Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Art Journal Tip: Create a Family Tree

Several weeks ago I started reading War and Peace. This is my third attempt; the first time I tried wading through the 1000+ pages I was sixteen and staying with my grandmother in Phoenix, Arizona for the summer. No place on earth could have been further from the snowy streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. But I don't think it was the lack of air conditioning that made me switch Tolstoy for Mary Stewart. I think it had more to do with those unpronounceable Russian names and complicated family relationships I couldn't untangle for the life of me.

Fortunately I'm now reading a much more modern translation by Anthony Briggs that's actually something of a page-turner. And while my brain still resists some of the Russian patronyms (I have a tendency to call the characters things like "Buzzy" and "Fizzy" rather than Bezukhov and Fedya) there's also a very handy list of characters and their relationships to each other at the back of the book. In other words, there's a family tree.

Making a Family Tree as noted in my earlier post, Art Journal Class, My Favorite Tips can be a colorful and information-packed addition to your art journal. The easiest way to approach the exercise is to look up "free family tree templates" in your search engine of choice and download a design that most appeals to you. But don't stop there; experiment with using the template as a pattern to copy from to create your own version, or to alter the original in some way with gesso, paints, ephemera, glitter glue--whatever seems right. One of my favorite techniques is to collage the tree with all kinds of bits and pieces that best describe each included family member. And don't limit yourself to a single page--a family tree could branch its way through an entire journal.

Some of the ways you can use a family tree in your journal are:
  • Illustrate your real-life family. Make several trees in a variety of styles for the different generations.
  • Explore an historic figure or family that interests you, such as the British Royal Family, or a US president.
  • The family or families in your works-in-progress. Not only does this help you remember your characters' birth dates and current ages, but you can have fun marrying them off to each other, or exploring their ancestors: Why do they have blond hair? What makes one character an inventor, another a timid recluse?
  • In the same way you can make a family tree to illustrate your WIP, you can just make one up as a pure art journal exercise. The story is completely told through "family photos." And who knows? It just might TURN INTO your next WIP!
  • Make a fanciful family tree for the characters from your favorite books or movies.
  • Here's a great tip for artists at all levels: The next time you need to make some color charts, paint or draw them as "trees" with leaves in your various hues and shades. (I love this one. It's turned a chore into a fun art project of its own.)
  • An etymology tree. Lay out a decorative grid of word association and origins. It can be fascinating to explore where certain words come from, how they were used in the past, and how we use them now.
  • Write a tree-shaped poem with the various lines and stanzas branching and flowering out from a single trunk or root.
  • Brainstorm with mind mapping or "clustering"; why not make it something fun, expressive, and tree-shaped? Rather than just jotting ideas down on a scrap of paper, add color, doodles, and put it all in your art journal. An initial idea you're attempting to map, such as "Conflict for Chapter Three: Martians Demand All Cats Must Leave Earth" could stem into: "Cats Now Wear Dog Suits." "Cat Smuggling Becomes Big Business," and so on with all kinds of wonderful illustrations and new ideas.
Tip of the Day: If you'd like to make a family tree in your art journal, keep in mind that there are as many types of trees as there are ideas for using them. Rather than going straight for "oak; green leaves; brown trunk" try taking a tree such as a willow or one that flowers through the seasons and illustrating it from four different perspesctives. Or you could draw it out as a Christmas tree complete with decorations. Other trees could include banyans, yew trees, bonsai, or an entire forest. Use your imagination and sense of play.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art Journal Tip: Illustrate Your Freewriting

Happy Valentine's Day! Wishing you all a perfectly sweet and happy day. And perhaps a little art journaling to go with it, courtesy of  Art Journal Class, My Favorite Tips and Tip #5:  Illustrate Your Freewriting.

