Letting my Hair Down

Well, not completely.

Blogging, writing, drawing has been a completely unexpected outlet for me. I’m sometimes amazed at how free it makes me feel – and at other times surprised at how constrained I am at the same time.

In some ways I envy people who can just completely let go.

But then again I think perhaps – those who do – could practice some restraint.

For me, it comes back to the concept of balance; an elusive goal.

swirling sea

The Beautiful Unknown

"Abstract ink drawings on handmade paper - embrace the unknown"

Sometimes we can panic and fear about the unknown, when all we really have to do is to fully believe everything is working absolutely perfectly for us.  Our job is to let go and allow amazing experiences in to our lives.” [Dr. Ann Quinn]

I don’t know about you, but this is sometimes easier said than done. Yet I know based on my experiences, that the less I try and orchestrate things that I’m uncertain about, they nearly always turns out better than I could have possibly imagined.  In fact often-times the outcome wasn’t even in my imagination and is completely unexpected.

It’s a lesson that I seem to need to learn repeatedly and be reminded of often.  I guess it’s human nature to have doubts and to worry that ‘this time’ things might not turn out for the best.

A few months ago, I started drawing on my hand-made paper in ink.  It started with a handful of drawings of trees and sunflowers, just in ink.  As my confidence grew, I began to add watercolor pencil into the mix of drawings. This evolved into a trilogy of drawings inspired by the perfection or the beauty within our imperfections.  This set included not only ink and water color pencil, but landscape color pens as well.

Each phase of my exploration in drawing has come with an unexpected lesson in life and a bit of self discovery.  I truly love working in black and white, there’s something about the contrast and lack of color that is romantic and somewhat mysterious.  Ink seems to have become my medium of choice (at least for now), and it was a little strange for me to feel drawn toward adding color.

My latest discovery was a set of brightly colored pens that are a wonderful compliment to the softer landscape colors.  The contrast between black and the vibrant pink, blue, green, and purple is amazing.  As luck would have it, I had three more pieces of handmade flax paper that were each uniquely different, but similar enough to inspire another trilogy.

It became an evening escape and the best word I can use to describe the way the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes emerged is unexpected.

Each of the drawings starts with a blank piece of hand made paper created from flax.  I use the creases and pieces of fiber, the curves and the crinkles as  guides for my imagination.

The first drawing has a bit of a hot air balloon feel to it.

"abstract ink drawing_hot air baloon"

After one of my friends told me that her daughter saw a mermaid in the second drawing, I decided to name it “Under the Sea.”

"abstract ink drawing_under the sea"

I’m a geek when it comes to my drawing and I love taking pictures of it while it’s in progress.

"Abstract Ink Drawing on Handmade paper - Ribbons of Joy_step 1

After the first night of working on the third piece, I thought, “hmmmmm it’s nice, but there’s no way it’s going to be as pretty as “Under the Sea.” But after the second session I began to wonder.

"abstract ink drawing on handmade flax paper_ribbons of joy_step 2"

Ink is an unusual medium for me to love.  As a perfectionist, it usually feels uncomfortable and even down right scary to know that there’s no opportunity for a do-over.  The fear of the unknown and the potential to make a mistake can be crippling and can even keep us perfectionists from trying.

"abstract ink drawing_ribbons of joy"

With one corner to go, I let it rest for a night while my imagination processed the possibilities.

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the process of creating these drawings is that it completely absorbs me and there’s no room for self doubt or ‘real world’ worries.  I simply let myself go and follow wherever my instincts tell me to go.  I really don’t think about which color to use, I feel it.

I finished the final corner and a wave of sadness and a thrill of completion crisscrossed over me.  Sad because I was done and thrilled because it was beautiful.

I found myself reminiscing about how scary it was to even start a drawing just a short time ago. It occurred to me that just like life, each drawing starts with a blank page and even when the artist has an image in mind, the final piece often takes an unintended direction.

The difference between when I let go and trust my instincts and enjoy the process rather than fighting to reproduce a predefined image  is like night and day.  The  parallel to life struck me as uncanny.  When I trust myself and really believe that things are unfolding as they are meant to be.  When I quit trying to control things, and let go of worry and panic the outcome is as amazing as a beautiful piece of art.

“Ribbons of Joy” seemed to be an appropriate title.

"abstract ink drawing_ribbons of joy"

There is Perfection in Imperfection

"Seasons of learning - Ink and Water Color Pencil Drawing"

I am a Renaissance woman in more ways than one.  The past 3 years and in particular the past twelve months have been explosive and I’ve discovered things about myself that I had no idea were a part of me.

