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 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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Never in a Million Years

the beginning of the process

A few weeks ago my friend Kathy asked if I could help her demonstrate the art of making paper for the Princeton Arts Council.  I had no idea what to expect and didn’t even think to ask.  She needed the help, I was available – the “what” I’d be doing didn’t really matter, plus I knew it involved making paper so I figured there couldn’t be a down side.

We met at Kathy’s house and I followed her to Princeton.  My biggest fear was that I’d have to parallel park on a narrow neighborhood street.  Much to my chagrin I don’t know how to parallel park.  I must have at one point in time because I have a driver’s license, but to this day I’ll walk a mile or more before attempting to maneuver my car between two others.

I found a spot on Lytle Street and took a picture of the street sign just in case the street names escaped me later in the day.

Witherspoon St and Lytle St - Princeton, New Jersey

I wandered around with my camera while Kathy and a couple of volunteers set up the tent.  While snapping pictures, the mission became clear.  Kathy had invited me to help her at the Princeton Arts Council Fall Open House.

Princeton Arts Council fall open house_Paul Rebeson Center for the Arts_

Oscar, a volunteer and incredibly nice guy, helped me hang samples of hand made paper along the tent for show and tell.  I was as excited and nervous as a first grader to put my artwork on display for everyone to see.

Before I knew it we were both surrounded by people and I was chattering about how to make paper like I’d been doing it all my life.  It was great fun to encourage people to touch the raw material and watch their eyes light up when they saw the end result.

There were mixed reactions to the pulp in it’s first stage, it’s wet and feels sort of mushy but strong.  Mostly people wondered how the the stringy stuff in the bucket would become a piece of paper.

the beginning of the process

The pulp is soft and feathery after it’s suspended in the water and it really is a lot like panning for gold to pick up the tiny wet fibers and drain off the excess water.

It’s fun to add pressed petals or leaves for a special touch.

The best part of the day was seeing the eyes of both kids and adults light up when they watched the piece of paper magically release from the screen.

At the end of each demo, I shared completed pieces of paper so people could feel how strong the paper is even though it has the texture of parchment.  I was embarrassed but delighted at how people raved it.   I felt like some sort of celebrity when a few people asked if they could take pictures of my drawings and hand made paper.  It’s three days later and the memory still makes me smile, it’s one that always will.

While I was busy making paper, Kathy was equally if not busier demonstrating mono print making. (that’s my next class – can’t wait!)

Kathy is an amazing artist and beautiful teacher.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Both kids and adults were drawn to her table like magnets.  They couldn’t wait to see how the painting that started with a bunch of bubble wrap would turn into a piece of art.

Kathy Metaxas explaining mono print making

She’s all about hands on involvement and having fun.  The picture of six child size hands next to one adult teaching hand pressing the next layer of ink on the print was priceless.

Kathy Metaxas_engaging young artists

In the midst of it all, I found a quick moment to take a picture of our guests on stilts and the lonely but hopeful young man who had just moved to Princeton from Montreal the previous day.  I wanted to take a picture of the tall young Caucasian guy wearing an orange sarong and a yellow tunic, but that seemed rude.

visitors on stilts

Before we knew it it was almost 5 pm and although people were still stopping by, it was time to clean up.

It was a day to remember, and one I would have ever imagined, not in a million years.