One of my favorite parts of any day is to sit down and get into some freewriting: Don't think, don't edit, just write! But sometimes, more often than I like, it's not so easy for me to approach my drawing practice with the same carefree spirit. I think it has a lot to do with choosing my subject matter. I'll have my paper, colored pencils, nice pastels all set out and then my mind goes blank. What will I draw today? The longer I sit there waiting for inspiration, the worse the anxiety becomes. Thankfully, I've learned some great ways to overcome this kind of artist's block by looking to my freewriting as a source of ideas. These include:
  1. Once you've finished your daily writing session, circle 3-5 key nouns you may have mentioned in the piece. Now draw them, either separately or together as a still life.
  2. If you're nervous about drawing (though I hope you will soon overcome that fear!) go through a few magazines or your magazine cut-out file and choose pictures to illustrate your piece AFTER you write. This is very different from the usual way of using cut-outs as prompts and inspiration for writing.
  3. After writing, go for a walk and find something that reminds you of what you wrote about. Either draw in your journal right there and then, or simply take photos and notes so you can draw later at home.
  4. Did you write about food or were your characters eating a meal together? Why not cook or bake whatever they were having and then take a photo? You can either alter the photo or use it as a drawing reference. (Note: unless it's a baked item that needs to cool down, it's not really a good idea to let food sit out in the open too long; hence the need to take a photograph.)
  5. A mini-collage can be a quick and satisfying way to illustrate your writing. These little gems are excellent for illustrating the mood or tone of your piece.
  6. If you're feeling stuck on both the writing and the drawing, trying choosing a new theme each month and dedicating an entire journal to that theme: Spring Planting; Back to School; Winter Holidays... Add the appropriate pictures as you go through the month.
  7. Try creating the daily life of a fun--and somewhat surreal--character. For instance, the adventures of a favorite teddy bear, a pet, or one of those little wooden art mannikins. Just like the traveling gnome first portrayed in Amelie take your little creature to unexpected destinations. Write and draw about his or her experiences.
  8. Photocopy and then paste a favorite or little-known poem into your journal. Write your response--why do you love this piece so? What does it say to you? Illustrate your feelings and key images from the poem.
  9. Never feel you have to restrict your artistic expression to just pencils or paints. How about illustrating your piece by making something out of clay or papier-mȃché? Or sewing? Take photos when you are finished and place those in your journal along with your writing.
  10. Round robin journaling. If you have a group of writer or artist friends, how about sharing journals? Have each participant start an art journal, then give or mail it to the next person on the list. In turn, the next person fills in a set number of pages, and then on it goes to the next person after that. At the end of the day (or year!) everyone will have a gorgeous and surprising new source of inspiration.
  11. Try this: a writing journal you will illustrate just with pencil drawing, another just for watercolor, another just for collage, etc. This is a good way to fully explore mediums and have handy references for larger paintings. And you might end up with some publishable short stories or poetry, all pre-illustrated and ready to go.
  12. Be sure to choose good journals: ones that take water, various types of inks, and are easy to stay open while you work. It can be disappointing to have buckled pages or find your artwork has bled through to the other side of the paper, thereby making it difficult to write or draw on the back of that page.
Tip of the Day: Still not sure where to start with a combined writing and art journal? How about joining The Sketchbook Project? Not only will you be provided with a sketchbook when you join, but the wealth of inspiration offered at the site will keep you motivated to fill up much more than just one book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Art Journal Tip: Map a New Adventure!

Where have you been? Where are you going? Today's prompt from Art Journal Class, My Favorite Tips is all about making--and using--a map in your art journal.

For this exercise you can use any kind of map: old atlas pages, leftover vacation maps, cut-outs from travel, airline, or food magazines, or maps you just invent--often the very best kind! You can also find some great maps online; all you have to do is download, print, and voila--instant art journal pages.

Drawing a map into your art journal can, like all art journal techniques, be a combination of art, writing, and anything else that pops into your head. Some different types of maps you might want to work with can include:
  • A map of where you currently live.
  • A favorite place you lived in the past.
  • Your childhood room, play area, or classroom.
  • A vision quest.
  • Where your pet travels every day: a known or imagined route!
  • A vacation locale; either one you remember or are currently visiting, or one you've always dreamed of seeing.
  • One or more settings from your work-in-progress or from a book you've already published.
  • A fantasy world. Again this could be inspired by literature, perhaps a book you've read or are reading.
  • Your writing space or art studio.
  • Your garden--both the one you have and/or the one you want. (An added benefit to a landscape map is that it can help you decide what to plant when the season's right.)
  • How you got to where you are in life; and where you want to go from here.
  • An actual, real-life map--one you like just as it is, or one you alter, adding your own notes, illustrations and warnings: "Here be monsters!"
Once you've included a map in your journal, you might like to take the topography a step further and/or share it with a wider audience. Some ways to do that are:
  • Actually turn a map into an art journal. Cut or fold it into a "book"; lightly gesso the pages so the map imagery still shows through; sew or staple the pages, and you have an instant journal. If you have too many thin pages, you might like to gesso some together to give them added strength. Makes a great gift too!
  • If you decide to illustrate your WIP journal or notebook with a map, why not just go ahead and add the map to your published text? I did this with The Great Scarab Scam, my Egyptian mystery for young readers.
  • How about adding the same map(s) to your book trailer too?
  • Scan your illustrated map and turn it into a transfer for a T-shirt, tote bag, or cushion.
  • Turn it into a greeting card.
  • Or a party invitation with full directions on how to reach the party.
  • Cut up a copy of the map like a jigsaw puzzle and paste the pieces in various places throughout your journal.
  • Frame it as a "treasure map" to put on your wall for daily affirmation and help in accomplishing your goals.
  • Sell it! Local historical societies or tourist boards might love having a colorful and whimsical map directing visitors to important sites.
  • Include an illustrated map with your next holiday group letter.
  • Encourage your children or students to make their own maps. A fun and educational activity for everyone!
Tip of the Day: A great way to use either an existing map or one you've created yourself is to use it as a collage background. This is especially useful for those pesky fold-out vacation maps that never seem to fold back into shape again. Happy mapping--happy trails!