One of the most interesting discoveries has been the fact that I’m an artist in addition to being a writer, a business woman, and most importantly a mom.  I’ve been posting pictures of my projects and experiences throughout the year.

It still boggles my mind to think that I dipped my toe into the proverbial water and took a drawing class less than a year ago. Since then I’ve taken 3 more drawing classes, a print making workshop, and I learned how to make paper.

In the past months I’ve discovered that I have a passion for working in ink.  For anyone who knows me, this is completely counter – intuitive.  I’m a perfectionist, if there’s a chance that it won’t turn out right; I’m more inclined to not even start than to make a mistake.  So ink, particularly on my hand made paper seems like it would be an unlikely creative outlet.

Earlier this fall, I combined various things that I’d learned and I created my very first book.

""- ibeth's first book - ink and water color pencils"- ibeth's first book - ink and water color pencils"

This started out as a drawing and turned into something quite different – I changed course along the way a few times – the biggest being that I cut all of the edges off of the cover and made the edges of the ‘book’ uneven and well – like the edge of a forest.

I finished my last class of the year a few weeks ago.  As our last project Anne had us create an abstract drawing using a most unusual approach.  The process will be a separate post, but the outcome was quite intriguing.

Abstract Drawing Ink and Water Color Pencil

True to form, I didn’t finish it during class time and it took me more than a few sessions to complete this drawing in ink, water color pencil, and a bit of white charcoal. I can’t describe it, but this drawing unlocked something within me.

A few weeks ago, I started drawing a trilogy.  Only I didn’t know it at the time.  I sifted through my stack of hand-made paper from the summer.  I held a thin piece of paper made from flax up to the light.

I saw crinkles and creases. I also saw trees and teardrops. It was as if my pen had a mind of it’s own as I began to trace along the creases and crevices to create patterns and mystique.

"Seasons of learning - Ink and Water Color Pencil Drawing"

After I finished it I sorted through my paper and found another piece with similar imperfections.  Too thin to write on, too many creases to be of value, but just right to create on.

"emerging from the woods - ink and water color pencil drawing"

I found one more piece of perfectly imperfect paper in my stack, refreshed my paintbrush water and let my imagination do the work.

"ink and water color pencil on flax paper"

Who would have imagined that I had exactly three pieces of paper that were equal in their imperfections and in their potential for beauty?

The Hatches are Battened Down

In spite of the ongoing coverage of the the latest hurricane making her way up the east coast, I was oblivious to the news until Thursday afternoon.  Thank goodness I embarrassed myself at my hair appointment by responding to the question, “are you ready for Sandy?”  by asking “who’s Sandy?” so I had a clue that something was going on before anyone else asked me.

I decided it might be a good idea for me to turn on the news and find out more about the storm and what to expect.  Is it wrong for me to admit that I had to use the TV Guide channel to locate the local news station?  I quickly became absorbed in the reports of the storm and the predictions of high winds, widespread power outages, and potential flooding.

Fifteen minutes into the broadcast, my musings as to whether or not my trip to Raleigh would be affected by the storm, the phone rang.  I didn’t need to look at the caller ID to know it was my parents.

“Hi there, so do you know what’s going on around you?” asked my dad.

“Oh, you mean about Sandy, the storm that’s coming up the coast?”  I replied (quite pleased that I actually did know).

“Have you gone to the store yet?”

“No, I was planning on doing that tomorrow,” I said.

We chatted for a while and discussed what supplies I should buy, whether or not it would be a good idea to use the gas grill if it was on the porch, and options for traveling to Raleigh if my flight on Tuesday is cancelled.

I realized I was holding my breath and interrupted my dad, “Ok, so I wasn’t freaking out before but now I am.  I’m going to the store to stock up and I’ll figure the rest out later.”

“Just one more…..”

“Bye, I’m going now..I’ll call you when I get back from the store.”

While shopping for bottled water, bagels, pop tarts, and really green bananas (that are already ripe) my landlord Jeanne Marie left me a voice-mail to make sure I was aware of the storm and knew how to prepare.  It seems that my reputation for being in my own little world precedes me.

She also sent me a checklist of things to consider and I’m happy to say that the majority of them are covered with the exception of filling the tub with water.  Unfortunately I’ll have to ignore the caution against using candles because by the time I got to the store there wasn’t a C size battery to be found.  However, my gas tank is full, I have two hundred dollars in cash, and there’s a good old fashioned can opener in my silverware drawer.

