“I procrastinate worse than anybody.” Writing is so hard. “I need eight hours to get maybe 20 minutes of work done. I had one of those yesterday: seven hours of self-loathing.”
“Writing is a deep-sea dive. You need hours just to get into it: down, down, down. If you’re called back to the surface every couple of minutes by an email, you can’t ever get back down. I have a great friend who became a Twitterer and he says he hasn’t written anything for a year.”
-Dave Eggers (from an interview with the Guardian)
“Sketching in the big woods is wonderful…
Everything is green.
Everything is waiting and still
Slowly things begin to move,
to slip into their places.
Groups and masses and lines tie
Colors you had not noticed
come out, timidly or boldly.
Here is a picture, a complete
And there another and there…”
— Emily Carr, September 1935.
(found at Best Made Co.)
“There was a crazy-wisdom teacher in India named Saraha. He said that those who believe that everything is solid and real are stupid, like cattle, but that those who believe that everything is empty are even more stupid. Everything is changing all the time, and we keep wanting to pin it down, to fix it. So whenever you come up with a solid conclusion, let the rug be pulled out. You can pull out your own rug, and you can also let life pull it out for you.”
-Pema Chrodron from Start Where you Are
I received this book for Christmas and it’s full of little gems that are really speaking to me right now. Part of my personal practice is to do things on purpose to “pull the rug out”, in an attempt to remain awake as much as I can (in my books too). Having a small child helps with that, as you can no longer rely on “things going as YOU want them to go”. The first month after a child is born you realize in the most painful and gut-wrenching of ways that it is no longer about YOU. This is the wonderful Buddhist teaching of letting go of the ego. You come up against it in parenting almost everyday. A chance to learn over and over again. A beautiful gift, non?
I have had a chance to work on some other things in the last few months. It all began with a post about roasted chestnuts (which you might remember). This was followed by the onset of what we thought was a nasty stomach flu. Then a somewhat strange interaction with Tom Yum soup in which I consumed enough for three people in a sitting with my husband and sister just watching me with a concerned but also slightly amused look on their faces. “What?”, I said. It was suggested that a pregnancy test might be in order.
And so it seems that the “ode to roasted chestnuts” may not be as innocent as it first appeared. I think I mentioned in the post that I had a dream about them that night, and that I was very upset (almost to the point of tears) when the dog ate the ones I was saving. I should have clued in then. As i write this I am four days shy of being twelve weeks pregnant. Our little family is terribly excited and grateful!
The challenging part of this story is I have been very sick (in a kind of bed ridden not wanting to eat kind of way, though I have to force food down as it is the only thing that helps) which has made the holidays a bit less festive. But I’m doing my best, and (knock on wood), it is slightly better now, I am no longer having to be horizontal for half of the day (only after I eat). Somehow I managed to make it through to the end of the semester, I had to tell my students so they would understand if I had to run out of the room in a hurry. They were wonderfully excited and supportive, when I had to actually eat bananas while teaching to keep the nausea at bay. Every twenty minutes some kind of food has to go in or I end up in a bad way. After three months of this I am ready for the second trimester. Bring it on!
Some things that have been helping:
-knitting (my god how much more human I feel to be knitting again), I’m making a long sleeved Shalom sweater using the mods created by Soulemama. For years my favorite sweater has been becoming more and more threadbare, and it has become a little embarrassing to wear it out of the house now. So I decided to just make one to replace it, this is as close as I have found to the original.
-my favorite xmas present was An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec published by Wakefield Press. This little book fills me with such delight, it is a beautiful volume perfect for having in your bag when you go out on an adventure! It made me want everything this publisher does. The front page of their site describes their list “Wakefield Press is an independent American publisher devoted to the translation of overlooked gems and literary oddities in small, affordable, yet elegant paperback editions.” What’s not to love?
-a large bowl of oatmeal with cream, a bit of maple syrup and raisins before bed.
-I have had to rely on my husband and sister more than ever. This is challenging for someone who likes to do everything herself. But I am literally unable to do it, and so having to ask for help is very good for me. I am learning that it creates more intimacy in my close relationships. Funny how we sometimes push away the things we are really needing in life. That is when it is good to have the “rug pulled out” so to speak. It forces you to the places you most need to go.
(photo by Alan Grant)
“I’m a little taken aback by anyone calling himself an artist because of my feeling that that’s the kind of designation that other people should give. You can be an artist in any field, but getting a degree to call yourself an artist would be like getting a diploma to call yourself a genius. If your work is good enough, it can be art, but art isn’t a product. It’s a quality. Sometimes that’s lost sight of. Quality can be in anything.”
One title I wish I had added to my What to Get list is Great Gals (because you always think of five more after you have sent your list), from the ever talented Summer Pierre. I have not seen this one in person, but for many years I used to get her Great Gals Calendar, which was hand photocopied at Kinkos onto colored cardstock. I love that it has been transformed into a really pleasing book/journal format. And as with myself I am also happy for Summer to enter into the world of publishing (this is her second book, the first being Artist in the Office), something we are all striving for as we while away for hours and hours, cutting paper and throwing away numerous copy blunders under the intense florescent lights of unfriendly copy shops.
