An Artist’s Bookshelf – March 2018


My art-related book finds for the month ahead

I can’t get enough of them: books, be them about art, about artists or for artists. So I got to thinking… Why not offer a monthly account of my favorite reads and resources here? Again, I’d love your suggestions to possibly add to my list—I’ll be sure to give you a shout-out if your recommendation makes it to my bookshelf! As for now, I am reading…

Creative Time & Space: Making Room for Making Art by Rice Freeman-Zachery
What first drew me to this book was its vibrant photos of a variety of works by 14 different artists. From sculpture to collage to fashion, it’s all in there. Much more than that are the stories about and insights gleaned from the artists’ different routines, studio spaces, creative processes, etc. How they are inspired and how they work are now inspiring me in my work—even down to making sure I have on hand a good supply of tea, a “real” artist’s beverage of choice apparently. 

Painting Accessible Abstracts by Laura Reiter
As I continue to dabble primarily in mixed media, this book intrigues me when it comes to layering all of the elements of a piece, employing color and meaning, considering degrees of abstraction, and making the most of different materials and their unique effects. Fantastic photos and graphics once again enhance the content of this book.

Pastels by Mari Bolte
Children’s books about art are the bomb! Children’s authors don’t have to convince kids to make art and to cut through years of personal fears and doubts—most kids are ready and eager to experiment and create without reservation! I picked up this children’s book as a refresher for my pastels skills; my husband and I took a course several years ago, and I loved playing around with blending. I’m particularly taken with the exercises that produce a more abstract result: “Triple Rainbows” (pages 14-15), “Perspectives” (pages 16-17), “Batik Heat” (pages 20-21) and “Pop Warhol” (pages 26-27).

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee
Society often thinks of artists as reclusive types, rarely engaging with other people and the outside world. This book proves quite the contrary by showcasing the relationships between four well-known artist duos: Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon. Smee defines “rivalry” not as “the macho cliché of sworn enemies, bitter competitors, and stubborn grudge-holders slugging it out for artistic and worldly supremacy.” Instead, she says her portrayals of the artists reflect their “yielding, intimacy, and openness to influence.” I look forward to developing more of my own rivalries—by this definition—as I continue to pursue inspiration, productivity and growth as an artist!



An Artist’s Bookshelf – February 2018

IMG_0729Procrastination… The struggle is real.

My kind of procrastination is often disguised as “research” or “inspiration”—after all, “Learner” is my number one strength according to StrengthsFinder 2.0. Despite my ill motives, the practice of reading does bear its fruit. As a result, I’m exposed to some great books and many thought-provoking ideas and philosophies as I slide other endeavors to the backburner. Here’s what I’m reading right now:

Letters to a Young Artist: Building a Life in Art by Julia Cameron
Yep, this is the same person who wrote the bestselling The Artist’s Way, which also makes its home on my bookshelves. In Letters, Cameron responds to a fictitious but relatable young artist “full of turbulent self-doubt”—relatable in the sense of apprehension, but rather annoying when it comes to the extent of his/her resistance to Cameron’s insight and advice (remember, the mentee is fictitious, so who should I really blame for this flaw in character?). I’m “young” in the sense of this new adventure as an artist, so I’m digging the read.

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren
Photographer friend Tami Sojka recommended this book to me, and I finished it this morning. In less than 100 pages, Koren tries to put words and pictures to “the quintessential Japanese aesthetic.” He describes wabi-sabi as “a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete… modest and humble… unconventional.” Such a definition of art, then, gives a rookie like me some hope.

This insight in particular continues to play in the corners of my consciousness: “While the universe destructs it also constructs. New things emerge out of nothingness. But we can’t really determine by cursory observation whether something is in the evolving or devolving mode. If we didn’t know differently we might mistake the newborn baby boy—small, wrinkled, bent, a little grotesque looking—for the very old man on the brink of death… In metaphysical terms, wabi-sabi suggests that the universe is in constant motion toward or away from potential.”

A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon
I discovered Lisa Congdon a couple years ago through an online art class she teaches through CreativeBug. Talk about someone who embraces the beauty of imperfection—she really encourages me in my attempts at art by speaking this truth over and over again. When it comes to her work, I so admire her playful use of pattern and color, as well as her whimsical approach to everyday objects.

Her signature style graces the pages of A Glorious Freedom, a biographical delight about women who found or are finding new identity or purpose as “late bloomers.” I feel a certain kinship with these women as I discover the glorious freedom that comes with age and some long overdue self-acceptance and celebration.

If you feel so inclined, I’d love to receive your recommendations of authors and books who have made a difference in your creative life. Please share in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!


Art vs. Crafts


The raw materials for my next piece of art

So here goes…

As part of my day job as a writer, I blogged yesterday on behalf of a client about the importance of art in child development—how the process of making art helps build kids’ skills in several critical areas of learning. The post also compares “art” to “crafts,” the former being more about self-expression and the creative process, the latter focusing on achieving a specific final product. Read post>>

A few years ago, I attended one of those paint nights. You know the kind: an instructor walks you step by step through the process of painting a pre-determined picture—everyone knows what the final result will be, and everyone leaves with virtually the same piece of “art” with minimal variation. Sure, I felt a certain sense of pride for accomplishing the assignment and taking home something that resembled coneflowers against a sky of gradient hue. But it certainly doesn’t bear any kind of self-expression. It’s a sorry imitation of someone else’s creative effort. And, come to think of it, it clearly demonstrates the difference between making crafts and creating art.