Jeanne Marie called yesterday and she was impressed to know I was so on top of things. Not only were we stocked up on water, Christian and I had already moved anything up to and including the trash cans, that could turn into a missile from the backyard onto the porch.  I had to confess that the only reason I was on top of things was because I’d had a hair appointment the day before and that my parents urged me to get to the store.

trash cans on the porch_preparing for Sandy

I think Romeo knows something strange is going on.  He stood still as a statue in front of the screen door and finally nosed his way out onto the patio.

He stood guard and watched intently while Christian lowered the basketball hoop down on the driveway and weighted it down with bags of sand.

basketball hoop laying in the driveway_preparing for Sandy

I have to wonder what was going through his mind and whether or not he realizes that his 13 pounds of bravado wouldn’t be much of a match for a a 50 mph wind.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that phrases like “we’re far enough inland…” and “maybe it’ll be more like a nor’easter…” are part of my vocabulary.

So for now, we’re as battened down as we can be and it looks like just a normal but blustery fall day.  My guess is that the pretty red and gold leaves on the trees in my neighbors backyard will be shredded and on the ground three days from now.

leaves on trees in backyard two days before Sandy

The wind is picking up bit by bit and if the way my porch curtains are being lifted already, it’s going to get interesting. I’m hoping that we get as lucky as we did during Irene when we only lost power for a couple of hours.  And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my travel plans aren’t completely disrupted.  In either case there’s not much I can do other than be thankful for the people I have in my life who made sure I had my house ready for Sandy and hope for the best.

wind blowing my porch curtains two days before Sandy arrives

It’s Not What We See – It’s What We Feel

Seven months and 25 days ago I almost made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

Thank goodness I didn’t succumb to my irrational fears about taking a drawing class at the age of 50.  I thought the class started in January, but my faithful journaling  helped jog my failing memory and put the dates in order.

On March 9th of last year I drove to the Janney House – home of the Artist’s of Yardley and almost passed out.  Ok, not really – but I did almost turn around and leave as I was walking toward the studio.  If it hadn’t been for another late arriver, I’d have chickened out for sure.

Today was the first day of a new session.  I didn’t know what to expect today.  Anne always surprises me  and I was delighted to recognize students from my previous classes.

Today’s lesson was what I least expected.  In the past two classes we’ve focused more on drawing what we see – not so much on interpretation. I guess in other words, it’s been more about technique.

With four returning students Anne decided to mix things up and have us do something completely different.

I have two words.

Georgia O’keeffe

There’s a funny story behind what inspired her to have us draw a rose in an interpretive style – but it’s one of those stories that gets lost in translation, so you’ll just have to trust me.

She gave us each a silk rose and a copy of  Georgia O’keeffe’s abstract white rose.  It’s really beautiful.

georgia-okeefe-abstraction-white-rose-1927

I learned something about myself today.  I like working on a smaller canvas.  My first drawing took up half of the space and just looked odd.  I couldn’t seem to interpret the rose because I was constrained by the space.

I made the connection between all of my recent drawings on small spaces and mentioned it to Anne.  She immediately responded and brought me a smaller size paper to work on.

This really worked for me and I have to admit that I saw some promise in the early stages.

I at least liked a lot more than my first draft – which looked more like a carnation than a rose.  It’s all about shading and understanding what makes sense – easier said than done.

Tonight, I lost myself in music and didn’t ‘think’ about it. I just ‘felt’ it.

It’s far from finished, but I think it’s my interpretation of this particular rose.  As a friend mentioned to me recently – I’m finding my signature.

The Loss of Art in Education

I’m a “one thing leads to another” kind of person, which can be interesting when it comes to explaining my train of thought sometimes.  It might be hard to explain how an online class through a community college called Romance Writing Secrets would lead to drawing, making handmade paper, and not last or least to a workshop on making books.  There is a connection, but it would take a book to describe it – so instead I’ll stick to my most recent adventure.

Last Saturday I roped my friend Christine into taking a workshop at the Janney house through the Artists of Yardley.  My friend and instructor Kathy and her fellow artist Mindy offered an all day workshop that was split into two parts; the art of making paper and of making books.

I arrived 5 minutes late, but with coffee from WaWa in hand – an important tradeoff.  I have to admit it was fun to show some of my paper and the drawings I’ve done.  It’s such a thrill for me when people say “wow, I really like that.”  I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, I hope I never do.