I can’t deny that working with a publisher has been a life changing and career making experience for me and I wouldn’t change one minute of it. Having instant access to a world wide market is a vast difference to the world of the home made, which is primitive and painstaking (and prone to mail mixups and copier problems). Year of standing in long lines at the post office, and dealing with unhappy holiday shoppers trying to send gifts to relatives overseas.
And yet I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic, especially at this time of year. Dare I say, that I miss those hours spent creating a little holiday zine or a variety of self published titles, laying them out, making drawings, and later the satisfaction that comes from sitting down and folding hundreds of little booklets, packing them into envelopes and licking stamps? Yes, it’s true. I miss it intensely. Something about the ritual of it made my holiday season complete, even while it was challenging. The satisfaction of having mailed every last person on my mailing list was amazing. One of the main reasons I had to discontinue my yearly mailing was that I had amassed too many names on my list, and the cost was edging up to $1000 a season, (yikes).
Hopefully the years spent in copy shops has affected our work in a beneficial way, our work still has an “of the hand” feel, and our process much more tactile and simplified. It is the tangibility of the process that feels satisfying, and the immediacy of the final product. Plus there is something about a little photocopied booklet that holds a certain charm. I think in lieu of going back to my roots, it would be helpful to work on a quick project in the zine format. I suppose that it is a good thing that you can at any time go back to where you started and remember all of the things you love about what you do (in my case bookmaking).
I have an exercise that I use in my class where you have to make a zine in one hour, using the magic book folding technique. Which I am going to do myself, once work on my new book has slowed a bit.
Congrats to Summer, my partner in a colorful photocopied past!
I feel extremely proud to have been asked to participate in Penguin Books annual “What to Give, What to Get” feature, where they ask their popular authors to share their favorites for the year.
(p.s. If you are in the category of friends or family you might not want to read this.)
“I was interested, and still am, in starting from the unknown. I’m still looking for steps that break the mold and disturb the traditional apparatus. I have the feeling every time I make a new piece that at last I’m beginning.”
I presented this list to my illustration class today. It was targeted to illustration but I realized it has wider applications. Simple truths I have learned over the years, many I’m sure you have heard before. I am hoping to give them some mental tools to work with as well as tools of the trade. Part of being successful is having a belief in yourself and the process. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to read a list and feel like you can do it (especially number 6). I told them number 6 is the source for all of my best ideas (wreck this journal, guerilla art kit, explorer, all were done when I was supposed to be working on other things). True story.
Secrets of the Self Employed (or How to be an Amazing [insert profession here])
1. Don’t worry about marks while you are in school. No one will ever ask you what school you went to or what your marks were when you leave it. (this pertains to the field of illustration).
2. You are always working for yourself, even when you work for others. Sometimes it feels like you are just the hired hand (and some clients can be really challenging to work with). But there is always some way to turn an illustration job into something exciting for you. Some ideas: experiment with a new technique (or a new color palette), use it as an opportunity to learn about a new topic, rebel against the job in tiny ways (do some roughs just for yourself in which you insert subversive material).
3. There are no actual rules for how to become a successful [insert profession here]. Make your own path.
4. It will help you to create a social network of other self-employed people.
5. Move your body every day. There are many health reasons for this, but it also helps you to work on ideas subconsciously. Ideas and solutions will come in when you least expect them but (almost always after a minimum of one hour of walking). There are new studies that suggest increased oxygen to the brain is a greater source for creativity than “creative brain exercises”. I have found this to be true for myself.
6. Goof off on a regular basis.
7. If you want to work on your art, work on your life. All those personality traits that aren’t working for you will come back to haunt you in your career (i.e. assertiveness, fear of conflict, fear of confrontation.) It’s all connected.
8. What you think becomes your reality. I always had a belief that if I cleaned out my recycling bin in my studio I would get new work. And guess what, it always happened. If you think the industry is screwed and there is no work to be had, guess what you will find out there?
9. Focus on ideas instead of tools (technology). Anyone can learn to use the tools, but it is the thinkers who really impact the culture in important ways. In the end the tools don’t offer anything interesting.
10. Worrying about the competition does very little to help your career. I know it’s hard sometimes to ignore what other people are doing (we all think that others are doing better than us), but every one of us is on a different life path. We are all here to accomplish different things and even though it would seem like one person’s path is similar to yours, it is not.
11. Only work for free if you are passionate about the cause or receive something of value in return. (Be wary of people who offer your name in lights in lieu of money. Many people will tell you something is good promotion for you, often it is not and there are no guarantees when it comes to promotional value). If you are not getting something of a measurable value (i.e. printed pieces, or money) ask for something else, creative freedom. If they refuse then they may not be a good client to work for anyway.
12. Take some small risks on a regular basis. Some ideas: write some places/companies you would really like to work and let them know why you think they are great.
13. Don’t worry about whether or not you are good (good is subjective and most people are not great judges of their own work), just keep making work.
14. Ignore cool. Successful people do not try to be hip, they just do work that excites them.
15. Always come back to work that excites you. Even if you get off track for a while. Do personal work on a regular basis, show it to others. You can reinvent yourself at any time.
I love this image sent to me by Devin Brockwell, a collection of random items from around his house. You wouldn’t believe what crazy good mail I get from people working on the books. I have received hundreds of photos of people on secret missions from “This is Not a Book”. I will find a way to display them soon.
I am at a point where I am not able to respond to every email I receive, but please know that I read every one and I love them all. Thank you.