So I’m going to reinvent the blasted thing and somehow make it my own. For the past several weeks, I’ve been collecting scraps of yarn from a massive scarf project (I’m still debating if that project is a craft or art in progress) and I’m aching to experiment with them a bit. My plan? To construct a similar picture on top of the existing one using yarn fibers, watered-down glue and who knows what else—to transform it into a legitimate piece of art.

I’m eager to start the process…

The Evidence of Things

A couple months ago, I confessed in my post “By All Appearances” that I’d never make a good detective. Sometimes, my conclusion-jumping has little foundation in sound logic and gets a bit too creative. However, that’s not to say that I don’t have an eye for evidence and an interest in it, particularly when it comes to the trail of things that my husband leaves behind. To me, the following clues scream that “Terry was here”…

Seriously, I did not alter their condition to take this photo. I found them this way… and there are more.

Exhibit A: Pens without caps – Until I lived with Terry, I assumed everyone found it comfortable and convenient to move the cap of the pen from the point to the end during use. Not Terry. He hugs the cap in his fist or puts it on the table as he writes. Needless to say, this habit has resulted in numerous capless pens floating around our house.

Exhibit B: Unfinished beverages – When I clear the table after a family dinner or scout the living room for dirty dishes, I can easily spot Terry’s leave-behinds. I can always expect to find about two-fingers worth of liquid still left in his drinking glass. Why? I’m not sure what’s so repulsive to him about those last couple swallows, but this aversion has become yet another one of his most common calling cards.

Exhibit C: Categorized hangers – Organization is not one of Terry’s strong suits, and I often find odd combinations of things together (e.g., there’s the box in the garage that contains one shoe, a golf ball and a John Grisham novel). But he’s obsessive about hangers! In Terry’s world, woe to those who jumble their pants hangers with their skirts hangers with their shirts hangers. He can’t stand the mayhem!

Exhibit D: The flat blue throw pillow – I think I bought it about twenty years ago, the royal blue throw pillow that matched my bedding at the time. Nowadays, it’s a common sight on our burgundy recliner, despite the clash it creates with the rest of our living room decor. Believe me, I’ve tried to sell Terry on more eye-catching replacements but, in his world, nothing compares to the perfect flatness and fit of that doggone pillow against his lower back.

Exhibit E: Vitamin and herbal supplements – I knew when we were dating that this guy valued better health through the proper cocktail of dietary supplements, but I had no idea until we shared a home what kind of stockpile he had amassed. That means my finding weird-shaped pills and capsules among our dirty laundry from time to time. Another mark of my Zorro!

How boring would it be if our writing only defined evidence in terms of fingerprints and DNA! Great characters–be them criminal, classy, or something altogether different–have tangible attachments that make them interesting and identifiable. What shreds of evidence will your characters present in your writing today?

WRITING PROMPT 1: Make a list of some of the people you know and the “evidence” that makes each of them unique.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Write about the physical evidence for which you think you are known.

WRITING PROMPT 3: Perhaps spin your personal story a different way… By what evidence do you want to be known? By what evidence do you not want to be known? Why?

WRITING PROMPT 4: Create a fictional character profile that considers the creative use of tangible evidence, and don’t be afraid to broach the outlandish. If you challenge yourself at this stage of the process, you’re certain to pique your readers’ interest later!

Great Expectations

As a Timberwolves season-ticket holder, my husband, Terry, has become very familiar with the downtown Minneapolis parking scene. He knows all the slick tricks related to entering and exiting a busy parking garage. Though his routine is strategic with regard to timing and location, the order of things is quite simple: park the car, watch the game, visit the payment machine, exit the ramp. Nothing to it.

Terry’s “receipt”… or is it?

Last Tuesday, when it came time for Terry to visit the payment machine, his request seemed  pretty straightforward. All he wanted was a receipt. After  pushing the appropriate button, the machine made its typical scratching and spitting sounds. All signs indicated that it was hard at work documenting Terry’s comings and goings–that it was generating a perfect summary of his proof of purchase. However, when the apparatus eventually coughed out a “receipt,” it showed no date, no cost, no location. It showed none of the details that one would expect.

Expectations. We have them of each other. We have them of circumstances. And we have them of words. For instance, if the machine had offered a map or a menu  instead, Terry would have had an entirely different expectation, all in thanks to the intricate distinctions we make between words and the items or conditions assigned to them.

In my last post, I relayed the importance of fact checking. Here, I simply encourage my fellow writers to take great care with word choice. After all, our decisions will spur great expectations among our readers.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Make a brief list of basic terms (e.g., apple, book, calendar, diary). What makes each thing distinctive from any other thing in existence? Write your own definitions.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Think about the recent presidential debate. What if it had been called something else (e.g., a presentation, a cookie exchange, a talent show)? Write a scene showing how the event would have played out under this different title.