Because I’ve had the opportunity to make quite a bit of paper lately, I asked if I could spend the day with Mindy making books.  As always, the atmosphere in the studio was conducive to learning, laughing, and creating.  We learned how to make two styles of book, accordion and flag.  The accordion is easier to describe; paper folded in a “mountain, valley, mountain” pattern ready for pictures or drawings and secured between two covers.  The flag book is much like a pop-up book and I think the possibilities are endless (once I wrap my head around how to approach creating the finishing touches).

Mindy is an amazing teacher and it’s easy to understand why she and Kathy are friends.  The dynamics of the morning and afternoon sessions were as different as night and day and Mindy never missed a beat.  I watched in amazement as she adapted her style to the needs and pace of the students.

I usually try and describe the process at least in a general sense, but  book making has a lot more steps and detail than what I’ve been doing lately and I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice.  I was a little intimidated by the need for measuring and precision, but Mindy put me at ease and I was pretty sure she would find a way to fix almost any mistake I might make.

What I think is interesting is how everything I’m attracted to has to do with paper.  Writing, photography, and drawing are all done on paper.  Somehow everything I’m learning is weaving its way together.  It’s really quite fascinating when I take a step back and connect the dots.

I have no idea how I’ll put this all together. What I do know is it will be a lot of fun to figure it out.  The books I made last weekend are wonderful experiments. There are supplies on the way to create pieces that match my style and taste.

The entire process has made me stop and think.

The thought that keeps popping up in my brain is how we are depriving today’s youth.  Our education system is focused on activities that require the ability to memorize and calculate, not on the ability to perceive and create.  How can one exist without the other?

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The Art of Creating and Misunderstanding Creating Art

tree and bench_flax paper and ink drawing

I’ve been doing some experimenting lately – sort of letting myself go “out on a limb.”  which isn’t something I’m necessarily prone to do.  I’d have to say, I think I may start going out on the proverbial limb a little more often.

My first big step was almost a year ago and I registered for a drawing class.  The beginner class was full, so I took a deep breath and signed up for the intermediate/advanced class.

The first lesson was to draw a sunflower.  I started it in January and I finished it in March.  I was nearly petrified at the thought of drawing a circle that would become the center of the flower and  I tried not to focus on the petals that seemed to fly onto everyone’s paper but mine.  What I didn’t know is they were all just as nervous as I was.  I also didn’t understand that the point of the lesson wasn’t to make a carbon copy of the original, it was to learn about shading.

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

The next drawing was a landscape and very complex.  I shocked myself with the fact that somehow I grasped two point perspective (well sort of).  This drawing took me even longer than the sunflower did, but I think it was worth the effort.  Again, I misunderstood the point of the exercise.  The focus was to learn about perspective and proportion as well as to experiment with a new medium. (the background trees are done in ink)

There were a few other projects in the first class and I learned with every drawing.

The second session started off with a first for me.  I was thrilled when I completed the pine cone during class.  Until that morning, I’d never finished a piece in anything less than four long working sessions. (I think this may always be one of my favorites)

Pine Cone
I love the drawings I’ve done.  It’s amazing to me that I was able to create such beauty with nothing more than pencil, charcoal, and sometimes some ink.  It’s something I never knew I had inside me.

Yesterday I had a realization.

I’ve completely misunderstood creativity and in particular drawing.

I was scared on my first day of drawing class because I thought I had to produce an exact replica of the sunflower.  I took months to labor over each petal and leaf to make sure the shading was exact and matched the original as closely as possible.

Lately I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with ink and the paper I made.  The drawings have a somewhat primitive feeling and I can’t help but wonder if I’m discovering my style. I am really enjoying the texture and irregular shape of the paper.  It’s funny to note that what would have made an imperfect surface to write a letter made a perfect canvas for an ink drawing.

I like some better than others, but they are all unique and beautiful in their own way.  I can honestly find at least one thing I like about each one of them.

Last night I realized that drawing isn’t about reproducing an image – it’s about interpreting a moment.  It’s not about perfection, it’s about having some fun and feeling – it’s about grace.

I say grace because that’s what I feel we need to allow ourselves – and what we need to accept from others.

ink tree on handmade flax paper

sunflower on flaxk paper - ink

sunflower on flax handmade paper

tree drawn in ink on flax paper

tree and bench_flax paper and ink drawing

Honestly every time I look at a drawing, I think about what I could or should have done differently – what could have made it better.

