hers are nicely turned and neatly finished. This version was definitely more impromptu — didn’t even think of adding the velcro closure until the very end (and yes it would have been better to plan ahead!)

Creative To Do Lists

Since recently I’ve had little time to make art, I got the idea to make creative to-do lists in my moleskine. The idea was to do an experimental page each morning, and since it was only a to-do list, I felt no inhibitions about creating a great work of art. It was merely a chance to experiment with different media.


Each day that I did a new page, I immediately felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and was able to go about my day with new energy. Now I’m trying to decide if I should continue the habit. Am I the only one who is constantly tinkering with my schedule, hoping to find the perfect creative routine?

Drawing from Life

drawing-from-life.jpgThis is a terrific book that I picked up in Seattle and since have been slowly relishing each page. Unlike many survey books that devote little more than a superficial paragraph and single photo for each subject, there are many photos from each journal featured, along with Jennifer New’s in-depth profile of each journal-keeper’s motivation, inspiration, and how keeping art journals over many years has impacted their work and life.

Not just artists are featured — in the mix of 31 journals, there are those of scientists, a psychologist, a film-maker, musicians, an architect, a quilt-maker, and more. New divides the journals up into categories of methodology: observation, reflection, exploration, and creation, with an introductory essay for each section. There is also an introduction siting journal-keepers through history, and the soft-binding, rounded corners, and ghostly grid background on all the interior the pages gave me the pleasant feeling that I was actually reading from a journal.

This book has given me new insight into what I could achieve from keeping a more regular journal and has inspired me to draw every day. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to opportunities to get stuck in odd places or at parties without anyone to talk to, so I can whip out my journal and start gathering visual information. (click on a thumbnail for larger view)