There’s always something, but that’s where I think creativity and art is misunderstood.  It’s not about being perfect, it’s about creating, it’s about being – it’s about trying. It’s understanding that completing something even if it’s got a few flaws is all part of learning and growing and it applies to any endeavor, not just art.

Most of all it’s about having fun and enjoying life.

From Real Life

sunflower on flax handmade paper

It’s interesting to think about some advice I received about drawing.  “It’s better to draw from real life, not from a photograph, and not from memory.”  I’m not sure I agree.

From my perspective, my drawings are more free and turn out better when I’m not trying to replicate the perfection of nature or capture a moment that might disappear with a gust of wind or a slight breeze.

Oddly, I’ve found freedom in ink, hand made paper, and drawing what I feel – not what I see.

tree drawing on handmade flax paper

sunflower on flax handmade paper

I’m not sure why I feel the freedom – still thinking about it.

I don’t really think it matters – the ‘why.’

I think what’s important is that I’m exploring and discovering.

Dip, Dip, Dip…Shake, Shake, Shake…Make Some Paper…

Handmade paper decorative spheres

How lucky for me that Kathy had so much extra pulp she organized another papermaking open studio! I was hooked after the first five minutes of the Wednesday session and was thrilled when I got the email about another opportunity.

I arrived promptly at 9:30 am and had the pleasure of meeting Mindy, who will be teaching a workshop with Kathy in September.  She showed me some samples of what we’ll learn to make; seeing the the book structures firsthand made me even more excited for a day of paper and book making. (I wonder if my family members can guess what they will be getting for Christmas this year.)

Kathy gave me the green light to work independently and I even demonstrated a couple of “how to’s” for the other participants.  I didn’t waste any time and started adding color after I completed a few practice base sheets.

handmade paper with orange and blue color

One of the lovely ladies, Laura, brought beautiful pressed leaves to share.  I would have never thought about incorporating additional elements into the process. (Now my mind is racing.)  The flecks of marigold disbursed against the green and I was delighted with the way the leaf made its signature on the page.

handmade paper with a green leaf and flecks of marigold

While we worked I asked Kathy about other uses for the paper in art, specifically about how to use it in making sculptures.

She held up a blue and red sphere, “I start with a shape; in this case it was a small Styrofoam ball and then I put a layer of paper over it.  It’s as simple as that.”

“How do you get the paper to stick?  Do you wet it?” I asked.

“You can, however I find it best to work with the paper before it dries.  That way it just sticks to the object and as you can see, it’s really quite beautiful.  You can also brush a layer of Methyl Cellulose over the top to help it adhere,” she said.

I bought eight Styrofoam balls and some of the mysterious clear liquid, Methyl Cellulose.

Exhausted but invigorated, I followed Kathy’s instructions to take a break before I started into the creative process.  I couldn’t sit still long.  The stack of freshly made paper and the bag of Styrofoam balls were calling my name.

I pulled the protective material away from the first two sheets and stared at my blank canvas.

handmade paper and styrofoam ball

I peeled up the first sheet, tore off the bright blue corner, and placed it on the ball.  As promised, the sticky wet paper was strong enough to handle.  Colors and designs emerged as I gained confidence and embraced doing something new.

handmade paper covered styrofoam balls work in progress

I stopped to admire the way the shades of green, blue, and orange blended into the natural tannish color of the paper.  The flecks of orange somehow found their perfect placement around the curved shape.

blue, green, and orange handmade paper over styrofoam ball

My porch makes a perfect playroom for an artist.  The bright pink petals against the orange background of the table and hand me down chests is cheery and inspiring.  Enya is my Pandora station of choice.  The dogs roam between the kitchen and the backyard and amuse me with their snores and snorts when they curl up to take a nap.

papermaking project on my porch

The finished project was more than a lesson in papermaking and creating a tiny universe out of Styrofoam balls.  It reinforced that it’s wonderful, albeit sometimes a little scary, to try on something new for size.

I can’t help but compare it to the first day of my drawing class last January.  I was nothing short of petrified and it took me more than six months before I attempted to create anything without specific and hands on guidance. If it hadn’t been for the instructor I’d have quit after the first class.

It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but I now know that my art doesn’t have to be perfect and half the fun is trying.  The perfection of a masterpiece lies in the imperfection of mistakes made and lessons learned as it was created.

I think it could be said, that being perfectly imperfect applies to a whole lot more than art.

Handmade paper decorative spheres